In 2013, some friends and I went on a school trip to Warsaw, Poland. Part of our itinerary included a guided tour of Auschwitz Concentration Camp: one of the largest known mass murder sites in human history.
It is reported that between 1.1-1.3 million people were killed on these grounds alone and, in the greater context of the Holocaust, 6 million people – 90% of whom were Jews, while also including Roma, Slavs, ethnic Poles, Soviet citizens, gay men, and people of colour – were systematically murdered under Nazi Germany.
Today, Camp Auschwitz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main method of extermination during the Holocaust were gassing operations, but many prisoners were also victims of cruel medical experimentation, tortures, shootings, disease, fatigue and starvation. Now, the grounds serve as a “vivid testimony to the murderous nature of the anti-Semitic and racist Nazi policy that brought about the annihilation of over one million people.” Most of the camp’s original structures are still in place today, and in it are displays of dozens of accounts, photographs, documents and material objects such as the jewelry, shoes and human hair of the Auschwitz prisoners.
It has now been 74 years since the camp’s liberation.
“You are not responsible for what happened. But you certainly are responsible for preventing it from happening again.”
– Max Mannheimer (1920-2016), Holocaust survivor.
Today, the 27th of January, is marked as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Part of the reason that I wanted to do a photo-series on my visit to Auschwitz was because I’m not sure that I’m fully equipped to talk about it, but I’m also of mind that photographs have a transcendental way of communicating the weight and depth of things that words sometimes can’t do. Regardless, it was something I wanted to share on this blog because we continue to live in a time where divisive and hateful rhetoric, policy and actions – in any and all forms – continue to be used to harm marginalised communities.
While travelling can sometimes appear to be (and sometimes feel like) a glamourous adventure, it is oftentimes that the historical events that took place on the land are not quite as glamourous. And while it can be heavy and daunting to acknowledge a place’s past, it is often important and necessary to do so. The fibre of every individual, town, city, country and even each continent is intertwined in an inseparable way with its history, shaping the way things are and the way things will be.
The hope is to learn from it all, to remember and honour its victims, and to understand how to better move forward – not only as society, but even (and especially) on the level of the individual.
Do you have any stories in which you visited a place, site, museum or memorial in which tragic historical events had taken place? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. Where did you go and how did the visit impact you? In addition, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe below with your e-mail address (or WordPress account) to receive post notifications!
(All Photography on this post was taken by yours truly. Note that some are photos of photos).