Since beginning this blog, I’ve had the chance to look over my photos from years gone by, and every time I look at the ones from Auschwitz, I realize that I stop every time and hold my breath. I’ll never forget the slow walk through that camp and the one that followed at Birkenau. It was the end of November, 2015. I was bundled up with lined boots, a heavy coat, scarf, gloves, and a hat. None of which mattered because the air cut right through all of it, and by the end of the day-long tour my toes and fingers were numb, my ears stung from the icy wind, and my back ached from all the walking in the bitter cold.
Yet, I couldn’t complain. In fact, I don’t remember saying a word the entire day. All I remember from that day was thinking, “they didn’t even have gloves.” Stripped down, shaved, and starved, the prisoners had nothing to shield them from the biting Polish air. The prison buildings were nothing but wood, bricks, and glass.
As I walked from room to room, I saw pieces of people’s identity passing away. Their luggage – taken, and the contents dumped out and separated. The elderly and crippled were deprived of their prosthetics and wheelchairs. In each room, I saw mounds of personal items – clothes, shoes, and combs. Anyone with long hair was taken to a room and shaved. I was later told that the prisoners were forced to make blankets with the collected hair. We rounded the corner…and I saw the blankets. We were not permitted to take photographs of that room…but I promise, you can’t unsee an image like that.
For some reason, I couldn’t think of anything else other than, “they had to have been so cold.” That seems silly right? With all there was in that camp to fear – the gas chambers, the firing wall, starvation, disease, and medical experiments – I have no idea why was I so fixated on the cold.
I did not hear laughter that day. Come to think of it, I did not hear any crying either. It was just silence apart from the voice of the guide. I thought of the children, parents, and grandparents. The train ride. The confusion. The terror. Innocent lives not only deprived of their personal effects, not only deprived of their loved ones, deprived also of the chance to live their life with purpose, outside of that barbed wire fence.
I heard a story once about this camp…it was probably fictional, but maybe not. A prisoner was walking through the camp one day when he turned and saw another prisoner kneeling down to pray. “What are you doing?” The first prisoner asked. “I’m thanking God,” the praying man responded. “What could you possibly be thanking God for?” Asked the first man. “I’m thanking God that I’m not like them,” answered the second man.
In the bitter cold, on the frozen ground, could there really have been such a man with a heart that remained warm enough to feel gratitude?