July 24, 2019
The following was recorded at various times before, during and after our visit to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau. We took our coach to Birkenau, only a few miles away. In those few minutes on the bus, I wrote. On the ride to our lunch spot afterwards, I wrote. On the way back to Krakow, I wrote.
We’re almost there. I can feel my stomach turning. I’m terrified.
I’m not ready to talk yet. Part of me is writing because I don’t want anyone to talk to me. I found Margarete’s name. It was much easier to find than I thought. I had to find her. I had to make sure she knows I’m think of her, a woman I never would have met had she lived, that I adore her son, a 98-year old man, and that I will do my best to make sure both of them are always remembered. Pakuscher, Margarete, 20/3/1893, Berlin, Germany, Murdered in Auschwitz, Poland.
I don’t know how to write about what I just saw. I have no idea what to write. The hair, the cups, the suitcases, the clothes, the prayer shawls, the barracks, the “washrooms,” the shoes, so many shoes. So many small, tiny shoes. It’s all redone in the in the main camp. Groups going in and out, up and down. But their faces. The cells in the basement. No windows. The gas chamber. The ovens. Black inside the room.
We are leaving Birkenau now and I still feel completely incapable of holding a functional conversation. Still hoping no one tries to to talk to me. I felt like I was hearing and understanding but also like I couldn’t hear, couldn’t understand and my mind was blank. My head felt so empty. My heart felt so empty and cold and I can’t explain what else. It’s too massive a place. The numbers are massive. This feeling is massive. It is insane to see so many people there. Building after building after building. Demolished gas chambers and crematoria. The train tracks.
I don’t know what to write. I just don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want anyone to talk to me. I’m thinking of Ralph going through roll call, going to such terrible work in Buna-Monowitz, a satellite camp nearby. I think about him being cramped into bunks. What could have been going through his mind each and every day, not knowing if or when it would ever end? I know what he would say. It would be simple. He would say he thought about surviving that moment, each moment to the next. That’s it. I imagine him working in the snow, rain, extreme heat. How does a place like this exist?
I feel like I am mourning for millions, like I am grieving and how can I and how can I not? What were Margarete’s thoughts? When was the last time Ralph saw her, his mother? What was the last thing they said to one another? How did he find how she died? No, how she was murdered?
Bumi. He knew he wouldn’t survive if he stayed there. He didn’t know if he would live if he left, but he knew he wouldn’t if he stayed. He got out. He went to other camps. Ultimately he survived. But he was here, in this horrid place.
Gisela was there only 6 days. It probably felt like weeks or months. Indoors and outdoors, sleeping standing up, not knowing what would happen next. Her mother ripped away from her during selection upon arrival. Being beaten until she stayed in the line destined for forced labor. A teenager watching her mother go the other direction and not knowing it would be the last time she ever saw her.
It’s hard to imagine them as young people. I see only my dear friends being abused, humiliated, terrorized. I see them hungry, cold, tired, overworked. How does this place exist? It’s haunting my thoughts. We left 3 hours ago and I am still isolating myself. How could the world let this happen? How do we continue to let these things happen?
I open and close my eyes and I still see it no matter what. The buildings, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the chimneys. The train tracks. My G-d, the train tracks straight to death. I wonder if my husband has called Ralph while I’ve been gone. I think about what it will be like to see him again. And Bumi. And Gisela. And all of them, regardless of what their experience was. What do I say to them?
This place has too much power still and I will never be the same.