Visiting Holocaust Sites Part 2: Kaufering and Auschwitz

**A couple disclaimers before we get into this post…

  1. This is obviously going to contain graphic and triggering content. Please proceed with caution. Obviously my hope is that you read this and take something away, but I fully understand that this is a difficult topic to read about.
  2. I am Jewish. That colors everything, I do. Every part of who I am. More so now as I am starting to learn and realize some things from my past and my relationship with Judaism. But I am Jewish.
  3. This post is going to be jumbled. I don’t know how this is going to go, how this is going to get broken down, how it will be received, how much is just going to be a rambling stream of conscious. I don’t care. This is important.
  4. If you are someone who is a holocaust denier, a holocaust minimizer, an antisemite, racist, or want to disagree you may just move on. (It makes me very….grrr angry and heartbroken that I even have to say something like this, but it needs to be said.)
  5. (I’m just now adding these as I am writing this post). I think this is going to be a two-parter as I’ve only just finished the Dachau portion and I’m already pushing past 1500 words. The second part will be up in short time though- you won’t be waiting long for that.
  6. The second part of this two-parter…the second part was written after the incident of Domestic Terrorism on the US Capital, in which the most blatant display of antisemitism was exhibited in my life. I personally saw footage of “heil hitler”, camp Auschwitz sweatshirts, and two congressmen use Hitler’s rhetoric or name. If the tone is off in this second part as opposed to the first, please understand why.
  7. Finally, we are facing drastically rising Jew hatred not only in our country, but across the world. It’s often times hard to voice concerns, content, and information not only about this but also just about being Jewish. In a personal way, I am still learning and trying to figure out how I want to use my voice in regards to this.
  8. This post is going up way later than I intended, but here we are.

Disclaimers over.**

This is the second post in a two part series about how it felt/what it was like to actually visit Concentration Camps and other Holocaust related sites. If you haven’t seen part 1, I would highly recommend reading that HERE. In that post I talk about Dachau, which was the first place I ever visited (beyond the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC) and Lidice, one of the most horrifying places I’ve visited. Today I am going to be talking about visiting Kaufering, a sub camp of Dachau, and Auschwitz.

KZ-Lager Kaufering VII Concentration Camp (HISTORY/FACTS POST– this is included in my Switzerland post as we stopped on our way there)

This was a bit different to visit as there isn’t much in the way of a museum or major landmarks to see. On top of that, when we visited, we were not able to walk within the camp itself, we had to keep to the outer boundaries, on the other side of the fence. No, that sentence is not lost on me. I didn’t know much about the sub camps of Dachau (or any of the major camps), only that they existed. Dachau had a total of 11 sub camps. Each of these camps had a purpose, a job/role to fulfill. Think of what you know of Dachau, of Auschwitz, and then think of something WORSE. The conditions from what we could see were even more cramped, more desolate. In this case, I learned much more after our visit. For example, the fact that they don’t even have an accurate number of dead from this particular subcamp and that these particular subcamps were the WORST in Bavaria. 

When you just look at the tube barracks that they would live in…I couldn’t begin to comprehend that people lived in that, and then the sheer number of people that would be crammed into these too small buildings with very little protection from the elements, very little light, terrified…

Auschwitz I & Auschwitz II-Birkenau Concentration Camps (FACTS/HISTORY POST)

This last camp has taken me longer than a month to write. I’ve had to stop and start multiple times. I’ve struggled with words. I’ve sat at my computer screen crying silent tears, I’ve screamed, I’ve shaken, I’ve seen red…when I tell you that nothing changed me like this visit changed me, that’s the only way I can even begin to describe it. We also had a…unique in our age addition to our visit. Since we visited during the Covid-19 pandemic (in October 2020) we had to walk through a “sanitizing spray”. While I knew that it was safe, that it was normal, it was chilling. Here’s the thing, Zyklon-B was originally used in sanitization purposes (if you don’t know- Zyklon-B was the gas that was used to murder millions of Jews in chambers that the Jews were told would give them a “shower”). So, to say that added a certain chill to our visit, that’s exactly what I mean. 

Nothing about Auschwitz was what I expected. Nothing. I mean I knew we would walk under the infamous gate with its “Arbeit Macht Frei”, that we would see two separate camps, and that it would be one of the hardest visits I would ever make in my life. What I didn’t expect was how…normal Auschwitz I was. From the road, from the outside it would look like any other military barracks. And it played that role for a time. Auschwitz I was home to POW’s, political prisoners, military, and the like. There is one crematoria on the site and one execution site. It was horrifying as a camp, but not the horrifying pictures and stories that we all recognize when we think of Auschwitz. 

Still, walking along the roads between the buildings on a gray Autumn day was a paradox, similar to Dachau. Autumn is my favorite time of year and that weather was my favorite (overcast skies, a little mist, cool temps, leaves gently falling). It didn’t help that we were in the “nice” camp of the two. I know a lot of people wonder; how did the local community not know what was happening? How could they (in a foreign country) be complicit in this? Well, the answer is that there was no local community. The Nazi’s took over the little city nearby and forced all of the residents out. This didn’t immediately happen, when the camp was originally opened, Auschwitz I (which- again resembled military barracks) was not to the level that it became. So, they didn’t need to hide as much. Once it was used to facilitate a killing camp just 5 minutes away, then things needed to change. And at that point, there was NO ONE local to stop them. The Nazi’s wanted to make sure that no one knew what was going on. In fact, it was only a couple of brave women who tried to capture the atrocities on camera and send them off to England for help (which still wasn’t enough, but we don’t need to get into that here). 

Within the buildings that you can enter, history is set forth. Thing it, unlike Dachau, images are not as present. On a guided tour, your tour guide tells you about each photo and gives the history of each room. At regular intervals, it will be re iterated to you that this camp (Auschwitz I) was never seen by the Jews. This was only seen by political or war prisoners. 

One of the hardest walks to take within Auschwitz I is the exhibit rooms. These rooms contain items confiscated from the Jews when they would come into Auschwitz II-Birkenau on the trains. The windows contain different items starting off with things like glasses, prayer shawls, clothes, and leading to shoes, suitcases, and finally hair. The hair. So much hair. And the exhibit on the gas chambers. The empty cannisters of Zyklon-B. Someone tell me this did not happen. This was exaggerated. I’ll tell you my tale. But this whole part of the visit pales in comparison to what comes. You see, Auschwitz I is what I would call a “precursor”. It tells you the history. It gives you the overview, the paths, the photos, the items. It gives you everything you need to go over to Auschwitz II-Birkenau and just truly take in the horror that occurred. 

The two camps are separated by a 5 minute or so bus ride. The entire ride I was…psyching myself up a bit. Going through Auschwitz I was far more trying than I had expected. I don’t know that I had any “expectations”, but I was feeling rattled. This was beyond what I could comprehend at that moment and I knew that the worst was still to come. I keenly remember the ride over, clinging to my children and their excitement at “being on the bus”. Colton’s somber little face as he could understand some of what we were seeing. 

We’ve all seen the train track, railroad station pictures. We’ve seen the railcars stopped, people piling out, or not if they had died on the way there. The inspection done by the doctors and SS officers of the camps. People walking one way or the other. It pales in comparison. 

The walk that we took is one I will NEVER forget. It is at the forefront of my brain, permanently etched. The tightness of my chest and ever-present feeling when I look at it or the memory is dragged front and center (thank you rioter wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt). Our walk took us up the tracks, the same route the cattle cars would go, stopped at where they would stop, then continued on, in the same fashion as most of the prisoners would walk. To the chambers. It’s impossible not to imagine the prisoners walking this, seeing the other prisoners standing at the fence watching, knowing what was coming. Even just writing about this is difficult, as I’m sure reading about it is. We saw a lot of Auschwitz, but that walk and the one barracks we walked into are what are permanently burned into my brain. 

This camp, this location, it lays bare the horrific atrocities of The Holocaust (though the Nazi’s did try to hide them). In that sense, in the history sense, in the sheer magnitude, this is the camp that was the hardest to visit. But it is also the camp that I recommend to everyone to visit. 

Let me end this two-part post on this final note…

There are a lot of issues with our modern-day comparisons to The Holocaust (and the important ones have to do with survivors and their families) , but it really boils down to this simple concept. You see, when you compare two things (no matter what they are) you lessen the values of what you are comparing. Unless you are comparing The Holocaust to a modern-day systematic extermination or an entire group of people (regardless of any form of origin or current status) there is no comparison. In all honesty we all (short of survivors or on the ground liberators) have an incredibly difficult time grasping the full concept and facts of The Holocaust. Let’s not lessen that with ridiculous comparisons. It almost makes it seem like…oh I don’t know it didn’t happen? It was exaggerated? When we make these Holocaust or Kristallnacht comparisons (which LETS BE CLEAR, Twitter bans and the Capital Riot are not comparisons in any form), we are feeding right into the conspiracy theorist/Holocaust deniers’ pockets. We are giving them ammunition. We are comparing the methodical Murder and extermination of a group of people with…well whatever comparison you are trying to make. So, don’t make that comparison unless it is fully warranted.

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