I am unable to describe how I felt during my time at Auschwitz. But one thing that I am sure of is that I feel like a different person after leaving the camp. When going to Auschwitz, me—and everyone in my program—understood that it was going to be a difficult day. According to our schedule, our day started at 9 am, and we wouldn’t make it back to our apartments until 5 pm. We were all aware that the day would be filled with emotional turmoil, but I was thoroughly shocked by the fact that were was really no way to fully prepare all of us for the visit. As I walked through the camp, my body was filled with anxiety. We went into one of the several buildings that housed internment camp victims—cramming 700 to 1000 people in these small buildings. In this particular building, there were different displays of objects stolen from jews, Roma people, homosexuals, and others. There was a display of hundreds broken eyeglasses. There was a display of hundreds of prosthetic limbs. There was a display of thousands of pairs of children’s shoes. There was a display of hundreds of suitcases, labeled with names because many thought they would eventually leave. But the worst was the hair. There was an entire room filled with of human hair—hair that was shaved off of the heads of victims to be made into blankets for the German population. I couldn’t hold back the fear, the anger, and the overwhelming sadness that filled my entire body. Walking through Auschwitz, tears would not stop streaming down my face. I could not contain the sobs that desperately wanted to leave my body. There was a part of me in that moment where I could not help pray for the lives lost despite having never believed in a higher power.
There was a point where we were allowed to enter a gas chamber and the rooms where bodies were cremated. I really cannot process this moment in any other detail.
There was so much anger in my body when I saw the way that tourists would interact with Auschwitz. Many people would take pictures—selfies in front of the unforgettable gates into the camp, family photos in front of a train car that brought millions of people to their deaths. I saw people laughing, joking, smiling. There were so many people who didn’t seem to have any reaction to the camp at all. I am aware that people express their emotions in different ways, but this was not that. So many just seemed to be there because it was just another tourist attraction in Krakow.
After leaving Auschwitz, I am not sure how to go forward, but I know that I feel the need to drastically change the way that I live my life. I am someone who is always trying to practice their politics. But I need to try harder. There is one emotion that has consumed after leaving Auschwitz: fear. I am so afraid of the current rise of right-wing fascism that is occurring throughout the West. I am afraid of the current political state of the United States; I come from a country that currently has concentration camps, and everyone likes to pretend that it isn’t happening. I need to do more. I need to do better.