If you missed the first story, the local Diversity project took a group of young people to Auschwitz/Birkenau last summer. The participants have been writing about the experience, their stories are worth sharing. I will continue to post them occasionally.
See the first story HERE
I’ll never find the right words to describe the series of emotions that I went through at Auschwitz. As I stood in the place where millions of people’s lives were taken away from them – I finally began to realize what had happened 72 years ago.
As I walked through the Birkenau gate, my whole body felt numb. I was so mentally prepared for the information and the things that I was going to see, as I had already read books, studied pictures, watched documentaries, and researched so much information.
But nothing I had learned about the Holocaust or Auschwitz could have prepared me for the moments that I had in real life, walking through the camp. Even with the groups of tourists walking past you, making noise, I could definitely feel a sense of stillness and a quiet sadness. I was imagining the series of pictures in my head and the stories that I had studied about. I was visualizing everything like an old black and white film running through my head.
I could see the people dying, the train and the Nazi soldiers pushing everyone aside, blood splattered on pure white snow during the winter. I could hear the gunshots, the soaps being made with Jewish skin, rotting dead bodies in the latrines where little girls would go to the bathroom every morning. I could see the beautiful families gone.
I felt that the information being thrown at me and being processed, was on an incredibly heavy emotional and mental level.
Out of everything from my whole Auschwitz experience, one instance that really hit home was the gas chamber. Any piece of information that any human being had ever told me about the Holocaust didn’t make sense until then. For me, this was my “aha” moment.
I could feel my fingers tingling as I walked across the floor where families were gassed. The thought of them getting crushed and gasping for air terrified me. I left that day feeling aloof. Everything seemed wrong.
Auschwitz to me was psychotic. Walking through the gate with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” felt powerful and haunting. The energy of Auschwitz shook me. I could feel it in my bones as the movies started playing over again in my head.
Block 11 genuinely did scare me. This block was what every human at Auschwitz feared. Where people who went in, never came out alive. The terrors of the prisoners really did get to me. I couldn’t get the standing cells out of my mind as I kept visualizing unhealthy men and women being thrown into the cells dying of suffocation, torture and sickness.
The endless rows of photographs of the murdered victims on the walls of Block 11 really got to me and made me think of how ruthless the soldiers were. The whole feel of Auschwitz was eerily quiet and gave me chills up my spine. It was an incredible as well as horrifying experience visualizing the stories and memories, the facts, and the now remains, of those who suffered darkness at Auschwitz and all around Nazi occupied Europe.
It is unbelievable.
Auschwitz did not only help me see the world as a bigger picture, but it changed me as a person and my perspective of things. Many people my age or any age, would be so privileged to have a greater understanding of the Holocaust as we had at Auschwitz.
I will always carry a part of Auschwitz with me.
There is no greater experience that I have ever been through in my life.
– Raji, Veteran Scholar
McLean County Diversity Project