Auschwitz – Birkenau

Even being there, even standing in the barracks and walking along the same dusty and stone filled streets they walked on, it is so hard to get your head around it all. How did human beings actually do these things to other human beings?

Of course there are academic answers to that question. The Holocaust has been studied intensely. Brilliant historical minds have analyzed it, unpacked it, looked at it again and again. The economy. The foundation of antisemitism that had been cultivated for centuries. The willingness of people to set aside rational thinking and to dehumanize the other.

But the experience of Auschwitz is not academic, not rational and intellectual. It is instead emotional, it comes from the gut, as we say the kishkes. It is something experienced feelingly. You walk lost in your own thoughts in a world that seems almost surrealistic.

I took very few pictures. Not sure why exactly. Too distracted by the enormity of it all? Or maybe it felt like some kind of desecration. Judaism does teach that we are not permitted to look at the dead, to stare at them, as if we are saying ‘we are still in this world, still in life, but you are gone.’

And small things caught my eye. The baby in the yellow dress playing with her father. The barbed wire, rusting but still there , as it was so many years ago. The 1913 date on the cattle car axle. So mundane, such little things, yet what they mean together in that place I will be unpacking for a long time.

And so many people. Droves of them, hundreds and hundreds. On the one hand thank goodness. They come to learn and maybe understand and acknowledge and remember. On the other hand they murmur and laugh, they smile and eat and drink, as people must. It is difficult to find sacred space, the solitude needed for deep reflection.

We will continue to seek it out. That is one of the reasons we are on this journey.

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