18 September 2015

Notes on Auschwitz

 1. The day I went to Auschwitz it almost rained, but not quite. The sky and I were brave. We held back our weeping, untied our tears from our eyes only in gentle drizzle.

2. If these buildings could talk, they would scream.

3. I stepped lightly on the gravel, not wanting to put my weight on this broken land. I was guilty even touching door handles, grazing the walls with my numb fingers, or looking for a moment longer than necessary.

4. I didn't want to leave too much of myself here, didn't want to carry back too much from this place. It was an altar of grief, a monolith of despair.

5. Other tourists (the word in this context made me even more nauseous than I was) wanted to hold on to this moment. Thousands of cameras clicks filled the air once colonised with bullet shots. I wanted to claw my heart out of my throat.

6. Our tour guide told us that there wasn’t an inch of land in Birkenau not covered in human ashes. The air we were breathing, the ground we were walking on, all of it was ashes. I tried not to breathe.

7. We walked through rooms filled with used children’s shoes, with women’s hair cut off from their corpses, with empty cans of Zyklon-B. My jaw was clenched. My fists were tight. My eyes burned with a fever, and I ached blind.

8. Our tour guide spoke in perfectly mediated tones. She had told these stories of horror a hundred times, but she kept that bitter, indignant tone alive. To me, everything felt like a farce, everything hurt. Eliot muttered to me about the ancient women who gathered fuel in ancient lots, and I kept him in my mouth like a prayer.

9. I think I survived that place because of the wildflowers. They were everywhere, delicate as only wildflowers can be. Lemon yellow, deep lavender, pale white. They grew over grief, human ashes, the quiet stench of desperation. They bloomed fierce, like stars dotting skies of anger darkness.

10. I plucked two unassuming wildflowers near the parking lot, left purple imprints in my notebook. That hope was all I wanted to remember of the place.

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