An Unexpected Vantage Point
We just finished the ceremony for those lost at Auschwitz II Birkenau when Avi freed us to look around the camp at our own pace. Grace walked over to the train tracks, sat down, and told me to try it, too. First I felt a little self-conscious, but that disappeared once my combined imagination and presence at the camp converted me into an eyeball. This was not the reflective, ”transparent” eyeball of Emerson’s musings; it was the omnipresent eyeball commanding me to view a few vivid minutes of camp life, forcing me to witness moments that will always be too extreme to comprehend.
I could hear a train in the immeadiate distance, slinking along the track. It emerged–a long string of freight cars passed under the main entrance, slowed to a stop, and greeted the men in the blue and white striped clothes tasked with the job of unloading passengers beneath a cheery blue sky.
The uncomfortably muggy weather was miniscule compared with the passengers’ conditions. As they unloaded from the boxcars, which were not built to house life forms for any period of time, they looked as though each condition pushed past uncomfortable into the intolerable zone. This was confirmed when prisoners entered the selection process and some of their dead piers remained in the boxcars, undoubtedly from dehydration, malnutrition, or disease.
Meanwhile, the passengers quickly molded into a shapeless group, gazing at or screaming to their loved ones during their last seconds together as the SS men separated them by gender and forced them through selection. The officers ordered the separate groups to march and the vision halted abruptly.
What strikes me as odd is that the camp looks as if it had the chance to be beautiful. In a way this almost beauty represents the people who almost spoke out against the Nazis, the people who almost chose to be exceptional over decent, and the victims who almost had beautifully normal lives.