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Auschwitz (1 Viewer)



The fourth mad dog hit me hard that night. After nearly a month of train travel and drinking binges I was beginning to feel weary. A sense of dread hung over me because I planned to visit the concentration camp the next morning. Kasha, my friend and bartender at the RVM bar smoked the last cigarette before last call with me. I bid her farewell, vomited in the bathroom and set out for the streets.
Krakow was a busy city by night. There is a cluster of universities in the city and students fill the cobblestone roads, sharing only with horse and buggy and the occasional ambulance. RVM had closed early that night and I thirsted for a beer like a vampire does blood. As I ambled through the narrow corridors and dark alleyways I became more and more disoriented and drunk. The walls closed in on me and swallowed me whole that night, like the mad dogs I drank.
The pieces I do remember past that point were those of being in a basement of some sort. There was a couple there that I glanced at repeatedly and they responded with odd looks and upturned noses. I remember a man asking me questions in Polish that I had no idea how to answer, yet we laughed, smiled and drank our beer. It was late and time to go back to the hotel.
I don’t remember stumble home very clearly that night. Trying to recall the memory is like looking into a blender on puree. The only piece that I can begin to assemble is that of my mugging. A pair of medium build men, seeing how incapacitated I was, could easily ascertain my nationality. I remember a confrontation, my fleece being cut by a box cutter, anger, pain and nothing more. I awoke in my hotel room the next morning, bruises covering my body, a dried pool of blood in my ear, a razor slice on my fleece pullover and not a dollar in my wallet. Somehow I had lost six hundred dollars but managed to keep my wallet.
Regardless of my pain, sickness and poverty, I was late for the train to Auschwitz. I sprinted through the hotel, darted through traffic and into the station. I ran from train to train, crossing platforms and looking for the correct one. Finally I stumbled upon my friends Anna and Mike just minutes before departure. In my haste I had forgotten to buy a train ticket. When reaching in my wallet to pay the ticket collector I discovered I was penniless and my friends gasped.
Anna seemed to be more upset than I was about the situation. She was utterly embarrassed that her fellow countrymen would be involved in such a crime. Her beautiful doe eyes were wide and honest as she comforted me. She is by far one of the most attractive women that I had ever met. I envy her fiancé even though I am pleased with my own girlfriend. Not only was Anna smart but she was very well educated, studying at the same university as had Copernicus. In addition to speaking Polish in English fluently, she was a student of French, German and Russian.
The train ride seemed like an eternity. The outdated locomotive chugged, sputtered and burped. The strain was great for the old beast of a machine and it protested and strained to pull our weight against the friction of the warped tracks. The sun pounded down on me through the graffiti covered windows and the shaking made the remaining liquor in my stomach slosh about. As I was turning as pale as January snow Anna offered me a sip of her water. Delighted, I downed a fair amount feeling my body temperature drop almost instantly. As the train slowed in a small village, I looked out the window and asked Anna where the death camp was. She sighed and told me we had a long walk ahead of us. I smiled although we both knew the sun would make me dreadfully uncomfortable.
The three of us walked a brisk pace for several miles until the camp came into view. The organization of the building reminded me of the ancient Roman barracks. Train tracks lead into the camp gates. Suddenly I realized that the same tracks I had taken from Krakow had carried millions to their deaths at the hands of the SS. The excitement of sightseeing suddenly dropped away and horror began to infuse into my soul.
Nothing could have prepared me for the inside of the camp. The tourists or pilgrims, if you will, looked as solemn as the prisoners that had walked the same turf during the Holocaust. We entered through the museum and watched a movie that would have upset even the hardiest of men. I had promised myself I wouldn’t cry and already, I was on the verge of tears. Human beings were starved to the point where their skin was split between their ribs. Seeing the living victims, who had been tortured and on the brink of death for months made the mass murders seem almost humane. In addition to regular forms of torture the SS used some prisoners for “special experiments” these included but were not limited to sterilization, freezing to death and reviving and testing under high pressure.
Leaving the museum we entered the camp. The gates were signed with a German Phrase meaning “Work makes (us) strong” I found this particularly upsetting because while this maybe true under normal circumstances, thousands of prisoners had been worked to death here. The entrance reeked with emotion and irony. The entire camp had the eerie feeling of a graveyard as if you were to tread very carefully.
We saw the living conditions of the prisoners and the ditches which served as mass graves. Humans were shot in such a way they would fall into piles in the ditch and they were then burned. This took place after the crematorium exceeded the maximum capacity of several thousand per day. There was room after room of horrific sights and they each touched upon a different emotion. There was an entire room filled with eyeglasses that were removed from victims before extermination. The room was the eyeglasses of those killed in just one typical day. There was soap made of human fat that had been collected after cremation. I was not surprised to see this, because I had read about it prior to my trip. The fact that it sat in front of me, however, disturbed me quite deeply. I began to ponder what the names of the people were trapped forever in a glass case as a bar of soap. I don’t understand how anyone could wash themselves with it. As I progressed into one particular room the people leaving looked even more distressed than the anywhere else in the camp. As I neared the room, a putrid stench tore gaping soars into my nostril. I became nauseous instantly as my senses were bombarded and my stomach turned even further. I looked to see a literal ton of hair, just one day’s worth that filled an enormous space. At first I thought it was all from old women until I realized that severed hair must turn grey with age.
The Nazis used the hair of their victims to make textiles. The soldiers would take it from women before they were slaughtered. I will always remember the fragrance I smelled that day, because it was one of the most disturbing moments of my life. The glass that the hair lay behind was not sealed and I believe this was done on purpose so people would understand the atrocities of the camp better. When we went outside I gasped for fresh air, but the smell stays with me. Still, when I think of it I can smell it and taste the pile of human hair. Anna told me that the smell in the room that had made me so sick was miniscule to the smell of the camp when it was in operation. Her eyes were welled with tears. This was her third time to the camp. After her second trip she had vowed never to return and I appreciated her coming with us.
We ended the tour with the gas chamber. This was a fitting place to stop because it was the location at which many prisoners ended their tour of the camp. Each building could hold roughly one thousand at a time and it ran at capacity for years. The ovens were smaller then I had expected and looking inside of it made me shutter thinking of the millions that were killed in just a few of them. There were groves at the bottom of the oven were the human fat was collected. In the ceiling were holes that the Zyklon B was dropped into. Being inside a chamber was terrifying. I knew that it was safe now, but just looking at the instruments of mass murder made me feel vulnerable.
We continued on to Birkenau a much larger camp that sprawled for miles. We entered walking on the railroad tracks through hells gate. It was more open than Auschwitz and not as dreary but horrific nonetheless. We looked around a bit and decided it was time to return to Krakow; Anna had school later in the day. Later that night a group of about a dozen of my friends and I assembled and went clubbing. We had a few beers, danced a bit, and had a good time. We ended up at a coffee house where we fell asleep on the sofas until the business closed. Having our party and being with good friends did help lift my spirit that day but it could never erase the memories. I will always carry a bit of Auschwitz with me wherever I go and try to prevent any such atrocity from occurring in the future.