Auschwitz: A Day in Hell

I’m currently sitting in this funky, super comfortable chair 👇🏾

in the Frankfurt airport on my way back home after an intense ten day trip to Poland. I intend to create several blog posts in the coming days sharing more of my reflections on this impactful journey, but I wanted to start off by sharing my experiences in Auschwitz.

Over one million Jews were murdered in the cruelest ways possible in Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

When we showed up to Auschwitz on a cold December day, Auschwitz was everything you’d expect to be—a dreary, absolutely dreadful place. The skies were gray and the ground was muddy. From the moment we stepped off the bus it was clear this would be a miserable — albeit exceedingly impactful— experience.

One of buildings in Auschwitz 1

I was instantly struck by how Auschwitz is a huge museum in Poland. I had mixed feelings— on one hand it is vital that everyone come here to learn about what happened— and on the other hand when I think of museums, I think of depictions of the ancient past that likely have no relevance to my life.

Then I saw there was a cafeteria, selling an assortment of delicious looking non kosher food. This felt weird to me.

We got in line to clear security, and I was instantly taken aback by the disinfecting station. No I’m not talking about an exhibit depicting the Nazi barbarians telling the Jews they needed to “disinfect them” before sending them to greener pastures (deceiving them into thinking they were going to shower and not into gas chambers). I’m talking about how we— visitors of Auschwitz—needed to get disinfected before walking in. We took turns one by one before clearing security getting sprayed down with disinfectant. Literally. I am always one to judge favorable, so I just assumed that the good folks at Auschwitz know something that no one else on the planet knows about how to fight Covid. But I must say— it felt weird, and, downright insensitive.

One of the most powerful experiences was walking into— and out of— a gas chamber in Auschwitz. I looked at the cold walls of the chamber, filled with what looked like scratch marks. I imagined the millions whose lives were cut short here, and tried to imagine what they were thinking in those last moments. I thought about my heroic great uncle, Herbert Cohen, who was murdered here towards the end of the war at the age of 13. I reflected how, as we were told, the Nazis referred to chamber as a mini synagogue, as the Jews were saying the Shema and praying one last time, reaffirming their faith, even in those harrowing moments.

And then, I turned towards a wall, and placed my hand on it. I noticed others did the same. The way everyone was touching the wall of the chamber reminded me of how one delicately places his/her hand on the Kotel— the Wailing Wall in Israel. I imagined that many of the millions who died here placed their hands on these walls as well in the same way— infusing their touch with a deep longing for the day when they— and their children will be blessed to place their hands on a different wall— the Western Wall. I felt their yearning, and their prayers.

We then headed to Auschwitz Birkenau, all acres and acres of it.

The entrance to Auschwitz Birkenau, where so many were sent to their deaths

We went to see the latrines, where people were given a very short window of time in which to relieve themselves. This is where others were sent to the bottom of, to be punished, and where others drowned to death.

It was all simply horrific.

When I thought I heard the most inhumane, twisted and sadistic thing the Nazis did, Tzvi, our tour guide one upped himself and told us of something even more gruesome.

Our time in Auschwitz mercifully ended when a massive guard came over to our group, cutting off the rabbi mid-sentence yelling at him that the grounds were now closed.

It wasn’t very nice of him, but I must say it felt pretty good getting kicked out of Auschwitz.

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