Abstract: I visited the site and museum of Auschwitz, the Nazis’ largest concentration camp. This It was a very sad experience that made me understand the mass suffering and genocide committed during the Holocaust.
In many of the cities I have visited in Europe, the destruction of World War II can still be witnessed. The usual remainder of WWII that is seen is in damaged city infrastructure, such as buildings.
However, One of the most devastating effects was the murder of over six million Jewish people during the Holocaust. As you may have already learned in school, the Holocaust was Nazi Germany’s systematic genocide of Jews during World War II. Lead by Adolf Hitler, the aim was to eliminate the Jewish race. Jews were taken from their homes and taken to concentration camps, where they were held as prisoners and worked to death. Others were taken to death camps where they were killed immediately. About two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe was murdered during the Holocaust.
Recently, I went on a trip to Poland with other students to visit the site and museum of Auschwitz. Auschwitz was the Nazis’ largest concentration camp. Learning about the Holocaust in school did not prepare me for the emotional response of actually experiencing being in this location first hand. This was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life.
I remember the first time I ever cried during a film. It was when I watched the Diary of Anne Frank in eighth grade Social Studies. Have you read that book? Visiting Auschwitz made everything I learned in school so much more real. I saw the cramped quarters where prisoners slept, sometimes up to ten per bed, and the huge piles of shoes that were confiscated. I even saw the gas chambers where so many were lead to believe they would receive a shower but never emerged again. In one of the former barracks that was turned into a museum, there were headshots, or photographs,of those who were imprisoned at Auschwitz. There were pictures of men with somber eyes and women with shaved heads. There were even some photos of children from Auschwitz. These children, whose childhoods were stolen from them, looked so malnourished and devoid of hope.
From the photos, I could tell that prisoners in Auschwitz were overworked, starved, and humiliated. They lived in unbearable and unsanitary conditions. I learned from walking through this camp that prisoners had to work over ten hours per day and often in freezing temperatures with no warm clothing. Many died from exhaustion, the cold, or disease or were killed in camps like Auschwitz.
Plaques and other sources of information at the camp taught me that Auschwitz operated between 1940 and 1945. I also learned from the camp that the first prisoners were Polish people, and by 1942 the majority of prisoners were Jews. During this period, 1,300,000 people were sent to Auschwitz. 90 percent of these were Jews and 90 percent died in the camp. The minority of other prisoners were Poles, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war and prisoners from other ethnic groups.
Although it felt strange to be a tourist in a place where so many lives were destroyed, I felt that it was a very important experience. It is wonderful to visit beautiful monuments and natural landscapes, but one cannot ignore sites of very serious, sometimes horrific events in history. That being said, when visiting and learning about such a place, it is important to be respectful to all of the people who lost their lives.
Is it hard to ignore the effects of World War II in Europe, which are still present and visible today. There are still Jewish people alive today who suffered through and survived the Holocaust. What will happen when generations pass and no children will hear these stories from their own grandparents? The stories of survivors serve as the best education of the Holocaust. This is why sites such as the Auschwitz memorial serve as an important reminder to what happened and allow visitors to put faces to the millions of Jews who died during the Holocaust.
It is necessary for people to learn about horrific events such as the Holocaust to keep the memory alive and prevent future injustices. We need to think about the individual and to remember these people not as a large sum of millions, but as brave people with remarkable stories.