Auschwitz.

We always knew that if we ever visited Poland we would have to make a decision whether or not to visit Auschwitz.

I have always been of the opinion that I owed it in some way to the inhabitants of a country to learn and experience as much of their history, good and bad, as possible.

This was my motivation for visiting the Killing Fields in Cambodia and the death railway in Thailand.

As difficult as those visits were, they always added an extra dimension to the country we were visiting.

Many people decide not too seek out old history. They find it too upsetting or painful.

I think that we need to confront atrocities and drag them out into the light. Averting your eyes does not mean it never happened, it just means less people can learn from it.

So we made the decision to visit Auschwitz . This is not a single place but a network of concentration and extermination camps consisting of Auschwitz 1 in Oswiecim, Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau) and Auschwitz 3 (Monowitz) along with around 40 satellite camps.

We visited Auschwitz 1 and 2 as these are the most well known and easily accessible from Krakow.

Arriving on a bus in the blazing heat we have our first glimpse of the infamous Auschwitz 1 camp.

I have heard a lot of people talk about the camp, they say that the birds do not sing and that there is a palpable air of dread hung like a pallor above the whole camp.

It is not true. Auschwitz is a place where the birds should not sing and the sun should not shine, but they do and it does.

My first reaction was, if you did not know better, that you were at a very organised holiday camp.

This sounds like a horrifically callous response, but the lines of neatly built brick buildings, set in manicured green lawns and surrounded by leafy trees under a blue sky were a far cry from the grim horrors of what happened there.

There is a real disconnect between the knowledge of the ruthless and horrific crimes that occurred at the camp and the actuality of being there.

It is as if your mind will not allow you to comprehend where you are and actually keeps you numb for your own sanity.

The chattering crowds of tourists milling around the compound are at stark contrast to the camp’s inhabitants whose haggard faces stare out at you from black and white photographs that line a whole corridor.

As you join your tour group and plug in your audio guide you glimpse ahead of you the metal letters arching over the entrance to the camp proper.  Arbeit macht frei. The cruelly ironic “work makes you free”.

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