Auschwitz. Mass murder. Genocide. Destruction. Hell. It is a place known throughout the world for these reasons. I had been reluctant to visit this mass grave. Yet, when a friend and I decided to visit Poland during the semester break, I knew that I should harden up and visit this remnant of the Final Solution, Hitler’s sick plan to annihilate European Judaism. I had thought of lots of excuses why I wouldn’t go. It was too far, too busy, too cold. But these weak excuses were always met with the same internal rebuttal: don’t we owe the over 1.2 million people who were murdered there at least one day out of our long and privileged lives to contemplate the existence they were so cruelly denied?
The truth is that everyone should visit Auschwitz once in their life. Whilst there were up to 40,000 concentration camps throughout Nazi occupied Europe, Auschwitz was by far the biggest. It saw the extermination of at least 1.2 million people. Auschwitz is one of the best-preserved camps, where you can experience first-hand the living and working conditions of the prisoners. Why should you visit? Why should you go through the pain and mental suffering? Because it will make you a better person.
I left Auschwitz with a new conscience about life. What I mean by that is that it opens your eyes up to the misery and destruction that mankind devolved to and forces you to be grateful for living in more peaceful times. It forces you to count your blessings. To live life with one eye looking at the past, the other towards the future. In the final room of Auschwitz-Birkenau are the portraits of tens of thousands of the victims. Their eyes stare out at you with the same message: live for us.
Make the most of life for us. Do not let life be about materialism. Enjoy every moment of breath you receive. Live gratefully and appreciate your career, however humble. Do not be filled with hatred, look what it amounts to! These are the cries of the Auschwitz victims to us today. So, I recommend this experience. It may not be what you traditionally perceived as a European tourist top ten. But it should be at the top of your list. It will change your life. May they rest in peace.