Excerpt of my text in Diários de Viagem 2 (Travelling journals 2) freely translated from the original Portuguese:
“Wandering around Krakow, one can easily feel the presence of the Jewish history and culture. But its gloomiest landmark is actually outside of the former capital, in a small town of Oświęcim, infamously known by its german name Auschwitz, and its extension, Camp 2 – Birkenau. The reasons to visit the old concentration camps are probably manyfold, as are, undoubtedly the reasons for not visiting them. But it’s only after visiting them that the reason becomes apparent. It’s a leap of faith to comprehend the human experience on Earth.”
The 2-hour train ride to Oświęcim felt, for a few minutes, part of the experience of visiting the concentration camps. The train fills up as much as possible with people in Krakow’s Central Station and one wonders if all those people are going to visit the camps! It’s only after two stops, after almost everyone leaves at Krakow’s Business Park that the illusion is broken. After that a second illusion steps in: that of the increasingly desolate winter landscape of southern Poland. One can almost feel that the gloominess of the history has spread throughout these fields.
The train is a 15-minute walk away from the camps, good for relaxing in preparation to the things to come. What one finds in visiting the camps is an immense conflict of words and feelings. Words like efficiency, death, system and chaos, could be used in the same sentences to describe the things that surround us. The order of things gets messy in one’s mind, while facing the industrialization of death. The mathematics of carnage. The science of killing.
A smell of charcoal runs through the air during the hike back to the station. It’s the reason the camps were built in this region. It is rich in fossil fuel and labor is needed to extract and process it. The very same labor that inhabited and was murdered here.