While we were on our way to Auschwitz, we were told that we may forget most of the sites visited on our 17-day trip to Europe but we will never forget the day we visited Auschwitz. That is a fact. I have not forgotten the time I witnessed and learnt about inhumane acts committed at Auschwitz.
Auschwitz was a concentration camp for the Jews during the Second World War (1939-1945). Jews from many countries across Europe were transported here. When the Jews were boarding the trains to concentration camps, they were told that they are being transported for a better life to another city. Instead, they ended up living in cramped and unsanitary conditions in a concentration camp, if living at all.
When the Jews arrived by train, a medical test was conducted. This determined whether a person is fit for work or not. The people who were deemed fit for work were separated from the lot of “unfit” people. The “unfit” people were then told that they were going to be taken for a shower. Therefore, these unfit people undressed themselves and headed to what seemed to be “common showers”.
It is what unfolded in these “common showers” that will probably stay with me for the rest of my life. These common shower areas were actually gas chambers with pipelines designed to look like sprinklers. Thousands of people were shoved into these small chambers “common bathrooms” at one time. These people were then told to wait for the water. The water never came instead a poisonous gas was leaked inside the chambers that all killed those people within a few minutes. Their bodies were then cremated in crematorium, with several bodies being cremated at one time.
What really struck me was that these people did not even get to say goodbye to their beloveds one last time. They were told that they were going for a shower. It is deeply saddening to think that some of their loved ones would have waited for them to return from the showers. Acceptance must have been so difficult. I flinch at the thought of how their perfectly normal lives were suddenly uprooted and destroyed just because they were perceived to be different.
There were also stories of great escapes from the Auschwitz. Successful escapes were very rare. These were stories of inspiration and courage. These stories revealed how people managed to remain so positive and held on to the desire to live in the midst of all the negativity, torture, inhumanity and brutality in Auschwitz.
The prisoners at Auschwitz were on a poor diet and made to work several hours a day. There was an infirmary where the weak patients were sent and many of them were killed because they were deemed unfit for work as a result of their illness. Different techniques of torture were used to kill these patients and punish the prisoners. At one point, I saw piles of reading glasses, shoes, suitcases, clothes and hair of prisoners who were killed by the Nazis. The sheer magnitude of that kind of destruction of humanity will make you feel sick in the stomach. It will make you realise how ugly the human race can be, the kind of bestiality the human race is capable of. Upon seeing that sight, I thought how these things once meant something to people. I thought about how they were used in everyday life by people who had no idea of what was coming to them. But it was seeing the human hair that registered in me the savagery of it all.
Auschwitz is a reminder of why history should never repeat itself. Not in any country in the world. At the end of the day we are all humans. We should learn to appreciate our differences and live with them. Perhaps, in a country as diverse as India, we could learn a lesson or two from Auschwitz and the Holocaust. There have been many communal riots in the history of our country. These riots stem from differences between different communities. Therefore, an education in the devastation any form of bigotry can cause in extremely necessary. That is what I already knew but really understood after visiting Auschwitz.