I did not realize it until Thursday, but Wednesday Jan. 27 was the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Auschwitz death camp in Poland by the Red Army in 1945.
Diane and I visited the camp grounds in 2002 on our trip to Poland. We felt that it was important for us to see the camp - especially since we were staying in not-too-far-away Krakow, Poland. (Below: The entrance building of the huge Aushwitz II camp.)
You can see pictures I took at and a few other places in Poland by clicking HERE.
The primary reaction I had when visiting the site in 2002 was that this was ground where evil was performed, systematic murder. Seeing the site live, in person is such a overwhelming experience. I mean, the mere SIZE of the place just puts you back. The Germans spent a LOT of time, energy and money to create a way to kill off huge elements of their population - mostly Jews. And a large amount of that happened at Auschwitz.
Sure, you read about this place in history books and even get a glimpse of what it might have been like in important movies like Shindler's List. But, to actually stand in this enormous, sprawling, massive camp you know for sure evil was afoot.
The next thing I remember thinking as I walked through the prison quarters and viewed the ruins of the gas killing chambers was...how dare anyone deny this happened! It is here. It is real. It is tragic. It was genocide. We need to remember.
Related to that, another sensation I felt was that despite the big time problems and issues that the USSR had itself with totalitarian government (especially under Stalin) and anti-semitism...even THOSE GUYS realized this place had to be preserved for history and indeed did a good job of making sure the grounds were kept in tact for people like us to see and experience all these decades later.
Look, I am a firm believer in seeing things for yourself if you can. Want to know about China? Go to Xian, the Great Wall and Beijing. Want to judge Cuba? Spend a few days in Havana. Have issues with India or the third world? Go there. See it for yourself. Inform your view.
Visiting Auschwitz is the same. Yes, you know about it at some level. But seeing it in person drives. It. Home. Like nothing else. A lifetime experience. The suffering. The death. The evil. Premeditated mass murder. The location of scene of so much killing. The desperate perseverance of the survivors. The final liberation by the Russian. The elation of having survived. The sorrow of knowing loved ones were killed. All of things are surfaced in a visit...at least as much as they can be for someone who was not even alive when this all happened.
And on this solemn anniversary, I am here to tell you as someone who saw the remnants that for these reasons Auschwitz is a place that is well worth remembering.