The air is heavy and suffocates your gut with a rotten feeling. At all costs, I can’t wrap my mind around the atrocities that happened here. Acts so shameful and infamous that they dishonor the human race. Death lingers in the air and I try to imagine the ghosts that fill this wretched patch of land. I know they are here, somewhere. I can feel them.
I took the overnight train into Auschwitz and arrived at 5am. Round trip via Prague, via Paris, via Kansas City, via a small town I ultimately call home. 70 years ago a similar yet vastly different one-way voyage was made across the fertile hills to southern Poland by the millions. But this is not a rambling on about history, it’s about freedom— a word with visceral composition in a place like Auschwitz, this seemingly godless void.
The early morning fog shrouded the facade of Auschwitz-Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II, the concentration/extermination camp. Birds chirped a sinister tune as if they had a recollection of what this place represents. Maybe they were evil birds, little demon Nazis’ whose empty souls never seeped beyond the barbed wire enclosing the camp.
I was the only person this morning that walked into the fog. I still don’t understand why there was no other living person at that particular time, at least a maintenance worker or a tourist. In this macabre field I touched the walls; I placed my hand on the wooden slats that were once a prisoner’s bunk where they lay peering through the cracked ceilings at the same stars that we all look to tonight.
I picked up rocks that lay there and noticed the mighty trees that also bared witness in their younger years. I saw an engraving of Jesus, and it wasn’t a message to us; it was for the salvation of the person who carved it —their little burst of freedom within the chains.
I did my best to feel the place. Perhaps once in a while the prisoners would smile within the barbed wire. Perhaps they had hoped, perhaps they dreamed that they would escape and change the world, right all the wrongs. I wondered if they still had a burning love for life or if the Nazis’ had broken them so gently that they welcomed death with hospitality. I imagine the range was wide; they were humans after all, with a history, with a beating heart, with a home somewhere in the world, just like you and me.
And so were the people running the camp.
As I walked further into Aushcwitz-Birkenau my anger grew. How can humanity be capable of such horrible things? Shouldn’t we only be capable of great feats, of love, of compassion and good hope? I’ve always given humanity the benefit of doubt, thinking we are inherently good and that there are a myriad of external forces at play when someone turns to evil doings.
Each act an individual succeeds in achieving is actually a success to all of humanity through the accumulation of incremental improvements. But what about each failure, when humanity shows the evil of which it is capable?
The scenario that burns in my mind is, “Are humans inherently good, are some of us naturally bad, or does good and evil exist in all of us? And does good and evil exist in a universal harmony where collectively they find a perfect balance?”
I would certainly argue good and evil exists in all of us. Any sort of universal balance is beyond comprehension. I would however, argue that positive feedback builds upon either good or evil over time. And perhaps that could explain how one simple evil act could stimulate such an atrocity as the Holocaust.
“Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”- Scott Adams
As I made my way to the back of the camp, where the gas chambers were shamefully hidden, I saw a man, alone as well, traipsing over the rubble, and finally he kneeled to the ground. He took his hat off and held it over his heart. He looked to the sky, the sun having pushed away the fog and there he had his moment, alive and well, perhaps mourning the acts that once happened on this very ground, or perhaps it was a reflection on his own transitory essence. Seeing this museum of death certainly makes the breath of life a little sweeter.
I stepped into the rubble, walls still in tact up to my waist, into the very spot where one of the gas chambers had been. I cursed the men that had so pointlessly committed these crimes. For a fragment of triumph or reparation, these men that we’re so uncomfortably associated with as fellow human beings, they have turned out to be the losers in the end. Their evil will always linger in this place and humanity will forever come and curse them just as I and many before me have.
The good and evil we display will echo and eventually, some little girl or boy, with curiosity will come and reflect on it with hate or love, indifference or forgiveness. They may not be able to wrap their minds around the physical horror that happened here, but they’ll feel it, and they’ll understand that something evil is lurking in the air.
So when we are gone, because that is the one thing that is certain in life, what we did with our time will outlast us. The victims, the innocent, the good, will live on in the hearts of humanity, in the skies of plenty. And where the souls are eternalized of men and women who spent their finite time spreading the seeds of good, whether it is by conscious memory or by the natural ignorance of forgotten history, love will fill the air.
Perhaps a stranger one day far from now, a little boy, will walk around reflecting about his place in the world and he will appreciate the love of life. He will feel the faintest wisp of an uplifting sort and it will give him the energy to pass his love on throughout the endless network. And somewhere deep in the cobweb, in its very center, that moment for the boy will never exist if it weren’t for the love that grips you today.