Today our FASPE group (including its program for journalism students, who are maintaining an excellent website documenting their trip) went to the Birkenau camp. It's about a mile and a half from the Auschwitz camp we visited yesterday. The Nazis built Birkenau when Auschwitz grew too crowded. It was principally a death camp for Jews.
We'd been prepared for a more powerful day in Birkenau than we'd had in Auschwitz, but I didn't find today anywhere near as challenging as yesterday. I'll likely have more to say about this when it's not so late and I'm not so tired, but visiting the Auschwitz camp felt like visiting a place very much haunted by ghosts. For me, the sense of human loss was everywhere at Auschwitz. Visiting Birkenau today felt like visiting a cemetery. I did not feel the presence of victims all around me today as I did yesterday. As a result, I was calmer, more contemplative.
The visit was not without its odd moments. Here, for example, is a team from the Volkswagen company (they wore the distinctive "VW" logo on their bibs) that was installing barbed wire.
And here a group of Polish schoolkids poses for a group photo in front of a cattle car used to haul Jews to Birkenau.
More on Birkenau to follow, I hope.
In the late afternoon the FASPE law group had an extremely stimulating discussion of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the extent to which it comported with the rule of law, the extent to which it is to be condemned if it departed from the rule of law, and the role that judicial processes can and should play in processes of transitional justice. I'll say a bit more about this in the next couple of days. For now, I'll just say that while I had early doubts about the whole concept of bringing law students to Germany and Poland to study professional role and ethics, I am now a believer. Our discussion of the Eichmann trial had an intensity that can only be explained by our having shared the experiences we've had together over the last week. Every law student should have the opportunity these FASPE Fellows have had to encounter mass atrocity and the perversion of the rule of law first-hand. Our profession would be richer for it.
I'll sign off for tonight with two shots I took of items discovered after the liberation of Birkenau in the confiscated belongings of people murdered here.