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Auschwitz: From Horror to Reflection

My trip to the former Auschwitz Concentration and Extermination Camp in Poland.

By Unravelling the UniversePublished 28 days ago 3 min read
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Auschwitz: From Horror to Reflection
Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

British spelling.

I usually write stories about the evolution of the Universe. This one is different.

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I remember my teacher discussing the Holocaust with us, though the details are somewhat fuzzy in my memory.

The name ‘holocaust’ originates from ancient Greek, meaning ‘burnt offering.’ Even before the Second World War, it was used to describe the mass death of people.

Today, when most hear ‘holocaust,’ they think of the millions of European Jews murdered during World War Two.

The Nazis rose to power in 1933, implementing new laws that stripped Jewish people of property, freedoms, and rights. By 1939, they began deporting Jews to Poland and segregating them from the local population.

I always said that someday my wife and I would travel to Poland to learn more about this horrific event, and now, given our age, we felt the time was right before it became too late.

The Holocaust occurred just six years before my birth.

We journeyed from Scotland to Poland and stayed in the beautiful city of Krakow. We were struck by its stunning architecture and the warmth of the locals.

It was hard to reconcile the horrors that unfolded near this place eighty years ago. In September 1939, the German army occupied Krakow, and over a short time relocated most of the 65,000-strong Jewish population to the surrounding countryside.

By 1941, they had enclosed a small area south of the city with barbed wire and high walls, establishing a ghetto. Some of the walls still stand today.

In late 1941, around 18,000 Jews were rounded up and confined to the ghetto, which held 320 buildings. Walking through what was once the ghetto, it was hard to fathom the cramped conditions and hunger those poor people had to endure.

On our second day, we were taken to visit what was initially a Polish army barracks, later taken over and operated by Nazi Germany as the Auschwitz camp.

Over time, it expanded into a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps. The buildings in the Auschwitz camp look the same today as they did all those years ago.

The following day, we toured Birkenau, the largest camp, which made us aware of the magnitude of Auschwitz’s operations. Its primary goal was the mass murder of European Jews.

Between 1942 and 1944, an estimated 90% of the Auschwitz complex victims perished in Birkenau. Most of us are familiar with the atrocities committed in the death camps eighty years ago, where approximately six million Jews were murdered.

We can scarcely imagine the suffering endured by those men, women, and children before their execution.

Among the distressing images I saw at the Auschwitz museum, for me, one stood out: It was a little boy holding his two younger brothers’ hands as they headed towards the gas chambers. My thoughts turned to my grandchildren, envisioning them in a similar dire situation.

Take a moment and think of your children and grandchildren in the same circumstances. The memory still haunts me as I write this story.

One must visit these places to truly grasp the horrors of what occurred.

How could such a travesty have been allowed? And yet, we claim to be a civilised species.

We have yet to fully absorb the lessons from our past errors, as evidenced by ongoing instances of heinous behaviour towards our fellow humans, albeit perhaps not on the same magnitude.

Upon our return home, a friend asked if I enjoyed my few days away. ‘Enjoy’ is the wrong word, but I am grateful to have gone and believe everyone should.

The end.

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About the Creator

Unravelling the Universe

We can only imagine what our early ancestors thought as they gazed up at the night sky—were they curious about what the heavens had to hide? 

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