Yesterday evening, a member of our group who'd been here before told us that our visit to Auschwitz today would be relatively easy; the visit to Birkenau tomorrow would be the hard thing. I'd been very apprensive about these visits, so this piece of advice set my mind at ease. Tonight, the advice rings very differently. If today was easy, it's hard to imagine what tomorrow will be.
Arriving at Auschwitz this morning was jarring. Our small bus pulled into a parking lot that could have been a parking lot at any tourist attraction. Buses lined the parking spaces and crowds swarmed. It was loud.
Inside the entry building we found not a solemn space but what felt like a gate house for Six Flags Oswiecem:
I think we were all a bit shocked by this.
Once we entered the camp with our guide, the jolt of arrival quickly receded.
It's an odd thing to say, but the outdoor space at Auschwitz has some pretty features.
The red bricks make the place much more colorful than I was expecting, and the trees add an undeniable touch of grace to the place.
As for the indoor space, well, let me share about six thousand words:
We talked some at the end of the day about the perversity of the Nazis' insistence on maintaining a commitment to the form of legality even in Auschwitz. I think that many, perhaps most of us had a huge "this-does-not-compute" moment when our guide took us into the building where the camp's internal disciplinary tribunal for infractions of camp rules was located. It had a room with a long table for adjudication, and thick-walled jail cells in the basment. How strange. Perhaps, as one FASPE participant suggested, the persistence of some of the forms of legality helped less-than-fully-enthused perpetrators feel better about their involvement. Or perhaps it was just madness.