A couple of months ago, I went travelling round Europe with my best friends from school, and had an amazing time, not least because of my lovely travelling companions, and the people we met. My next few posts are going to be about some of the places we visited, and my experiences of people there.
Our first stop was Krakow, Poland. As a place, it’s very pretty, and we found people in general to be welcoming and helpful. However, the main reason Krakow was on my list of places to go was to see the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum. The place itself was harrowing, and, for me, impossible to give a description of that does it justice.
What made our visit to Auschwitz particularly poignant was the woman who gave us a guided tour. She must have told groups of tourists, over and over again, about the awful things that happened at the concentration camp, but it felt like she was telling us for the first time. I got the impression that she has a very personal connection to the camp; she explained every detail of the museum simply and carefully, with very real, moving emotion. If she had been given a script by her employer, I doubt she was following it, because her account of the Nazis persecution was so raw and emotive.
It seemed to me that her job was very important, and that she was very aware of this. Being interested in history, and having studied Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, there wasn’t a lot of factual detail in the museum that I hadn’t been previously aware of. But I had never heard an account of it before that made me feel like I had even a tiny bit of an idea what it would have been like to actually be in a concentration camp. Yes, this was partly due to being at the site where some of the worst atrocities were committed, but it was also a lot to do with our guide. She made it very clear that she saw how important the memorial site is, to try to raise awareness of some of the things people are capable of, that no one wants to think about, to try to stop something like the Holocaust happening again.
While I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience, it’s something I’m really glad I did, and would definitely recommend going if you get a chance. I think that there are some things you can get a grasp of from reading, but what I learnt from our visit to Auschwitz was that the Holocaust definitely isn’t one of them.