It is very easy to lazily skim over the words of a text book when studying any subject. We are all guilty of this, and for this reason many pay little attention to the details of events as horrific as the Holocaust. So, when we saw the site at which such terror took place first hand, it is hardly surprising that both of us were emotionally stunned.
The town of Oświęcim, in which Auschwitz is situated, today has the aura of a ghost town, which does not come as any surprise when one considers its history. The town itself had been largely populated by Jews before the start of the Second World War. Today, there remains little evidence of any Jewish heritage apart from one graveyard which has previously been vandalized. Gravestones of normal Jewish people defaced,destroyed, and marked with Swastikas. This sickening act provides evidence for the shocking reality that anti-Semitism exists even now, more than 60 years after the end of the war.
Auschwitz itself, as expected, provided us with a great deal to think about. The first section of the camp, Auschwitz I,revealed several shocking images that brought the Holocaust down to a human level: the victims of this dreadful event in history were normal people with their own families, homes and lifestyles. At this point we feel it necessary to point out that of the 6 million people that were killed in the Holocaust, 250,000 were of the same ages as the students of Ringwood School.
We then moved on to Auschwitz II or Birkenau as it was also called. Unlike Auschwitz I, Birkenau had been virtually untouched by the governing bodies that are responsible for any restoration of the complex. Upon our arrival, the magnitude of our surroundings began
to settle in. There we were, two teenage destroyed by the Nazis after the war students from Hampshire standing in the place we had seen on many a black and white history video – the very site on which 1.2 million Jews, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and people of various other minority groups were remorselessly murdered. The mutual silence among those who travelled with us (including the Archbishop of Canterbury and numerous other faith leaders) was profound. The eeriness of this silence was added to by the desolation and seemingly lifeless settings in which we found ourselves. All around us we saw what remained of the place in which the lives of men, women and children were ended: gas chambers, destroyed by the Nazis after the war in a surreptitious attempt to hide any evidence of what had transpired.
There were various readings at the final ceremony before we all lit our memorial candles and placed them in various places around the complex, and subsequently began our journey home. In summary, our visit showed us the existence of a dark side to human nature, and we felt that the existence of Auschwitz today provides an important reminder to the whole world that we must do everything in our power to stop such acts of terror ever being repeated. The Holocaust was not just another bullet point on a revision card – it was an event that is never to be forgotten.