Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Though these images were all taken on a solo trip in 2011 (a cloudy summer morning, June 8th – it was a Wednesday), the memories of walking these grounds and hearing stories of prisoners will never leave me. These photos were taken both at Auschwitz and the much larger, nearby Auschwitz II-Birkenau (with its "Gate of Death" – the train entryway). As I type this entry, a gathering of survivors from Auschwitz is taking place at the camp in Poland to commemorate what is likely the last time this aging group of individuals will come together.
Looking back as I watch the broadcast of the ceremony of survivors, I can't help being confounded. I'm watching survivors, descendants of survivors, and leaders of nations walk precisely where I've walked on this bloodstained land – where over 1.1 million innocent, murdered people once walked. I'm confounded and saddened because it seems to me based on the world I often see around me, that what happened here in the deepest sense, is forgotten. Needless to say, I hope I'm wrong. Maybe I'm just too young to understand. Perhaps.
To those of you who haven't visited a WWII concentration camp or death camp: Regardless of your background, whether you're Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, nonreligious or anything else, I have only one piece of advice: Go. I highly encourage you to make time and find a way to expose yourself to such a place. Walk through the Gate of Death, dig your fingers into the earth, take in the smells and consider that the things that you're seeing were once seen just the same by curious, kind individuals who were mercilessly killed. And don't be surprised if your perspective on contemporary issues changes during the process. It's impossible to comprehend the atrocities that took place somewhere like Auschwitz (even when I stood in the gas chambers, looking up at the corroded, rectangular hole in the ceiling from where the deadly Zyklon B gas was dispensed). I can't begin to wrap my head around the number of people killed or the ability of humans to actually do such a thing. I can't describe this place properly with words and I can't do it with photos. My hope is that our memory of this time in history remains, long after those who were liberated 70 years ago today are no longer here to speak their stories. So my advice stands:
See this place. It's important.