Juxtaposition

I was sitting in a beautiful apartment, in an old looking building that smelled of must and some cooking that had been left for quite some time.

I was admiring photographs of four generations of people, while hearing of the destruction of not just families but an entire population.

I was served strawberry and vanilla ice cream in a glass bowl with a tiny silver spoon, while listening to the story of starvation and a hunger not even just physical but a mental hunger as well that touches one’s bones.

Cars playing pop music roll by and screams of happy children echo up, through the open balcony windows and into the house of Heinz Kounio, a Holocaust survivor, telling us his story.

Heinz is a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a death camp in Poland. His family of four, including two parents and a sister, all miraculously survived, used as translators for the Germans, being moved from the death camp Birkenau into the administrative side of the camp, Auschwitz I.

I am not going to retell his story, as Brandon will be doing that in his article to come. I felt the need to blog about this experience for two reasons.

1. I had the fortune of being able to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau two years ago, along with many other camps in Poland. I have still not fully processed it all, and so for selfish reasons, I am blogging to get closer to truly understanding what I saw.

2. We are the last generation to see and hear a Holocaust survivor in the flesh. My children will never see the inked forearm of my brother’s grandmother, nor hear the aged laugh of my childhood best friend’s Bubby, slowly slipping back into solely speaking Yiddish. The survivors stories are so important, and while we have museums to document them (and I am currently writing about a new one in Thessaloniki) the generation of the strongest yet most vulnerable people on the earth are slowly leaving it behind, one by one.

Below are some photographs of Auschwitz-Birkenau that I took while there. While listening to Heinz speak, I was transported back there, but in a new way. I was not holding my friend’s hand as we silently walked through the empty barracks, listening to ghosts. I was shoulder to shoulder with Heinz, being pressed up against the bunk’s walls, trying to squeeze through the hoards of people to get through to the other side of the camp.

The famous sign that hangs above the camp. The “B” was placed upside down by the Jews who built the sign for the Nazis, as a warning that this was the end.
One of five chimneys attached to the crematoriums. The photo does not do the height of this tower justice, nor does the blue sky behind it.
One of many gas chambers in the camps, the walls tinted green from the chemical zyklon b.
An oven inside one of the smaller crematoriums.
A watch tower, once housing SS guards armed with machine guns.

These photos document what is left of the camps, and will remain in Poland for the foreseeable future. They will remind the next generations of what happened, a long time ago in history.

These photos, coupled with the live stories of survivors, will not remain. Only in my memory, which will too fade, will the voices of Heinz, Mary, Susan, and countless others of whom I have had the honor to meet live on after their time.

 

 

“It was a night that even Dante did not describe. It was a night of Hell,” Heinz Kounio

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