I am nervous about going to Auschwitz tomorrow. Right now, I’m sitting in the sun in a pretty square in Krakow, exhausted after a rough eleven hour train ride from Prague, and contemplating my conscious choice to visit the scene of the most devastating mass murder in the history of mankind…a choice, I must add, that most former visitors didn’t get.
Why is it that I want to go there? Why, just like the many thousands of tourists before me, most with no real connection to victims of the disgusting atrocities committed by Hitler’s Nazi regime, would I make that choice that others couldn’t make, would never have made? The answer is simple, really, though it comes in two parts.
First, modern humans are a curious, macabre people. Last year, I visited Hiroshima, scene of history’s single worst act of terrorism, 70,000 innocents killed in a couple of hours. The year before, I journeyed to the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and had my heart broken by what I saw and learned. On both occasions I was shocked to the core, saddened beyond words, not only by the horrors humans are capable of, but, and if not more important, how little I, and presumably the rest of the world, knows of these horrors, oblivious in our cosy, easy lives.
And yet, here I sit, on the eve of my long awaited visit to Auschwitz, the very name sending very real shivers down my spine on a perfect, warm spring day, ready to face mankind’s most infamous crime scene.
The second reason I want to go is not so obvious, but it should be. Those of us fortunate to have been born in and grown up in today’s ‘west,’ must never take our fortune for granted, and that fortune, of course, is our freedom. If you know me, then you know I am strongly opposed to war of any kind, especially the kind that is perpetrated by bullying forces, and joined by clingy, puppet nations…the U.S. and the U.K, if you were wondering. However, let me say that if it were not for the bravery of the allied forces in WWII, then our freedom might not have been so free. The important thing here is, that the unimaginable and inhumane atrocities committed by the Third Reich on the Jews, the gypsies, gays, artists, poets and professors, and anyone considered a threat to the pure, Aryan race in the 1930s and 1940s, will not and should not, ever be forgotten.
That is why I will go to Auschwitz and Birkenau tomorrow, and that is why I will write about it, as devastating and depressing as I am sure it will be. Anyone that has had the privileges that I’ve had…family, food, a roof over my head, school…freedom…things that we take so naturally and unconsciously for granted, all should take a trip to Hiroshima or Nagasaki, or read about it. Maybe a visit to the Vietnam War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Min City, or the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, or read about them. Or, like me tomorrow, take a solemn train ride into the darkest chapter of human history, to tread nervously and respectfully among the six million ghosts of the Holocaust…to spend a day in hell! Or, maybe you can simply read about it when my trip is complete. But what we must not do…never…we must never forget.