The Night After Visiting Auschwitz

For ever let this place be a cry of despair
and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis
murdered about one and a half million men,
women, and children, mainly Jews,
from various countries of Europe.

Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945

[Student Poetry and Drawings]

The night after visiting Auschwitz was cold and without stars. Fourteen 14 and 15-years old girls and boys, two teachers and a driver, were riding on the bus across Poland in silence. What were my young students thinking about? It seemed to me that they weren't able to think at all. They were just sitting in their seats, their eyes were closed, one boy was looking through the bus window into the darkness and I couldn't gather enough strenght to ask them anything.

This is the beginning of our diary after we had visited that incredible factory perfectly organized for mass killing. Human recorded history has never had such a site before and I dare to hope will never have in future.

My students will be writing about their impressions in following days. I must do it now, in this gloomy, chilly night wishing this bus not to stop and interrupt me in my despair and great wish to say what's in my heart.

As we are going through the night, I'm feeling stunned at what I saw just an hour ago. That what I saw had been done by Men to Men, by Brothers in God to Brothers in God.

The night is laying on the Polish ground, the tiny lights are twinkling in the distance and the area seems as it is covered by the sky full of stars.  I can see some rain drops on the bus window running down as tears of the night. The children are still speechless, now they are shadows in the darkness of the bus.

Rozalija Baricevic

Friday, 13 May, 2005, early afternoon.

Our Polish friends and fourteen of my students were sitting around the lunch table in the city of Chorz·ªõw. It was the last day of our stay in Poland and in the Gimnazjum nr 2. The first part of the Students Exchange Project between Poland and Croatia was a real success. The children were talking and laughing, making plans for activities in Croatia in June. The Polish boys and girls dressed up in their picturesque national costumes were playing and singing farewell songs, then Croatian kids started to sing Croatian songs ’Äì the atmosphere was filled with joy and friendship. The presents had been already exchanged, hugs and kisses, promises and thanks to Polish families that hosted my children, the teachers who were with us all the time ’Äì it was hard to leave all those wonderful people. Then, Pawel, my dear Polish collegue, said:

« Please, don't say anything to your students about Auschwitz on the bus. Let them see it without any introduction. Believe me, it's the best, I did the same with my students when we visited that place some time ago.»

I promised to do so, but I was surprised. Dear, I'm a teacher and the kids expected me to say something on the way to the concentration camp.

So I said nothing.

Chorz·ªõw is not far away from Oswiecim. This part of southern Poland is called Silesia. We had visited Krakow a day before, a beautiful old city, Wadowice, late Pope's birthplace and the house where he was born.

Oswiecim ’Äì Auschwitz. I suddenly felt terrified and wished to run away from the main enterance although the brick buildings looked safe. Yes, safe, solid buildings. Lots of people were walking there, entering the buildings, coming out, I heard different languages and it looked good. But people's faces sent different messages ’Äì they were frightened like me. When I was a schoolgirl I read a lot about Holocaust, ghettos, Auschwitz...I believed I'd known a lot, but at that moment, standing under the ¬´Arbait maght frei¬ª gate,  I remembered all those books and couldn't believe it was a reality ’Äì my heart was totally in my throat. I was trying to compose myself, I didn't want to show my students I was touched to tears. I couldn't believe I was going to see that place with my own eyes. It was raining in the morning, but in the afternoon, in Auschwitz, the sun was shining, people were wearing sun glasses, some of them took them off from time to time and dried their cheeks wet from tears.

Final Solution ’Äì I was at the doorstep of the territory of evil, in Poland, listening to our guide who was explaining how a group of ordinary German people proclaimed themselves as the creator of a document called Final Solution. Such a document against unarmed civilians has never occured before.

Friday, 13 May 2005 in Auschwitz.

My students were following the guide, a kind Polish gentleman who spoke Croatian language, they were looking at him as he was talking fictional story. It was the afternoon of learning for all of us. I wondered if my kids would be able to understand his trembling voice and not become depressed. Holocaust literature I had read long time ago was simple at the beginning, but now, here, I was wound up wishing to protect them from what was following.

The history and basic facts about Auschwitz are well known, so I won't write about them. I focused on my students and said:

«We are having a history lesson now, everything you can see around is your classroom.»

While they were listening to the guide, one girl whispered in my ear:

»Where was the God? How was it possible?»

¬´Shhhh¬ª, I replied, ¬´there was God in that time and the God is with us now.¬ª 

God was with us, I'm sure, because the children were standing in their place, in silence, eyes wide open, God was so close to them, they almost stopped breathing.

«Children in Auschwitz couldn't work, they were useless», explained the guide. « That's why they were killed immediately».

«Mothers with babies were taken to gas chamber and killed together with babies».

My students looked at the guide and it seemed they didn't believe him. This was the first time they had heard about the phenol injections used to kill childdren.

I'm sure my fourteen students will never forget that sunny afternoon in Poland, on Friday, 13 May 2005. This small group of schoolchildren from Croatia gathered in Auschwitz , they were the witnesses of what happened here long time ago. They had a living history lesson. Most of them told me they would come here again one day and stay for some more time. I believe they discovered something that they didn't expect to learn in a place like Auschwitz.

Their silence was deep, their hearts were touched by that incomprehensible horror.

While I was watching them, they silently invited each other to pay attention to each word, to each picture they saw walking through that factory of death. Their concentration was complete.

I was totally alive again because I felt my students had put all their souls in this lesson. They were breathing bravely, silently and I was inspired once again to take my important responsibility as a teacher and bring them back their smiles and hope for the future. Auschwitz is a place of enormous emotional intensity. I noticed  great sorrow on my students' faces, huge bitterness, compassion and a child's determination to remember and share this experience.

I noticed also a true love in their eyes while we were praying for the Holocaust survivor, Marsha's mother Sonia Frenkel, and all other Holocaust victims, standing close to each other in front of the Wall of Death. They started to talk loudly while they were putting the flowers on the ground and lighting the candles. Their sorrow transformed into satisfaction because they had passed their history test.

The first time in Auschwitz, it was really strong impression for me. I haven’Äôt been there in May, when the world become green and sunny. Generally, I think that this place shows its cruelty (which took place there) despite of the weather and seasons.

It was an unforgettable time which I could experience. I know that we can’Äôt only talk about cooperation with pupills but we also should cooperate. I hope that this wonderful beginning is a good sign for further work for us and our schools.

May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine forth upon your face
May the rain fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of his hands
. (Irish Blessing)

Lucy, school pedagogue in Gimnazjum no. 2.