What to Expect on Your Trip to Auschwitz

 

Travel can be soul-seeking. It can be hungry. It can be tiresome. It can be thrilling. It can be challenging. It can be inspiring. It can be intense. It can be busy. It can be fleeting.

Travel can also be humbling, harrowing, silencing, sad. 

There are some moments during traveling that take you out of your body. History can do that to you. Being in places with centuries old architecture, statues older than your country, and cultural traditions you've never heard of can bring out the deepest imagination from even the smallest dreamer. 

There are some moments during traveling that punch the wind out of your gut.

Auschwitz is one of those moments. 

You can taste the silence. It is so plunging, so deep, so intense that you have to catch your breath. 

The drive from Krakow doesn't take long - just a little over 30 minutes. But it's long enough. Once you get there, you can feel it. There's just this ambience. The red brick buildings, red brick roofs, red brick everything of Auschwitz I. Thousands of tourists come each day during the high season, if there is such a thing for this kind of place. You're given a headset and a tour group, where your guide is able to talk to you through the radio without speaking too loudly. Then you make your way through those rusty gates that millions of others passed through before you. Those silencing words - "arbeit macht frei" - "work makes you free."

The tour winds in and out of the camp, exhibitions showing lost shoes, suitcases, and even hair. Double barbed wire fences measure the outside of the neat brick houses. Photos of lost souls line the walls of some buildings. Some of those souls didn't survive much longer after the photos were taken, we were told. We were shown tiny cubicles, if you can call it that, 3 feet by 3 feet, where prisoners were crammed and left to die. We were shown a square where executions occurred, lined with flowers from visitors who came before me through those rusty gates. 

Birkenau is equally humbling, if not moreso. You walk along the train tracks that thousands upon thousands were transported upon throughout the Holocaust. Wild dandelions grace the grounds around the tracks and the gas chambers. I smile. Beauty can come from the most horrible of things. Auschwitz isn't for everyone to come and see. But everyone should see it. We cannot change the world if we do not educate it. 

I'm going to take this moment to step away from travel for a second and turn to the human rights part of myself. 

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History is important. Learning is important. 

Without it, we are bound to the same fate of our German counterparts. We are all capable of evil. Under the "right" circumstances and situations, you, me, your best friend, terrorists on the other side of the world, we're all capable of it. Spanish philosopher Jorge Santayana said, "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Teach others so this never happens again - at home or abroad. 

Travel can be humbling, harrowing, silencing, sad. But it can be freeing. Open your heart to the ups and downs of travel and freedom will come.