One of the most difficult places I have ever visited was the day we spent in Auschwitz outside of Krakow, Poland. For some reason, I have always wanted to visit this place. There’s a morbid curiosity about the absolute horrors of humanity and its history. But it was important to both of us that we go and witness the ruins.
While I knew I would never forget the feeling, I needed to take some pictures to capture the physicality of the place. It helps me remember.
But, these pictures below don’t capture the half of it. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the mountain of shoes, of hairbrushes, of suitcases … the clothes, jewelry, the crutches, prosthetics, and wheelchairs. Items taken and lives stolen. When you visit, you walk through the chambers. You pass the ruins of extermination. I still don’t think my mind is wrapped around it.
We walked down a hallway with hundreds if not thousands of photographs of people who were murdered. While most were Jewish, you could find those who were there because they were gay (or suspected to be gay). I feel a very strong connection to their stories.
One thing you notice, aside from the quietude, is that the grounds are actually very beautiful. In a different world, these buildings could have just been military housing surrounded by grass lawns and birds chirping. But with the misery of war and maintaining “camps” of thousands of people, these grounds were not beautiful then. They were hell.
After liberation, the local people came and dismantled all of the wooden buildings. At Birkenau, there are hundreds of lonely brick chimney columns aligned on a grid. The skeletons of housing before extermination.
Both in terms of being gay or Jewish, persecution persists today. What happened in Auschwitz wasn’t an isolated history. It’s still happening.