Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I Will Never Forget, Cannot Forget

Tomorrow, Oprah's show is on her visit to Auschwitz with Elie Wiesel. I will not be watching.

Two decades ago, I went to Mauthausen. We walked in as if we were visiting just another museum. Our hearts were beating because we had seen pictures and knew of what went on in concentration camps; still we did not know what it would be like.

On the left were barracks, wooden structures, one rectangle after the other all in a line. As we walked into one, the darkness fell upon us. Light became a small receding rectangle. But we had stopped noticing, for before us was a line of rough wooden bunk beds. One rectangle after another of boards banged together to create frames in which lay thin, solid mattresses. The thing was each bed had housed three men. Two of us could barely lie side by side in one, as we soon realised standing at the end of one looking at its shortness, its roughness, its uninhabitability. We walked out thankfully into the sun and across the innocuous parade ground into another low building.

I don't remember much of what I first saw in that one. I used to be a museum nut. While everyone else skimmed along, I read everything, looked at everything. And so as I walked through the doorway into the memorial part I was alone. I looked at the photos posted on the wall: fading serious faces, taken in a long-ago time. I read the words from people who long ceased to exist. And then I turned left...

...and looked straight into an oven. My heart jumped into my mouth for comfort. I stood transfixed. It was so long inside. And so very very narrow. The metal was all around black. The heavy door stood ajar. It was at the right height to push a person in without straining a soldier's back. It had a latch so no one could kick it open. But who being that emaciated would have the power left in their legs to kick it open. Only the emaciated could fit...or maybe they didn't care if they had to squeeze the person in. I started to imagine being in that, looking down the length of one's body to the light and the uncaring soldier shutting the door on it. Being encased in hard darkness and feeling the heat rising. To my right were the showers, white tiled, metal head showers. Was that a better way to die?

I will not watch Oprah's show tomorrow. Once was enough.

7 comments:

susan said...

That was a well written chilling post. Not what any of us want to hear but have to.

talk talk talk said...

Thank you, and so true.

Bill said...
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Bill said...

Bill said...

Not an easy topic to Blog on, well done.

I visited Israel's national memorial to the martyrs and heroes of the Holocaust. The most emotional part of this was the children's Memorial. Inside a darkened subterranean room, the light of memorial candles is reflected by a system of mirrors, so that millions of flames seem to shine in the darkness, in commemoration of the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust.

Music plays, the names, ages and places of origin of the children who perished in the Holocaust are read out in Hebrew, English and Yiddish.

I Cried.

talk talk talk said...

Thank you for sharing.

It is heart rending what people do to each other. So many in those photos were young, with clear, open faces, as human as you and me. Yet today, still, as the Anne Frank memorial in Amsterdam was warning Europeans and tourists over 2 decades ago, that same hatred festers. That hatred that allows one group of people to label another as sub-human. It isn't a 20th century phenomenon, and it isn't only "caucasians" who breed it. But only now, after the Holocaust, are we understanding just how wrong it is.

49erDweet said...

Thanks from me, too. Gut-wrenching post but an important topic. Some conveniently want to "forget" this happened, others of us just want to deny it occurred. Like disputing reality.

Great posting!

talk talk talk said...

I didn't realise when I felt compelled to write it that this post would touch so many. Thank you for your comment!