Nothing could have prepared me for sense of dread when visiting Auschwitz (From Warrington Guardian)
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Nothing could have prepared me for sense of dread when visiting Auschwitz
WHEN I was invited to tour the former Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz I thought I knew what to expect.
But nothing really prepared me for the sense of dread that still pervades the the forboding red brick buildings and muddy streets.
Perhaps it’s something you should expect from a collection of three labour and death camps - known as Auschwitz-Birkenau - where an estimated 1.5million people were murdered, including 1.1million Jews.
Leah Carman, aged 18, and Carrie Etheridge, aged 17, are Penketh High School students taking part in the trip, organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Leah said: “I didn’t think it would be like this, the picture in my head was completely different.
“I thought it would just be a few buildings but it’s like a big holiday camp, except there aren’t any birds or animals here, just a lot of silence.”
Auschwitz is actually the German name for the Polish town Osweicim, but it is the former that has become synonymous with the holocaust.
Our first stop took us to Auschwitz I, a concentration camp that once consisted of 15,000 prisoners.
Former Government agency barracks were used to hold Jews, Poles, Soviets, Gypsies and homosexuals who then worked in freezing conditions with little food leading to many deaths.
Hanging over the entrance is a sign that reads ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, which translates as ‘work makes you free’, a chilling reminder of how the Nazis viewed their prisoners.
While largely set up as a museum, Auschwitz I remains a harrowing place to visit.
In one room a large glass cabinet contains the shoes of those that perished there, another hair shaved from the heads of doomed captives.
Carrie said: “I had no idea how I was going to feel before coming here.
“As soon as I got off the coach my emotions went down.
“To think that so many people died here just didn’t seem real to me - then you see all the shoes.”
We then move on to Birkenau, a much larger site that was primarily used as a death camp.
Wooden stables built for horses still stand, where Jews were crammed together while they awaited extermination in the gas chambers.
The benign appearance of the gas chambers is harrowing, showers and white tiles hiding their horrific purpose.
“I just felt scared to go in there at all and think of the people who have been there before, facing death without knowing it,” said Carrie.
Our tour of Birkenau concludes at a memorial site, where we light candles and listen to a prayer sung in Hebrew by Rabbi Marcus.
After spending a day learning of the holocaust at the base of its evil it remains an atrocity impossible to fathom, a genocide hard to accept.
And its sheer appalling nature that makes it so difficult for people to acknowledge, leaving room for denial and doubt even in the face of such overwhelming evidence.
Which is why the HET organises this trip, to ensure the memory is not forgotten, while teaching teenagers of the dangers of prejudice today.
Leah added: “I will encourage people to go. It’s something everyone should know about.”