This morning was sunny and mild with a slight breeze. It was just right…a perfect day. In fact the day was almost too pretty as our bus rolled through the outer gate at Auschwitz. If you’ve watched the documentaries, seen Schindler’s list and read Elie Weisel you are prepared for worst horror known to Western civilization. Yet the red brick buildings under a sunny sky, among trees and small grassy areas belie this place’s horrific history…at least for a few minutes.
While we were in our first building, it began to rain. There are no accidents. By the time we left the last building, it was thundering in the skies above us and raining in our hearts.
Our trip to Birkenau was cut short by lightning dividing the sky and the rubble of countless, grim buildings flashing in the foreground. Perhaps it was fitting that we were wet, cold and miserable as we looked at the toilets, if you can even call them that, in the converted horse stable that was the prisoner’s awful excuse for shelter in the final days of their lives.
We saw rooms filled with all the macabre evidence. There was luggage, eye glasses, shoes, prosthetic devices, tooth and hair brushes and other personal artifacts providing incontrovertable evidence of the robbery that occurred before, during and after the many other acts of cruelty inflicted on the Polish, Jewish and Gypsy populations of Europe. At one point, we were told how they manufactured socks in a nearby factory with women’s hair.
It is hard to understand this degree of hatred. I personally attribute it to a perfect storm of sins…arrogance, greed and fear among others. Nothing new here especially against a backdrop of centuries of bloodshed in Europe. What the Nazis added was the presence of an atrocious racism with charisma and great logistical capability. Perhaps the saddest and most disturbing reality of all is that Hitler required and received the loyalty of the S.S., the cooperation of many Germans and the complicity of an apathetic world.
Rudolph Hess was the Commandant at Auschwitz. He lived in a house not more than 200 meters from the chimney over the main incinerator at the extermination camp. His children played in their back yard and his wife kept a garden. She said living there was like a paradise. How nice.
Unfortunately, I believe that he and his family were created by the same God that created you and me.
The Europe trips remind us of many lessons…the unimaginable craftsmanship of the cathedrals along with the unfathomable cunning of the death camp. I noticed the steps in and out of those barracks are worn away. Hundreds of thousands have trod over them to view first hand the remnants of these atrocities and the culture and mechanics of evil. I wish the students didn’t have to enter those buildings but obviously they do. Of course George Santayana was right.