Those in my family who hadn’t been to Auschwitz before went yesterday but I didn’t go. The main reason was that as a child I watched a lot of documentaries I probably shouldn’t have done, especially as I was a pretty sensitive boy. Those black and white pictures of the slaughter and suffering of the holocaust have stayed with me until today and I couldn’t stomach bringing them up again.
So I felt a little guilty I hadn’t gone to Auschwitz when I was walking around a new bit of Krakow yesterday and came across a building with a plaque. It said something like (I’m paraphrasing as I didn’t write it down) this building was a children’s hospital and on this date the Germans came and killed everyone. I then came across a sign that said this building was an old people’s home and on this date the Germans came and killed everyone. Then another. All the buildings looked like no one had been inside since those murderous events.
A short walk away and I reached a bleak and empty square with chairs dotted around it. This is The Ghetto Heroes Square. It was the place the Germans gathered Jewish families before sending them to their deaths in the industrial scale murder factories they had designed and built during their occupation of Poland.
In many ways seeing these chairs and the matter of fact plaques on abandoned buildings brought home the evil of the Nazis and the horrors those Jewish families suffered more than a visit to Auschwitz would have done.
It was just a walk through a modern European city yet the echoes of that evil butchery could be seen everywhere. Not in a camp. Not in a documentary but on a casual holiday stroll in the sun.
Utterly breathtaking and profoundly moving.