5 Days in the City

By Peter Wróbel

June 25, 2015, 8:30 pm. I was waiting for a trolley with my family. It wasn’t going to arrive for another 7 minutes, so to occupy myself, I saturated the scenery. It was already dark outside, limiting my vision. Therefore, I took interest in a nearby advertisement board. The board featured a Lady in a very famous place. I was confused. The woman was rather pretty. Extremely photogenic, to be more specific. She had curly black hair; her figure was dark in general. On her thin body, her face was smiling uncontrollably. Her jovial smile showed off two rows of perfect teeth. Now, joyful, beautiful women have always been a classic method of advertising for a wide range of goods and services. So what was so provoking about this woman? She was nothing unexpected for advertisements. Well, her shadow fell onto a long oxidized iron rod. The rod ran parallel in respect to a few other identical metal rods, making a barbed wire fence. The fence ran by a tall brick tower, where 78 years ago there stood a guard. To the side of the ecstatic woman, letters formed words in English: “experience the thrill of Auschwitz”
Two days prior, I and my mother and grandma woke up early in the morning. This was our fourth day in Krakow, and it was going to be different from the rest. The reason for the shortened sleep was a bus that was picking us up at 7:00 am. We of course were ready by 6:30, since my mom wanted to be extra careful not to miss our transportation. I used the extra time to recollect my thoughts about today’s destination: Auschwitz. I heard of the horrors lived in the camp in public schools and polish school alike, and it was hard to imagine that events like these actually occurred. Just the stories alone could keep you up at night. But now for the first time in my life I was going to see, touch, the remains of a nightmare once experienced by the Jews, the Poles and other nations. Strange, I was keen to go, but the eagerness’s fuel was not enthusiasm, but instead a potent, patriotic sense of duty.
The bus arrived one and a half minutes before seven. The driver escorted us into the partially filled interior. In front of each seat, there was a black screen the size of a tablet. Once the driver picked up all the other passengers, the screens sparked to life with a black and white documentary. The documentary began with Auschwitz’s topography and I was shocked to find out how large the place was. I learned it was not one site, but rather a conglomeration of camps stretching for many kilometers. The documentary made sure not to euphemize some of the more disturbing sights; multiple murdered infants and children were shown, not to mention the large graves holding hundreds of dead bodies.
The documentary finished just before we arrived. We were split into groups of ten, and soon after a tour guide arrived to lead us to a camp. We entered under the words “Arbiet Macht Frei” and went from building to building discovering the specifics about the death camp. One of two places that penetrated my feelings deepest was a narrow hallway of pictures. On one side were males and on the other the counter-sex. Each photograph contained a profile image of a specific person who was a prisoner to the camp, including their name, date of entrance, and date of death. The wall contained hundreds of these faces, and not a single one of the people died after 1945. All of these people had died in the camp. Looking at each face individually made me shiver; they showed that behind each number there was an individual life and legacy.
The other place which I remember so vividly was the gas chamber. The place reminded me of an unfinished basement. The ground and walls were cement, and the only other characteristics of the place were the faux shower sprinklers, and holes on the roof where the gas would be let through. Looking through one of them, I realized that through this entered the last ray of sunlight so many innocent people would see in their lives. I was seeing exactly what the victims were seeing, yet it was completely different. They had felt fear, pain, but my feelings were overwhelmed with melancholy. They were drowned by their own and their peers’ screams, while I heard nothing but silence. This place I will never forget, this place made a mark on me as it did on all of Poland, and on the entire world.
Auschwitz to me is more than just a reminder of my ancestor’s hardships, but a lesson to my generation and future ones of what some people are capable of. Without memorials like these, the appalling realities of war and hatred could once more be left behind in the shadows, in the shadow of ignorance, only to reappear fully with people scratching their heads, asking themselves “how has it come to this” or “why has history not warned us of this.”
June 25, 2015 8:37 pm. I looked at the woman for a few more seconds. I frowned. The trolley arrived just then, and I soon wasn’t there anymore. But her smile was. And so was her shadow, falling on the long oxidized fence.
5 Days in the City - illustration (1)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *