This is the third installment of a multi-part series that details my return to Auschwitz and Birkenau with my family. After visiting my parent’s marked mass grave, we continued on our journey into the past…
From the cemetery we continued to the Salt Mine in Wieliczka. We arranged for a private tour with an English speaking tour guide. We were taken down via elevator, which is usually not done. Most people climb down over 700 steps. The place is absolutely amazing. If you are ever around Krakow, it is a must see. On the way back, we past Plashov and stopped at the memorial. Plashov was the camp where Schindler had the factory, a notorious place for many atrocities have occurred there.
By this time it was late in the evening and we had a beautiful family dinner in a romantic outdoor café , complete with a 3 piece orchestra, wine, beer and fine dining. We topped the night off with assorted ice cream cones. We walked back around midnight to our hotel rooms, pretty exhausted but very satisfied of what we have seen, done and accomplished thus far.
The next day Andre’, our driver took us to Auschwitz and Birkenau. While on route there it stirred up feelings in me which I cannot describe in words, emotions which I did not know were still confined in me.
Suddenly I saw images of the past which were etched deep into my memory. Visions of black uniforms, swastikas , sirens, Gestapo, SS, shinny black boots, dogs, pistols, rifles, screams, shouts, whips, reflections of fire, smoke vivid memories of the ashes of Birkenau, selections, mountains of corpses all around me, children savagely torn from their mothers, furnaces, fire pits, frighten faces, hunger, starvation, gas chambers, barbwire, Kapo’s, shovels, picks, and sledge hammers, freezing cold, standing in appels, dying faces, bulging eyes, death march, cattle cars, bunkers, attics, beatings, lice, vermin, latrines.
My heart is pounding and I closed my eyes, trying to steer my thoughts away from the past back to the present, but without success. Now my head is spinning and I hear loud speakers yelling—JUDEN RAUS, ACHTUNG! LOS LOS, RAUS SCHNELL! The KAPOS yelling ZUM APPEL PLAC! DIE MUTZE ABNEHMEN! DER COMMANDANT YELLING DU VERFLUCHTE JUDEN? SCHWEINHUNT, etc. etc. If you don’t know the meaning of any those aforementioned words, consider yourselves lucky.
I see the gallows and I hear the cries of SHEMAH YISRAEL ADONAY ELOKENU ADANAY ECHOD, the last prayer before death (hear, O Israel; the eternal is our G-D, the eternal is one.) It seems like the closer we got, the more vivid those flashbacks became.
When we finally arrived and I saw those tracks which led 1.5 million man, woman and children to the slaughter houses of Birkenau. Even though I was in Birkenau during the war in 1943 and this is going to be my second visit to Auschwitz after liberation and I knew what to expect, my stomach was in knots..