The European spring already made the cities flourish, whether for the colorful plants or the heat of the people that returned to leave their homes in search of some Sunlight. They just forgot to tell this to Poland.
The year was 2015, it was the end of March, and the impulse for new trips brought me to Krakow, a Polish city, located in the south of the country, on the banks of the Vistula River. Even with an imposing historic center, considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and being one of the most unusual destinations in the world, mixing Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, what attracted me was the recent history and suffering lived in the region, more specifically during the World War II and the Holocaust.
Berlin showed me the tolerant side, the respect I must have for others, but it also opened the doors and fed my brain with doses of history. I ate books, I swallowed movies, I got suffocated by stories and museum collections. Everything was so recent and frightening that I could not ignore it, and all this curiosity pointed out to me the most feared place of all: Auschwitz.
A network of concentration camps located around Krakow, more specifically in Oświęcim, to where you can catch a local train, at a small cost, but without much information about it. Upon arriving at the destination, Polish signs scared me with their quantity of consonants and unpronounceable words.
As a good spontaneous adventurer I am, I was not prepared, nor did I have maps or Internet at the time. What saved me was my precarious knowledge of German and a kind lady, who understood my grunts and showed me the way to the extermination camp.
A 15-minute walk with light thoughts, trying to keep me focused and calm for what was to come, and here comes the imposing entrance to a fearful past.
Arbeit macht frei!
Shortly after entering, and having obtained the audio guide (I made the reservation online, but chose not to pay a person to teach me about the place), I was faced with these words: Work sets you free!
As I pass the gate, I look up at the gray sky and a snowflake falls on my nose. It looked like a scene from a movie. It was the simple act of touching the ground, where so much sadness spread, that a blizzard began, perhaps to teach me even more about the problems people lived there.
The cluster of red brick houses holds many exhibits, with shocking photographs and reports. Seeing all those people in thin, striped pajamas, and remembering the cold outside, I felt agonized. In each room, I experienced even more the evil of the human being.
The snow continued to fall, and seeking a little refuge, I followed a group of tourists to another room, with cells and instruments of torture, but what shocked me the most was the present, not the past. The foreigners divided the spaces and their laughs, trying to get a better angle for a selfie.
A selfie, a smile, and a tremendous lack of consideration, or common sense. Call whatever you want.
Thinking that nothing else could affect me, I discover the worst.
A room of enormous proportions with shoes, suitcases and the most diverse personal objects. The prisoners who were sent there received the information that it would be just a temporary passage, something good, so they should bring the best belongings, which would soon be discarded or even stolen.
Upon arriving at the concentration camp, each person had their hair shaved, to avoid the proliferation of lice and other diseases, and behold there is a shed, which until today holds some of the hair that were sold to the German textile industry.
That’s right, a gigantic room with the hair of people who suffered torture, starved to death, got ashamed, cold, and the most degrading situations imaginable.
Besides, there were still the gas chambers. Between 1942 and the end of 1944, trains transported Jews from all occupied Europe to these chambers, where it was said that a bath would be offered, and even knowing that they would not return from there, nothing could be done.
It is estimated that more than three million people died in the camps of Auschwitz.
Tears came involuntarily, mingling with the white snowflakes and the feeling of helplessness and desolation.
Many people tell me that they do not want to visit places like this, but I believe that more than ever, they should never be forgotten and never to be repeated again.
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