5.14.11 – Auschwitz
Today we went to Auschwitz. The train ride there felt a little surreal because here we were two Jews voluntarily taking a train to the place where thousands of our people were tricked or forced to take trains to and most subsequently murdered. Once we got off the train we headed to the museum, which is in my opinion a misnomer. It is actually a memorial to those who were imprisoned there. We started the tour with a short film made by the Russians after they liberated the camp. We then started the walking tour of the main camp. As we walked around the various barracks that have since been turned into infopoints my thoughts turned to the origins of this trip, mainly Bertram and the laying of his Stolperstein, While walking around I was also trying to recall the names of other family members that were imprisoned and murdered there. Since Bertram was close to my age when he died I was trying to imagine what his thoughts and feelings were. First, he was abandoned by his family when they left for America. And then to be betrayed and sent to Schveningen Camp and then off to Auschwitz. Anyway, even though as a Jewish historian I knew what the Nazi’s had done to millions, hearing the history and seeing where it happened was something else entirely. As we were walking my mother and I noticed memorials to the deported from Austria and the Netherlands which we would end up visiting later. After we were done with the main camp we had small snack and then hopped on the bus to Auschwitz II – Birkenau. It was there that most of the Jews were sent. I won’t go into detail about how concentration camps worked but lets just say that after walking around both camps I was deeply moved by what I saw, heard, and read. While as Birkenau my mother and I laid the rest of the stones we had brought with us at the various memorials. There were 4 at the front as well as the ones in the back. In the back the memorials were in different languages and we put ours on the ones for our family – English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Dutch, and German. After we were done at Birkenau we went back to the main camp to look at the Austrian and Dutch memorials previously mentioned. The Austrian one apparently was redone in order to reflect the country’s cooperation with the Nazi’s and their current regret in doing so. At least that is what it said on the introductory plaque, the rest was in German and Polish so we just wandered around for a few minutes and then went to the Dutch one. The Dutch memorial was much better in terms of presentation and information. It was presented in Dutch, Polish, and English and showed a lot of history and pictures. We walked around this one for a bit longer than the other one, taking in what we could. At the next to last section was a wall of names similar to the Vietnam Vets Memorial in Washington DC. Even though I could spent all day trying to locate the names of all the family members I could, I only found Bertram’s name on the wall. At the last part was a memorial book and database of Dutch victims. My mother and I both wrote something in the book and I looked in the database for a few minutes. We then headed back to the hotel.