The view between the blocks in Aushwitz

I think I will continue to process the experience we had at Aushwitz-Birkenau, and will likely never fully grasp the enormity of it. The tour we did will likely not be a highlight of our 10-12 months but it could be one of the most important.

My experience with WWII has been quite distant. Sure, I learned about it in school, read books about the Holocaust, and I have seen many movies on the topic. But both world wars never touched me personally. None of my grandparents were in the military, and I don’t think I have really ever met a war veteran. It could be really easy for my generation to chalk the wars up to something that we probably shouldn’t do to each other again.

Everything was harvested from the victims, including this

Standing in the middle of the first gas chamber ever used made the war personal for me. Seeing the piles of shoes, clothing, and hair that was taken from the prisoners was creepy. I didn’t like standing next to the wall where Polish people thought to be helping escaped prisoners were shot. The barbed wire and guard towers hammered home a sense of the oppression and fear people must have lived under.

It is mind blowing to think that we can do this to each other based on skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, and any other reason the Nazi’s thought to exterminate people. Near the end of our tour, our guide commented that it is important for people to feel and touch these killing camps so as humans we can try to ensure we don’t let this happen again. I still think we have a lot of learning to do.

In Poland, Canada was seen as the land of plenty so they stored the stuff that was stolen from the victims. When the Russians arrived they tried to bury the evidence

It could have been a really depressing day (and the overcast weather didn’t help matters), but we did find some light. We heard about an escape and how the Nazi’s were going to randomly punish a man for it. A priest staying in the camp volunteered instead because he didn’t have a wife and children. The priest did not survive, but the man did. We also learned about the women who smuggled arms into Birkenau to give to other¬†women working in the gas chambers. These women were able to destroy one of the 4 killing chambers at great risk to themselves, and consequently were able to save some lives.

I am not so naive as to think that the camps were anything but misery and agony, but I think these ‘museums’ are just as much about human triumph as suffering – and it’s important to remember our inherent goodness even in the face of evil.

When we returned to Krakow after the tour I found myself wondering what it must have been like hearing bomber planes flying over your home and where people would have gone to find safety. I tried to understand what it must have been like to have your entire life and family relocated and dramatically changed with only a moments notice. I looked around the central square filled with tourists and tried to imagine bombs dropping and people running in fear. I couldn’t.

I do know that on Remembrance day wherever we are, I will take a few more conscious moments to remember all those who are responsible for why I was unable to understand the terror and potential hopelessness that accompanies any war. And from now on I will add in some thoughts for those that lived and died during all the wars we have waged and continue to wage on our planet.

The train cars that carried people to their death in Birkenau either by the gas chambers or by hard work


The train tracks of death


Post Author
We are Matt and Heather and the people behind Reason 2 Roam. We have been travelling together since 1996 and have never looked back!


  1. posted by
    Oct 19, 2012 Reply

    Very powerful and haunting

    • posted by
      Oct 20, 2012 Reply

      Thanks for was a place of immense power..

  2. posted by
    Oct 19, 2012 Reply

    You have described our experience going thru Dachau, just outside Munich. Wars were just something to read about until we travelled thru Europe. well done essay, very moving.

    • posted by
      Oct 20, 2012 Reply

      Thanks for reading! Happy to know I wasn’t the only person who experienced some similar feelings.

  3. posted by
    Cowie, Heather
    Oct 19, 2012 Reply

    Hey we want to sykpe u tomorrow. What time

  4. posted by
    Oct 22, 2012 Reply

    Pretty much the exact sentiments I thought when I was there in January…

  5. posted by
    Trish Oswald
    Nov 22, 2012 Reply

    Taking me a while to catch up! but this piece is the most powerful!

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