Visiting Eastern Europe in January was a great idea. The crowds were smaller, rooms were cheaper and the weather was — well, not great, but I wasn’t going to Poland to get a suntan. I wanted to experience some history.
I felt pretty decent on the bus. Polish food is hearty and delicious. Same with the vodka. My buddy and I enjoyed a fun night out the evening before. Every Polish woman looks like she should be a model, and every Polish dude looks liked he was kicked out of the UFC for being too violent.
When the bus stopped and the passengers started filing out, I thought, “Most of the people who came here 70 years ago didn’t come on heated buses. They arrived on packed trains.”
Auschwitz was my destination of the day.
The gray sky in January made the experience feel authentic. Then I looked around and saw the sign, “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” (“Work sets you free”). Honestly, I nearly threw up.
Even though I’d read about this place, seen movies, heard lectures and looked through photos, nothing prepared me to actually see the sign in person. I would be visiting this place as a museum, but 70 years ago, more than a million people were murdered here.
First, we shuffled through a metal detector. I had to leave my keys behind, which I thought was odd, but didn’t really care since I felt the queasiness of being in a literal death camp.
After the sign, I saw what looked like a barren football field after a natural disaster. The realization shocked me to think that my entire home state of North Dakota could have died here, burned to ashes and just tossed into this field.
The camp itself looks like a combination of an incomplete warehouse and a sick amusement park in a black-and-white horror movie. I read all the information on every plaque, each one making me feel sicker and sicker.
What did I find most horrifying? As I walked around, I heard other tourists talking about the girls they were going to try to bang that night or which club had the best bottle service. People snapping selfies in the showers and then putting cutesy mustaches on their pics. In the bunks where who knows how many people froze to death, people carved names and other graffiti like “John and Mary were here 2002” “Go Rangers!” and “I hate Germany!” This is why they take your keys at the front door. Even worse are the people who will never visit this place because they don’t believe the Holocaust ever even happened.
All of this kind of disgusting nonsense makes me no longer want to be a part of humanity. Will I ever go back to Auschwitz? No, but I think visiting historical sites — no matter how revolting — is important.