The third and concluding piece on my time in Poland that I want to talk about is walking through Auschwitz II, better known as Birkenau. Actually, that’s a lie. I don’t want to talk about Birkenau at all. I don’t even want to think about it. I’ve avoided writing this blog since I went there about a week ago. Auschwitz I was originally built as Polish Army barracks. Birkenau is different because it was built specifically to hold and kill human beings. It’s 20 times vaster than Auschwitz I. The death camp, Birkenau, seems to go on for miles with no end in sight. The stretch of the landscape appears to suggest that even if one would contemplate escape from this place, it would be futile because first one would have to find where the camp ends.
I was uneasy about going through the gates of Birkenau. After passing through the entrance (nicknamed Gate of Death) a foreboding shadow swept across my mind. It was at first what I expected: destroyed buildings marked only by its outer frame or a post bearing a number to let passerby know that one once stood there, train tracks that make one feel sick knowing the numbers of souls it carried, fences embossed with barb wire daring someone to embrace it, watch towers that loom and cast fear with its shadow and bright lights every several feet that give off no warmth and like the insect that gets too close ends up lifeless underneath it.
I was completely unprepared and caught off guard as to what the camp looked like. Birkenau was beautiful. There was grass growing everywhere and scattered here and there were pretty little wildflowers along with dog roses springing from the ground. The trees within Birkenau provided a tranquil forest that made one feel welcome to sit and read below its fresh branches. As strange as it might sound, I was genuinely angry that the camp was pretty. It was because I felt that from all the horrors that had taken place there, the land should honor that by staying ugly. It felt like the ground was in collaboration with the Nazis; trying to cover what had happened there so that no one who came back to that decrepit place would be able to find it. All they would see is the beauty there and continue their search for the barren ground that was so many peoples hell.
Later that week we read a poem in class that changed my perspective. It was a poem about the Holocaust and at the end of each stanza there was a line that spoke of the earth healing itself by growing grass where there was once nothing but mud. It made me rethink how I felt and instead be grateful knowing that even the land is trying to heal. For all those who had once been kept there and for all those who died there, Birkenau is mending.