Out of time

Out of synch, here is today. It had to be posted.

Today was crazy.

Maybe insane is a better word. I dont know. Just listen and see for yourself.

I had planned, the whole time, to visit Osweicem better know by the name the Germans gave it, Auschwitz and make the last stop on my WWII atrocities tour section. Id been to Hiroshima a year ago with my sister and on this trip Id made stops in Nagasaki and Nanjing, which round out the top four (but lets not get bogged down debating this list, so to oversimplify: lots of shit happened and ranking it would be nothing short of insensitive and retarded) and I am not too sure what else to put in there. Maybe Dresden? Southern Okinawa deserves to be there and not just because I went there; but it all pales next to what I saw today. Since stumbling upon war history as a teenager, the realities and text of the war have been largely two separate things. Its only in the last couple of years that they have become more concrete. So its almost fitting that the first chapter to shock me and become and obsession was the last one I made it to.

But step back, to the moment I dragged myself out of bed. The hostel here does laundry for free, so Id thrown all my intolerably dirty socks and not so unbearable t-shirts in to be cleaned. This left me shirtless and sockless as I got out of bed, so I threw on my Socceroos shirt and went barefoot downstairs.

There were cops everywhere. I grinned stupidly in my just-woke-up daze. You have to walk out onto the street and around to the front door to get in, so I went out and noticed the door had been all fucked up by something. Inside reception there were some very grey faces and a couple of grim ones. I asked the receptionist why all the cops were there. She said she didnt know, so I left it. As I made tea I heard the people sitting at the tables talking. Someone from their dorm had been killed in the night. Exactly who and what and why, I havent put together. Not that its my business. Past the fact that someone had been murdered in my hostel. I could barely imagine what the others who had been asleep in there had gone through. I still dont know if it happened in the room, or outside, or if it was another guest. But it happened.

As I went back to my room to change and get ready to go, I saw the body lying on the grass. Just lying there. Inert, lifeless, twisted unnaturally. Visibly damaged. The police looking grim and just angry enough that I hurried on. The scene will be a snapshot in my head till the day I die. They could have covered it, or shut the door. It would have been visible from the windows all on the side of the building, if I had looked out. I didnt.

Whatever the reason or cause, someone had been killed right there and I had, as it were, stepped on it. Stepped in it. Shit, no wonder the receptionist didnt say anything.

I dont think of stuff like, it might have been me. I am infinite and indestructible, but Im also uninsured and while I think my lack of spark with the ladies gives me cosmic balance protection in other places (like defence from violent crime) you cant think too long or hard because then everything seems dark, scary and unpalatable. Life is too short and end when it may, it wasnt last night.

So with that image in my head I set out, down to the bus station for the hour and a half ride. I slept part of the way, listened to my earphones the rest. The town itself is entirely unremarkable. A train station, shops, houses this could be anywhere in eastern Europe. Except for all the day trippers, very few of whom look terribly happy. Everyone knows what it is, what happened there. The horror of the place is real and infamous. They dont advertise the museum nor do they charge money to see it.

I waited for the tour to start. It begins at Auschwitz I, the smaller part. You dont need to take a tour but I wanted as much detail as I could get. There are posters, books for sale. Nothing over the top, you understand. Just information. There was a movie, all the famous footage taken by the Red Army as they came across the camp and liberated the 8000 survivors that had been left behind by the Nazis as they took the rest of the prisoners on the final march. It is entirely shocking, narrated in a 1950s feel, all dissent, high moral ground and rhetorical questions. Shocking, totally.

Then onto the camp. Under those gates, into the barracks. These ones are brick and the streets are lined with Poplar trees. Make no mistake, the feel of evil is in the air. People are restrained, almost no-one talks except for the guide. The sky was clear and blue, almost mockingly so, all the colours vibrant in the warm day. The photos we all know are black and white, grey and grainy, full of emaciated people. The camp was liberated in January, the heart of winter, so this is no surprise. September is a wonderful time of year in Poland. The tour shows all the famous corners, the utter heartlessness of the exercise. The point was to kill, murder it was a factory, a factory of death. Harsh and unknowable realties were played out in those buildings. You can hear the tales and see the piles of shoes, glasses, clothes and even the hair that was cut off the dead but in no realm of our safe, padded existence can we ever really, truly know that it would have been like. And thanks to whatever power might be out there that we dont have to find out.

I wont go into detail about everything there. You really should go for yourself. Everyone should. If we forget these things, we are doomed to repeat them.

After Auschwitz, there is a bus that runs you over to Auschwitz II Birkenau. This is where most of the killing was done, efficiently and cruelly. The sheer size of the place is totally overwhelming. As far as you can see. In every direction. Stand in the middle, where the trains arrived, and look around and the camp is all you can see. The guide told us all about the living conditions and sanitation. I would describe it as living hell but I dont know what thats like. It sounds like something I wouldnt ever want to find out about.

The monument at the end of it all is simple and dignified. The platforms are made up of one and a half million blocks, one for every person murdered there. After that I walked around where the crematoriums were. I was basically alone. Just me, the trees and the ruins of the buildings. One was blown up in an armed uprising, the rest by the retreating Nazis. The ruins are still shocking. I get the feeling that very few visitors make it all the way out there. I was alone by the time I made it to the corner of the camp. It was completely silent. No insects, no birds. Just the sound of a few acorns dropping from the trees. Otherwise completely still, but in no way tranquil. There is a restless feeling and a sense of evil. This is not a place I would ever like to go at night. Or, for that matter, ever again. The sky was cloudless and the sun hours from setting, but it was dark. Dark in my mind, dark in the memory of the lost souls. Senselessly wasted and never coming home.

I walked the long way back to the bus. A flock of small birds were flying overhead. As if they were coming back. Maybe hope might bloom again. All the years on and we are not forgetting in a hurry. This is all we can do now, for the slain of Osweicem.

I went back to Krakow with too much to think about.

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