It's mentally and emotionally overwhelming as everything you have ever heard about the Holocaust is there before your eyes. The greatest lie of all may have been "Arbeit macht frei" -- work makes free.
I hadn't been aware of what a central hub to all of Europe Auschwitz was. People -- mostly Jews -- came from over 2,000 kilometers away, sometimes traveling for 5 days without food and water and often dying enroute.
It was soon after taking this picture of the map that I simply couldn't take another photo of all the things that told the enormity of the crimes committed in this place -- the piles of hair, shoes, suitcases, glasses, brushes -- all meticulously sorted by the Nazis. As you are guided through room after room, building after building, you simply become numb to it all.
At Birkenau, where the large-scale gas chambers and crematoria were located, I was struck by the sight of one of the actual transport cars with a group of young Israelis walking past and singing Jewish music.
This experience in Poland has caused me to ask myself what I would have done:
-- if I had been a Christian Pole with Jewish neighbors. Would I have risked my family's lives to hide them?
-- if I had lived in the small town where Auschwitz was located and figured out what was going on.
-- if I had been forced to leave my home to live in a ghetto or worse yet to be sent to a camp. Would I have offered resistance? What would I have taken with me?
-- if I had seen my parents or my children being led away. Would I have insisted on staying with them?
-- if I had had to make Sophie's choice.
-- if I had been selected to perform a duty like cutting off the hair of my dead fellow prisoners.
-- if I suddenly had a loaf of bread and hundreds around me were starving.
-- if I knew the end was coming. Would I have taken my own life?
-- if I had somehow managed to survive the war. Would I halve attempted to go back and recreate my former life?
None of us can be certain of how we would have behaved if we had been forced to make the myriad of difficult decisions millions of people had to make during the war.
But we can say with certainty that the atrocities committed were beyond the realm of imagination.
And then there is the question of where God was as this all unfolded here on earth...
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