I honestly have been scared and nervous for this day for the entire trip because I wasn’t sure how to handle what I was going to see. Growing up in Canada you read and learn about it in school but it doesn’t seem real until you see it in person. Walking in to Auschwitz was surreal, it had an odd beauty to it, the buildings were old brick and the trees were blooming, you disconnect the tragedy from the landscape in front of you. But as soon as you enter the barracks that prisoners were kept in the emotion changes.
In the second barrack we entered you see a room filled with balls of hair, human hair. This was hair shaved off women’s heads when they entered the camps that was then sold for money to German textiles companies. That shook me, not only were these people strip of their homes, loved ones and belongings but also their dignity. Upon entering the camps the people were give a number, a pair of striped pajamas and a photo of them, then they were moved into the camps. But by far the worst thing of the day was learning the fate of the children that entered the camps, most died of inhumane conditions like starvation, disease or pneumonia. In this building it became obvious how real this was, piles of glasses, hair, shoes, pots and pans and babies clothing were seen throughout the museum. This is something that people should see and understand, I feel as though not everyone gets that these piles of things were owned by real people, and those things were so easily taken from them. I am extremely grateful for the freedom we have today as humans to travel, move and talk freely because without this I wouldn’t have been able to ever go to Poland and see this for myself. I think as people today we sometimes take for granted something that is a basic human right, but after today I understand how something so under appreciated was just taken away from innocent people. This day has definitely changed my perspective and how I think about the Holocaust. After Auschwitz we biked to Birkenau, the second part of the camp. This is what you think of when you hear Auschwitz, rows on rows of brick barracks within a barbed wire casing.
From the outside there is a railway leading right through the entrance of the camp, leading to an end in the forest. As we walked through we were told about how the families were shipped hundreds at a time in a cattle car from all around Europe there and by the time they arrived half had died from suffocation or disease. Upon arrive their belongings stripped from them they were or to work or brought straight to the gas chambers. Hearing that the Russians were coming to liberate Auschwitz, the Nazis blew up the gas chambers in order to hide what they had done. Upon that spot was where our ceremony was held, some of our cyclists and heard some really good things that have stuck with me.
“If we forget the past we are blind to the future” Stefan Polychuk
It was crazy how big Birkenhau is, so many people went in to the place, of the over 4 years so few made it out. A few things I took from today: I know everyone says it but never again, we are in a time of progression, moving forward and healing, that we never happen again. Through the education of our youths and understand the implications of the tragedies of the Holocaust. Also the shame you feel as a human that other humans were able to do these crimes to other humans. As a species we should work together to accept our differences not blame and hate those who are not like you. This is where we see the darker side of human kind, the mass murder of the Jewish, the gypsies, Polish, and soviets should not be taken lightly. Freedom is a basic human right and I hope that by writing this at one person has felt the necessity to educate themselves. But we move past this and see lighter days, I have a new appreciation for the life I have been given, my friends and family and for the chance to see what I have. Take a moment to think about what freedom means to you.