Tag: Holocaust

Forgetting Auschwitz

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I still remember that pond. I remember taking a picture of it. And I remember being told a moment before that they dropped the ashes in ponds like this, in the land around Oświęcim. It was a quiet and sunny August morning six years ago in Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was with a group of young Germans, high schoolers and university students, accompanied by a Belarusian woman who had survived the death camp as a child, and staff of  a German memorial site. The day before, we had been to what is called the “Stammlager”, or Auschwitz I, the first camp to be built there in May 1940. It was smaller, and crowded. We passed through the infamous gate with the “Arbeit macht Frei” slogan. The grounds were filled with travel groups, and it felt more like a tourist attraction than a place to commemorate. The people didn’t help: you can take pictures almost anywhere in Auschwitz – except in the reconstructed gas chamber, in front of which a sign asks not to take photos out of respect for the many who died in those rooms. It didn’t stop flashes from clicking when we walked through. Of course, there are nevertheless images I can’t forget from that day. In the Israeli exhibition, the large Book of Names suspended from the ceiling, containing 4.2 million names. The piles of suitcases the people had written their names on, expecting to get them back. Spotting a familiar address – the street my elementary school was on, back in Hamburg. Other piles: glasses, spoons, shoes, finally: hair.

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