Wednesday, July 27, 2016

WYD Trek: TNG -- Day 10

The camp

Auschwitz's infamous gate. The ironwork greeting reads: Work will set you free.
Today was a difficult day. Not just because of exhaustion and short tempers, but because of the final destination of our day: Auschwitz.

Just the name sends shivers down my spine. Many people are familiar with the atrocities committed within the camp's grounds. Hundreds of thousands were snuffed out with cruel efficiency, including St. Maximilian Kolbe (see Day 2 of the blog series).

However, it's one thing to read about these crimes, or to see them on paper, but it's another thing to see the places where they were committed. To see a concentration camp is to comprehend the reality of it all, to feel some of the worst crimes in history slam upon you.

As we entered the camp, a hush fell across our World Youth Day group of pilgrims. This quietness was seen in many other visitors, with people speaking in quiet tones and the occasional sound of laughter feeling as sharp and out of place as a rifle shot.

Perhaps in preparation for the large amount of pilgrims coming to Poland, the camp's building interiors were all closed off to the public.  We wandered a preset path throughout the camp instead, reading various signs with facts about the camp.

"At least 1,300,000 people were deported to Auschwitz of whom 1,100,000 perished. About 90% of the victims were Jews. The majority of them were murdered in the gas chambers upon arrival."

The air seemed much thicker within the camp, and I often found it hard to breathe, whether from psychological effects or the faint smog that seemed to cover the camp.

As we passed a gated courtyard, many individuals knelt before the wall and prayed. Several pressed their heads against its cold brick walls.

"You are now entering a courtyard where the SS murdered thousands of people. Please maintain silence here: remember their suffering and show respect for their memory."

I turned away from the courtyard to see my brother Jacob staring at a seemingly blank yard. Approaching him, I noticed a small bird in the centre of the yard, fluttering sporadically.

"What's that bird doing?" I asked.

"Dying," came his brief response, before he turned and walked off.

I stayed and watched the bird flutter its wings, before finally ending its struggle and laying still.

A WYD pilgrim stands in front of a rebuilt chimney from one of the furnaces used to burn
dead bodies at Auschwitz.
When our group finally left Auschwitz and got on the bus, a heavy silence fell upon us. Most people turned to the silence of sleep, or the solace of their music. One of the pilgrims, Norman, even invited me to listen to some music to possibly cheer up. However, I declined, deciding to type this post while my memory was still fresh.

Father Richard Au noted the importance of prayer as a weapon against sadness and fear, imploring us to pray the Rosary. Finding peace of mind within Christ is one of the ways to combat the spiritual darkness the camp's history held.

The heavy feeling upon our hearts will allow us to remember humans are capable of great evil. We cannot allow such acts to happen again. This camp of death, Auschwitz, stands as a reminder of humanity's sins. But at the same time, it serves as a space to reflect on our own sins and our collective responsibility.

I hope that I, and all the other pilgrims who visited the camp, find the spiritual growth needed to improve as those who will stand up for what is right, to prevent such horrendous acts from occurring again.

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