You enter the gates of Auschwitz and immediately you are overcome with emotion. There is not a single person immune to this during their first visit to this concentration camp famous for the vast number of atrocities committed here. Recently, I had the opportunity to walk through the gates, on a cold rainy Saturday, and see my history book come to life.
As you tour through what was once a building filled with prisoners, the area they were forced to call home for many painful, cold months or possibly years, it is hard to truly grasp what events occurred within the walls around you. As you pass barbed wire fences and guard stands, you try to envision those who made attempts to escape and the fate that they were dealt.
Then you enter a room where it all hits you in one giant wave over and over again. Suddenly, every prisoner, every death, the years of pain, hit you square in the heart. You are seeing two tons of hair shaved off hundreds of women’s heads for the purpose of selling. Now it is stored in a large glass case for historic preservation purposes. You picture these women entering the camp, their clothes taken, their children torn away, and then their last safety net gone with a shave of their head.
Hundreds of shoes that have been left behind, but it is the small boot that could not have belonged to a child more than two or three years old that stands out to you. An innocent child not yet old enough to comprehend what is happening. Hundreds of thousands of combs, shaving utensils, pots and pans, but then you see the suitcases. Suitcases labeled with the surname of the family and the date of their arrival because they were convinced they would have their belongings returned to them, but they were never to be seen again.
However, out of all of this, it was the red check marks that struck me the hardest. With no effort at all, as I looked down at the page with all the red check marks, it was as if I could see the Nazi himself as he held the paper with the list of names – women selected to be gassed – and marked a simple red check with his pen as each one entered the chamber. Handwritten check marks signifying the death of more than 100 women. Little checks that ensured their life had ended.