The first awful thing about Auschwitz is how pretty is it.
We did Birkenau first, and that’s different. The barns are just barns, they could be anything. There are ruins and wide open spaces and people have laid roses over train tracks and where the beds used to be and everything is appropriately dark and quiet and even the tour groups are respectful, something tour groups rarely are.
But Auschwitz is different. Everything is still intact, everything is beautiful and green and well-manicured. The buildings are stately and impressive. You could be at a boarding school, a military base. It is impossible to marry the buildings before you with the knowledge of what went on back then. It is impossible to look directly at the things that happened. Some of the buildings have names on the walls, some buildings have pictures. There are display cases full of reading glasses, display cases full of long, greyed hair, some still braided and tied with ribbon.
We start off as a group and then slowly branch off, ending up alone and wandering by ourselves. There’s no way to stay together. This place pulls you apart.
We meet up near the entrance again, near the famous sign that was then just a copy of the real thing, stolen a few weeks before. It says Arbeit Macht Frei.
Work sets you free.
The sign was later recovered. Its theft was carried out by five Polish men and orchestrated by a renounced neo-Nazi from Sweden. He’s never shared his motives.
Afterwards we talked about where to get lunch.
I don’t think any of us were really hungry.
But what else are you supposed to do.
photographs taken with a Minolta X-700.