I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in spirits or monsters or witches or anything of the sort. Auschwitz, however, is the most haunting place I’ve ever visited.
We entered in a hot, sweaty crowd of tourists. German, French, Russian, Polish, Spanish, and English conversations swirled throughout the crowd. It was June and dozens, if not hundreds of people swarmed to the site of one of the greatest atrocities in human history, cameras ready, bright red fanny packs bulging around their waists, prepared to take in the sites.
The tour guide lead us from room to room, peppering us with facts and figures through a microphone headset in accented English. I could barely pay attention. The entire tour was a blur. It was uncomfortable. It should be uncomfortable.
I didn’t take pictures, I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures, but images are still burned into my mind; a list of all the lives lost in the holocaust, covering both sides of a long hallway in terribly small print; the ashes and hair of people burned alive; the grooves in the walls, dug by human fingernails as desperate people tried and failed to escape certain death.
There is a room full of shoes; men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes, which are mostly a big grey mass at this point, but here and there is a faded red leather pump or dirty red tennis shoe. Other displays show the prosthetic limbs and suitcases of the victims. The most haunting, however, was the hair. A huge display shows an unforgettable mass of filthy hair cut from the thousands of victims’ heads. The inhumanity makes me feel nauseated just remembering it.
We were quiet as we were led through this place, this awful place where so much happened, where so many lives were not just lost but needlessly tortured to that bitter end. I felt cheap, tasteless, touring this the place of so many innocent men, women, and children’s demise. But I couldn’t look away. It was like a horror movie, when you see the serial killer creeping up on the innocent man going about his business and you want to look away before the poor guy is bludgeoned to death, but you can’t. Auschwitz was like this, but 100xs worse because it was real.
I don’t believe in ghosts, but Auschwitz was haunting.