It’s the numbers you can’t take in. The 1,300,000 people murdered systemically at the two main camps at Auschwitz, 90 per cent of them Jews. The numbers of people sent directly to their deaths at the second camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The numbers slowly or quickly tortured and terrorised and worked to death at the first camp set up in 1940 near the Polish village of Oswiecim.
It’s the corridors filled with photographs of the murdered – taken in their striped uniforms and looking dazed. Two Czech identical twin girls who died within two months of each other. Members of the Polish resistance who were betrayed and sentenced to death.
It’s the cells where prisoners were starved to death, or left without oxygen to die slowly. It’s the small wooden bench where prisoners were strapped before being whipped. Beside this barracks is the death wall, where thousands were shot after being tortured.
It’s the infirmary where prisoners who wouldn’t get better were given lethal injections. The inmates called it the crematorium waiting room.
It’s the gas chamber and the ovens.
It’s the look of shock that hits the faces of teenagers on group tours when they reach the room of children’s shoes. The long window case beside this is stacked with suitcases covered with names, dates of birth and addresses of Jews who were told they would be reunited with their belongings as soon as they came out of the showers.
It’s the knowledge that once you leave Auschwitz I and travel 3km to Auschwitz-Birkenau, you leave a camp of torture and sadism to a camp with only one purpose: extermination of the Jewish race. As quickly as possible.
It’s where the railway track goes under the gate of death to the end of the line. It’s covered in snow when I visit, and the biting wind cuts through layers of modern hi-tech winter clothing.
It’s knowing that most of those who survived until January 1945 had died on the death march when the Nazis evacuated the camp.
It’s realising that only 7,500 were found alive by the Red Army.
It’s the numbers you can’t take in. And the evil.