Oświęcim: Visiting My Ancestors Hell

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Two years ago in the early-spring of 2016, I and my dad decided to go to Oświęcim, Poland to visit a place that acted like hell for some of my ancestors. This place is infamously known as the Auschwitz-Birkenau or the Auschwitz Concentration camp. This place was home to innocent families of being beaten and eventually gassed. It was very important for me to visit the venue because I was curious about what my forebears had to endure during the difficult times.

A week ago the atmosphere was full of life with the sun out and flowers blooming in the middle of spring. Nazis and the poor souls of family members that were left were starving, shockingly anorexic and traumatized. You enter the camp through the notorious gateway with the cynical words “Arbeit Macht Frei” – “Work makes freedom” and immediately arrive at the barracks in which the museum is housed. The standard museum route is through blocks 4, 5, 6, 7 and 11. Piece by piece, the whole picture is slowly put together, row after row of portraits three high, the length of the barrack corridor. I started off in Block 4, walking down a very long corridor very slowly and glanced at the portraits of prisoners in their striped uniforms, mostly with gaunt expressions and sunken, traumatized eyes full of fear, with their names underneath along with the dates they entered the camp and then died. I then paused at a particular picture with the caption of the surname “Kraus”. I was curious if this couple was part of my descent only for my dad to confirm it immediately. I soon felt ill and instantly ran out of the corridor to get away from all of the victims’ faces and soon began to cry over it.

I wondered why I felt the way I did at the camp. I had no real emotional connection with my ancestors in my life, but seeing the defeat and fear in their eyes and reading on what they endured during their time had me go into a spiral of emotions. I was angry, sad, and confused about all this. I then realized that it made me take a good look at how grateful I am in my life to have a wonderful and loving family and live in freedom with my country, on how to not take things for granted on simple things like going to school or having homecooked meals to eat every night because like my ancestors, as well as millions of others where unfortunate to live life to the fullest.

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