My blog post today is a tribute to an excellent piece of writing, which I read this morning in the Irish Times online.
This is the headline of the article:
Travel Writer Auschwitz: “I remained ashamedly stoic, wondering ‘why did we come here?'”
Underneath a photo of the gatehouse at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, I read this quote: “Is there any standard at all for carrying oneself through a museum honoring 4.1 million lost souls?”
I would like to make Kelly Konya, the author of the article, feel better by pointing out that it was not 4.1 million Jews who were murdered at Auschwitz — it was only 1.1 million people. The number of 4 million, which was given at the International Nuremberg Trial of the German war criminals, was a gross exaggeration. The number has been officially cut down to 1.1 million, which includes 900,000 Jews, several thousand Gypsies and a few miscellaneous others.
The article includes an excellent photo of the Auschwitz-Birkenau gatehouse taken from an unusual angle. I took the photo below on one of my three trips to the camp.
This quote is from the article:
I knew that going to Poland for the sole purpose of seeing Auschwitz was problematic, and our roundabout trek from Kraków to the site underscored this fact. The woman at the airport gave us confused directions; the Starbucks barista put us on the wrong bus entirely. It was as if the town itself wanted to forget that the camps were there.
“the Starbucks barista”? There was a time when the idea of a Starbucks, located anywhere near Auschwitz, would have been considered unthinkable.
This quote is also from the article:
The unexplainable attraction to sites of mass death or suffering is labeled “thanatourism,” or dark tourism. Ground Zero in New York City, the Dachau, Mathausen, and Terezin concentration camps, and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia are only a few of such places that tourists flock to each year. Some psychologists believe the appeal of dark sites is hidden beneath a human desire to feel more alive. According to Dr. Philip Stone of the Institute for Dark Tourism Research, people feel anxious before visiting dark places, “and then better when they leave, glad that it’s not them.”
Whatever my reason for visiting Auschwitz, I did not leave feeling alive, nor did I satisfy any morbid intrigue. In fact, walking through Auschwitz left me feeling anything but full of life; instead, I felt demoralized and more alienated by humanity than ever before.