Part V: KL II – Birkenau

We parked in the tourist lot next to a snack and souvenir stand and I BWImage4loaded up again with camera, lenses, and film. Next, I went to the museum office in the main SS guardhouse and picked up a map of the site, which is well over 350 acres in size. The clerk in the office acknowledged my presence by pointing to a stack of handouts at the corner of her desk. I pocketed a copy and took a short hike away from the camp along the rail spur to a point where I could get the whole guardhouse into a picture.

I’d seen the flip side of the picture I wanted many times and so have you. It’s the one taken from inside the camp with the horizon filled by a single building having at its center an arched railway entrance surmounted by a squat tower. Three sets of railroad tracks lead away from the vantage point, merge and run straight through the Death Gate archway. Mine was from the outside looking in and with only a single set of rails. I couldn’t help wondering whether and how many other visitors had done the same.

I knew what picture I wanted, but I knew nothing about Birkenau. In fact, I’d never have known about it at all if I had not seen the PBS film Kitty, which was the story of Kitty Hart. She had been a member of the Birkenau Sonderkommando at age thirteen and had survived. The film documented her return to Birkenau accompanied by her son. In the course of that film, the two of them visited the places she knew intimately and she pointed out to her son things, like piles of ash, that a casual visitor would probably never notice. I knew no more than what she had reported and given that I was ignorant. I approached the place warily and slowly. The time spent in framing my guardhouse photograph was also time working up the courage to go in.

All I had to do to get the image I wanted was to cross the road that ran parallel to the guardhouse and walk away from the camp until the guardhouse fit the frame completely and then move out a little more. Once I had done that, I stood on the gravel between the rails and looked left and right and behind me marking the open areas and structures all around. On my left were open fields and on my right were some more fields and some brick buildings too distant to make out. The buildings had that institutional look and I wondered whether they might be a part of the camp and, if so, what purpose they had served.

The only corner of the camp that was visible from where I stood was off to my left. I could see a number of guard towers off to my left and to my right and I could tell the fence ran quite a way off to the right but I couldn’t clearly see that corner. I could tell about where the line of fenceposts ran out and that there was a large open area opposite the buildings I had seen, but I couldn’t tell what it was. For all I knew, it was just part of the farmland that lay outside the camp.

As I stood here or there or walked around at my vantage point, I marked every aspect of the scene, right down to the stones on which the tracks were laid. Mostly, they were river rocks, cobblestones, and hunks of what we would call bluestone. But, some unusual clinker got my attention. Scattered along between the rails for ten feet or so in front of where I knelt to take pictures were pieces that seemed to be matrices of iron slag with imbedded chunks of unburnt limestone. I picked up a couple of pieces and turned them over and over in my hand. I’d never seen clinker like it before and couldn’t figure how it came to be where it was. The ovens, after all, were inside the camp and I didn’t think steam locomotives could have been the source. I pocketed a piece to look at later.

After about ten or fifteen minutes, I poked around with my camera trying one composition and another. I wound up kneeling on a railroad tie and taking several shots of the 2BWImage52 alone as well as a couple of panoramic sequences. But it wasn’t just rocks and buildings I was paying attention to. I was aware of everything, including what my driver and one other were doing, which was watching me. After taking my pictures, as I moved back and forth picking up and discarding stones, I saw the second driver tap my driver on the shoulder and point in my direction. I took it that he wanted my driver to pay attention to what I was up to.

Sensing that something was wrong either with my actions or their noticing me, I headed back. Sure enough, my driver intercepted me on the way into the museum and asked what I’d picked up. Just a stone, I said, and I went on. My curiosity was piqued and I resolved to keep the clinker until I could take a close look at it. This would not be the last time I would notice I was being watched or, more precisely, chaperoned.

I took the Cook’s tour of Birkenau on that beautiful and partly cloudy afternoon, starting with the guardhouse. Long, narrow and completely utilitarian. The building contained many rooms. Some, such as the one where I picked up a brochure, were museum offices or staff lounges. Other rooms were used for storage. Public restrooms were in the back. The tower, which turned out to be an empty room with windows affording a view of the entire camp, could be reached by a cramped stairway that ended in a small room that must have been the guard station. A short stairway on the opposite side of the room led to the tower proper.

A recorded narrative was available (in twelve languages) at the push of a button as part of the tower exhibit. I passed on the recording BWImage1and took several minutes to look out the opened windows and frame a mental image of the layout. I also took a couple of pictures from there of the railway spur running into the distance of the camp and of the buildings and remnants of buildings in the separate compounds to the left and the right of the tracks. The angle of the sun on my left kept me from taking a complete panoramic sequence. The place was huge and I couldn’t see its boundaries even from the tower.

Entry to the camp by rail was through the central archway. An iron gate was in-place and it was locked. To the left of that, there was a gated vehicle entrance that was now used as the visitor’s entrance. I went in that way and found that a large black on white map and legend was mounted on the left wall of the entrance. I stopped to look at it briefly, trying to match my aerial view with that on the ground. I also compared it to the version in the brochure I’d gotten.

Neither map seemed too helpful, so I took a picture of the one on the wall for later reference and I went on, stopping again just the other side of the entrance to look left and right and ahead. To the left and right were separated compounds. Running ahead of me was a one-lane blacktop road which paralleled the railroad tracks. Both the road and the tracks seemed to go clear to the opposite end of the camp, which is where the crematoria had been.

The area off to my leftBWImage58 was relatively thick with calf-high flowering weeds and seemed unvisited and uninviting. There was a break in the near corner of the fence, but no sign of regular traffic through it. Some distance away were one wooden building, several brick buildings, and a few foundations with chimneys.

A hundred yards or so off to the right and fifty orBWImage57 so yards behind the guardhouse were several low wooden buildings which seemed at first glance to be like those at Auschwitz I. Beyond and behind them were more slab foundations with chimneys.

A gate and short bridge over a deep drainage ditch opened onto a well-travelled path and allowed visitors access to the area on the right. I headed that way, looking around like I was hunting arrowheads in a plowed cotton patch. As I moved in that direction, I saw what I thought might be a great shot – The corner post of the perimeter fence was in the shadowbox the guardhouse.Image29 I took some wide-angle pictures using the shadowed wire and post and lamp to frame for sunlit buildings. Then I moved on to take a look at those buildings. As I approached the bridge, I couldn’t help noticing a red and white universal No Smoking sign attached to the fence. I stopped dead in my tracks. Not really Image30appropriate, that, I thought. Not for this place. Not as the first noticeable marker you encounter. Not here. Was it someone’s idea of a joke?

All the buildings in that section of Birkenau were originally prefabricated stables. In that, they differed from both the wooden buildings at Auschwitz I andImage31 the one I had seen off to the left as I entered Birkenau. That they were stables was evident from the rows of windows atop and along each side of the roof ridge. All that was missing from that livery image were weather vanes and a paddock or two. Had there been any grazing horses, I’d have passed the section by.

In each building, where three or four dozen horses, tack, and supplies might have been comfortably kept, were once kept 1,000 to 1,200 sub humans at a time. These were the Quarantine blocks. Image32New arrivals selected for slow death at hard labor had first to survive spending several weeks there in incredible squalor under the control of Block Seniors whose offices and private quarters, the tack rooms flanking the entrance, were luxurious in comparison.

Originally, the stables-cum-blocks had been built dead on the ground without footings or flooring. Now, most had concrete footings and concrete floors, which marked them as reconstructions. Most were also empty except for the heating system – a chimney and long flue which ran down the middle of the floor. The very lastbuilding, which I didn’t enter, was hardly weathered and obviously recently built. I looked in or at every building on that exhibition row and only the one at the middle of the row seemed to me to have been essentially untouched since the war. I gave that one the most attention.

It was one of only a few that had anything inside. Its flooring consisted of compressed earth. At one end were the Block Seniors’ rooms, one on each side of the entrance. Between them was a furnace with flowers rising from behind its rusty iron door. Beyond that were the tri-level, wood plank bunks – dozens of them – jammed in side by side and standing at all angles to one another, each completely out of plumb on every corner and at every level. The wood of both framing and bunks was rough cut but worn smooth by touch and bearing the unmistakable patina of decades. At one time, the rafters, posts and roof beams had been whitewashed or painted white. Now, they looked as if they’d been dusted with kaliche. Here and there were initials, dates and other carving marks.

White painted circles bearing bunk numbers could still be seen on BWImage12the front of each bunk frame. Under the bunks was bare, powdery earth which needed only a little water to become a glutinous and slippery muck. At the far end, the rear double door had caved in, allowing light to enter. To me, all was as it could have been the day of liberation, with the only differencesImage34 being that the bunks were empty and the air sweet.

It was so dark in the block that I needed either a flash unit or something to brace my camera. The rooftop windows let in little light. So, I leaned up against bunks and doors and the flue rather than use my strobe. It was, I felt, the best way to get the sense of the place. And I was reluctant to use my flash because now, as much as during the war, what I saw could not stand to be in the light. Stripped of the dark closeness, the rafters and bunks and posts and walls would have lost all meaning. I took several pictures and hoped I’d caught on film the sense of what I was feeling in my eyes.

When I started out of the building, I saw the man I had earlier photographed entering Crematorium I. He was standing outside about ten yards from the block entrance taking pictures. As it happened, we both reached the entrance at the same time and exchanged greetings. I noticed he was wearing a name tag from The Germany-Israel Conference.

We passed each other at the entrance and suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks and started swearing. He was immediately red-faced and angry. It wasn’t me he was swearing at, but what was wrong, I asked. “See what it says there?” he asked, pointing at a roof beam. I looked, of course, and saw a hand-done slogan painted across the whitened beam’s center in black, Germanic script. I’d seen it before, but didn’t know what it meant. “In bloch mutzen ab!”, it Image35read. “Hats off in the block!”, he blurted out, “And look at that one.” he went on, pointing to the next beam in, “Sauberkeit ist Gesundheit.” Cleanliness is health.” he sputtered, overwhelmed and voicing both his rage and the depth of the humiliation undertaken here. We both went on to read every slogan on every beam, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask for additional translations. The man was beyond outrage as it was. It was mine to try to understand, not to inquire. I now know them to have said “Lie down in the block”(En bloch ruhe), “Be honest” (Sei ehrlich), and more besides.

My distraught companion soon stepped back out to take his remaining three frames and asked me to take the third. I obliged him after setting up the shot with him left in the entrance, rather than centered as he had positioned himself. Then, we parted, he in an unimaginable visible anguish by which I had been profoundly touched. I was closer still to knowing where I was and what to look for. I wouldn’t miss the smaller things again. And my light of day sentiments be damned. I needed clear pictures of everything. So, I went back in with strobe light ready.

I went on to circumnavigate the entire quarantine section, going in or around every building and checking its authenticity. Along the front of the row of stables, the weedy grass was regularly mowed like we mow highway rights-of-way and there was a well-worn dirt path which extended only one or two buildings beyond the one I had thoroughly explored and photographed.

Others had obviously had the impression that nothing more needed seeing beyond that point. But I was not deterred by the trail’s end. I went on to make my loop around the row. Behind the buildings, the weeds were calf-high, but there was a thin trail. I was glad to know that I wasn’t alone in my curiosity about what might be behind all this.

What lay behind that first row of buildings was an inner run of once-electrified fence BWImage14and overarching lights which enclosed a larger pair of pens. Those pens once held about two-thirds of the compound’s buildings. I say compound because, technically, the segregated interior areas were different camps(lagers) These were the camps at Birkenau. What I saw while walking behind the blocks of the Quarantine Camp were the fences and remains of the Family Camp and the Gypsies’ Camp and others. Originally, no camp opened into another, but all opened onto passages to the central paved road and rail bed – the Lagerstrasse.

Nothing was left of the Family Camp or those beyond but a single building and the skeletons of scores of BWImage62 others – floors, chimneys and flues. Bricks had been piled neatly at the ends and sides of each and I guessed that they served as sources of building or (one hopes) preservation materials. There were several gaps in the lower strands of the fence separating me from those foundations, but not even minimal trails leading away from the gaps.

The weeds in that uncharted area were also about knee-high and full of bees. Given my insect bite allergy, I chose not to inspect the area as closely as I had the first and settled for a few pictures from along the fence line. I tried hard to imagine what it must have been like when the land had been made barren by millions of footsteps. The only parallel I could come up with was to see the bleakness of the camps in winter and covered by snow.

I eventually made my way back to the Lagerstrasse and continued my tour. And, like I said, I was on the tour trail by default. The camps were all still well-secured by the primary barbed wire fence and I couldn’t go far without running into it. I was reluctant to use the breaks I saw in the fence.

Three sets of railroad tracks ran parallel to and maybe five meters away from the Lagerstrasse. The strip of land on the far side of the tracks from where I walked was the ramp onto which the transport passengers dumped themselves and their baggage. Selection for death now or death later were made on the ramp. SS officers including Josef Mengele had once stood in judgement there. Hundreds of thousands of deported men, women, and children had lined up there in silence and had been directed to go to the left or to the right. Those directed to the left were dead within hours. Those who went right took a little longer to die. Many thousands of others had been brought in by truck and had met the same fate.

A perpendicular road bisected the camp about halfway between the guardhouse and the crematoria sites. That road provided both a part of the tour trail and a way to get from one side (actually, one end) of the camp to the other. It also divided the womens’ camps on my left and, on my right, split the quarantine, family (Czech) and Hungarian camps from the men’s, gypsy and medical camps.

Stopping at the intersection of the Lagerstrasse and that dividing road and looking to my right and left, I saw that the road was dark gray, muddy and well-used off right, but could not see why. It seemingly went nowhere, yet it bore the marks of tractor tires. To the left the road was a dry, gray stretch along which the tour trail ran. As I stood there for a while to reorient myself, I began to take more notice of work in progress.

Off to my right near the intersecting roads were many new railroad ties waiting to be laid. The railroad trackImage38 nearest me was new and newly lined and the ties showed little age. Long runs of both the rail bed and offloading ramp were newly covered with uniform, pinkish-tan washed gravel. But, the slightly more distant and obviously aged rails had been laid over rougher stones of many kinds. There, the track was in a very different state of repair, overgrown, rusting, and barely restrained by rotting ties. The contrast between new and the old was so great that it made me uneasy. I felt that something was awry and I started hashing over what I had seen so far.

It occurred to me then that what I had been seeing was more deliberate than faithful. For example, one of the block restorations in the Quarantine camp consisted of a complete concrete floorImage39 with a collar running around it and a nice, neat chimney and flue making up its spine. Ringing the foundation was a narrow curb. Between the curb and the foundation was a gravel-filled drainage ditch about half a meter wide. Brick footings ran from the outer collar inward to near the flue. That is definitely not how the original stables were built. I half resolved to go back and take a good look at the one completed new building, which had been erected over an identical foundation to the one I’d seen in the open.

I went on to walk the length of the rail spur, stopped where it met Image40the memorial and then doubled back to the intersection to pick up the tour trail again. Once back on the trail, I figured out what the cross-camp road was partly used for. The key was a number of wood-stake tripods like you’d see over a campfire and scattered among the blocks of the Women’s Camp. There were quite a few of them standing between the buildings and in the open spaces near the perimeter fence. I first took them for cooking tripods because they were blackened as if by smoke. But, that didn’t make any sense in this context and if they weren’t part of the exhibit, what were they? A little thought brought the answer. The tripods were used for drying hay – I’d seen them in the outlying fields – and the road was used by mowers at least. Other traffic, too.

So, Birkenau continued to provide commodities for local consumption. I was dismayed. If this place, which should be hallowed ground, could be exploited for fodder, how far might the exploitation go? How far from valuing and honoring the truth might we have come in just fifty years? For the present, I couldn’t answer. I could only wonder as I walked in, among, and around the tour stops. I was getting tired and had not yet come to the site of the crematoria. It was well after 3:00 and I had to be back at the taxi by 4:30. And I had started stumbling under my weariness – I had been on my feet nearly six hours. Just then, I was heartened by the most amazing thing I have ever seen anywhere!

Get this! There I was, dead tired from traveling and walking and thinking and picture-taking, standing at the scene of our most heinous crimes, when I glanced back over the route I had taken. Out on the Lagerstrasse was a fully unfurled large (and I do mean large) Israeli flag waving defiantly in the light, steady breeze as it was borne along by a dark knot of visitors too distant to see as individuals. It was a beautiful sight and it seemed only fitting. I was more than impressed!

Photo from Holocaust web site. Visitors walking to the memorial at the end of the railroad spur within Birkenau.

I have seldom been so moved as I was by the sight of the blue stripes and Mogen David on their bright white field moving up that infamous lane and catching the full light of the afternoon sun. This was more than chutzpah! This was triumph! I watched that flag until it disappeared out the museum entrance and then went back to my tour with renewed energy and with a picture that lives only in my memory. I could not have done it justice in a photograph.

As I turned back to my route, my eye was caught by something next to a longer than usual building. Its twelve or thirteen chimneys marked it as a camp kitchen. There, under an add-on overhang, a wooden wagon stood. Image41It had larger spoked wheels in back than in front and at one time had been brightly painted. Now, only faded blues and reds and yellows were visible against the aging gray of the wagon body. The wheels and spokes were once very white. I don’t doubt that it was an all-purpose carrier and used frequently to haul whoever died in the blocks or on the grounds to the crematoria. But, once upon a time, it had been brightly decorated in celebration. Perhaps, of gypsy life. Anger over the stark, inescapable, and deliberate contrast of life and death in this place welled up in me once more and my newfound energy was instantly sapped.

I went on through what was left of the Women’s camps, which were monotony incarnate. Fewer than thirty buildings still stood, much as they had been found by Soviet troops in1944. All the brick blocks were the same inside and out, as were the two types of latrine. There were no signs, no photographs on display, no hint of what went on in those masonry hovels. But the atmosphere in each was uniformly oppressive, dark, and cramped even when empty. At the time, hundreds of people had been housed in each dormitory.

Entry to a block was through a door in the middle of one side. Flanking the door and forming a short foyer were the block fuehrers’ rooms, complete with collapsed wide plank floors. Image42Inside, the flooring was packed earth. The roof of each was exposed. Along the walls and down the center of the block, five foot wide sections of three-tiered bunks in which thirty or more people were warehoused were built into and separated by brick partitions that have kept even the most deteriorated of them from going all cattawampus.

On that day, the blocks were dry and cool. Inside, the smell of aging brick and mortar and of the dust underfoot was pungent and familiar, like an abandoned brick farmhouse. The smell of the wooden rafters, crossbeams, and bunk supports had long since faded into nothing. Here too, the rough-hewn bunk supports had been smoothed by the brush of millions of hands. Line drawings, words, names, and dates were here and there on the walls and wood. Pigeon droppings and whitewash remnants were everywhere.

It’s impossible to convey in words what it must have been like to have lived there in winter without heat and in summer when it was hottest. I’ve been in unheated cabins in the coldest of Alaskan winters, but I was dressed for it and roaring fires were easily built. And I’ve stacked hay clear to the rafters of corrugated steel barns in Texas in mid-August, but I was young and fit and my air-conditioned home was never too distant. There had been no escape here and one of the most distressing ironies of Birkenau was that the respite which came to be most prized by many of the prisoners was simply the lesser misery visited upon them by the wooden planking and brick walls of the blocks.

Equally difficult was the closeness of the quartering. Where three people might have lain side-by-side, six to eight were forced to lie foot-by-face upon their sides. None but small children could have sat upright and no small children had made it that far. The least successful found themselves on the dirt flooring beneath nearly a score of others and wallowing in the foul water and human waste that accumulated there. The stench would have been overpowering to the uninitiated. Rats, lice, and other vermin had ruled in the darkest corners and had openly fed upon the dead and the nearly dead. To be near a window was seasonal bane or blessing.

In some places, wall and bunk repairs were obvious but faithful. But, glass had been installed in the windows of many buildings on the tour route where there had once been only barred holes in the walls. Skylights relieved the darkness just around the entrances. Everywhere else, it was dark. I really had to hunt for enough light to take pictures even with ASA 400 film. In some, I had to provide my own light.

Next came the outer column of blocks, the latrines. They were outwardly almost identical to the dormitories. BWImage48The main differences were that they had windows only on one side and entry was by a single door at either end. Some were locked up for reasons I don’t know. Others we reopen to tourists. Many had glazed windows. Long, concrete-collared pits ran down the center of the one room which made up each latrine. The collars were spanned by concrete seating sections with holes in each in an alternating pattern. There were no signs of outlets for water and there was no hint that electric Image45light had ever been installed. The walls had once been painted gray or black from about waist-high down and white on the upper part, with a red, dividing a pin stripe between. As in Quarantine, there were painted orders. Verhalte sich ruhig (No noise) appeared a number of times andImage46 Sonne, Luft, Wasser (Sun, Air, Water) arced over a cartoon sunrise below which was written Erhalten sich (take it in).

Thousands of people once were simultaneously given a few minutes at odd occasions each day in which to relieve themselves in these primitive rooms. Urine and feces and vomitus and blood and water once mixed and flowed across the floors and out onto the surrounding grounds. Sewage treatment, which was poorly planned, in the first place, was never fully functional. What didn’t overflow the latrines passed untreated into the Sola river only a bit more than a kilometer away. Typhus and cholera were constant threats. It was dangerous just to be in the vicinity. Sitting and taking a shit would have been suicidal. I can scarcely imagine such filth as once presided there. Those who had seen it and lived could not have forgotten it.

I wandered in and out of the blocks and latrines for a while looking for slogans and other hints to what had passed for life in that place. As I wandered around the the Womens’ blocks I was struck by the difference between them and the horse stables used as quarantine blocks, which seemed to be face nearly complete exposure with some light or suffer  slightly less exposure in darkness.  Below are two pictures of the same barracks.  On the left is natural light right next to a window and on the right is with my strobe at the other end.Image42


Soon, however, I had to pick up the pace. Time was getting away from me and there were major features I hadn’t seen. So, I moved on and outward to the Southwest corner of the perimeter fence and took a few shots of the Women’s camp from there. Then, I headed in the direction of Crematorium II.

We’ve all seen pictures of the remains of Crematorium II – a buckled concrete floor below a stout chimney. When I got there, IBWImage32 found the chimney gone.

But all the rest of the rubble was there, as was the imploded 100 meter long pit that once had been the changing Room.

There, hundreds of thousands of people had disrobed and filed into the “showers” never to be seen again. BWImage33A thousand or more at a time, men, women, and children were suffocated by Zyklon B, an industrial pesticide.

Above ground had been a large frame building resembling an institutional bakery. Within were elevators which carried the dead up to be robbed and shorn and burned. Corpse processing was done in rooms where thorough searches were made and the gold teeth or jewelry thus found were removed and melted down or boxed for delivery to officials. Hair was also shorn and then washed, dried, combed out and bagged. Fifteen or more state-of-the art furnaces had done the burning of people who were truly of no further use to the Third Reich.

Only an enlarged photograph on display nearby Image49recalled for the visitor how this crematorium and Crematorium III appeared in use. But, the accompanying cut-away view was misleading in that it gave the impression there were only five firing chambers. In reality, there had been fifteen. Each station had consisted of a coke-fired oven with three muffles. Nine bodies or more could be processed at once at each station. With the proper mix of one heavy and one lean adult, and one child, as many as 12,000people could be reduced to ash and odd bits of bone every twenty-four hours by the four crematoria at Birkenau. And plant capacity was frequently overwhelmed.

Again, I took several pictures. One or two you would recognize, because I took them from WWII combat photographers’ vantage points. I also photographed the enlarged portrait and diagram of the crematorium. It was then that my suspicions about guided tours were confirmed.

A group of fifty or so teenagers and adults made its way down the tour path to a point twenty-five meters away from me where the rubble was highest. They stood there for a few minutes as the guide gave them her spiel about this being the ruins of Crematorium II and the wreckage being the remnants of the undressing and gassing rooms. Then they all headed over to the monument. No more than five minutes went by. They went nowhere near the marker where the photograph was. They had been shown nothing.

Between the sites of Crematorium II and Crematorium III BWImage28lay the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism. Made up of thousands of stones and mortar, it was essentially a huge, dark, gravestone that rose by broad and easy levels to a point several feet above grade. It seemed nothing had been disturbed to build it. Concrete fence posts, still tethered at the insulators by barbed wire, were incorporated into the monument. The dark stone simply flowed around the posts and under the strands of wire.

The infamous Birkenau spur ran right up to the memorial. Beyond and behind it was a stand of birch trees. From the front, the darkness of the rail bed was carried to the rising levels of stone and then onto the dark green foliage of the trees. Walking across the blackish stones was like floating over a huge pit. Even the brightest sunlight could not penetrate or relieve the somber mass of the memorial.Image51

With its crown of several massive stones, I found it a solemn, if not sullen, expanse and it still defies description. I was uncomfortable there, unsettled and disturbed by its vastness and lifelessness. Unlike The Wall in DC, which reduces me to tears, I couldn’t grasp the monument, couldn’t take it in. Maybe that was the point. How else would you memorialize the obscenity and scale of Birkenau?

There was more camp to see, but by now I was exhausted and I knew BWImage29my driver was waiting. I took off my flannel shirt, tied it around my waist and headed back. It was the hottest part of the day and the car was a long ways off. I grew more numb from fatigue and the experience with each step.

The driver and I didn’t talk a lot on the return trip. I asked questions about things I saw, like a distant church which he said was actually a monastery. For the rest, it was small talk and polite. As we entered the outskirts of Cracow, I asked if he might be available the next day. He said he would. At the Holiday Inn, I gave him US $55.00 and said I’d see him the next day when he arrived. Then, I went on up to my room, took a bath, and ordered a cold-cut dinner and coke from room service. After I ate, I watched a bit of MTV International and some of a movie that came courtesy of Playboy at Night. At about 10:00, I asked the desk for a 6:30 wake-up call and then I slept.