AUSCHWITZ. In the Fall of 2019, I made a long overdue trip to Poland, where my grandfather was born and where my grandmother's parents are from. They were Jews that made it over to the US not long before the war started. So it was important for me to visit this place where some of their relatives - my relatives - likely perished. Nazis operated the camp from May 1940 to January 1945. More than 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, Poles, Romani, and Soviet prisoners of war, died at the site, most of them exterminated in the camp’s gas chambers.
You walk the same paths and take up the same spaces as so many so long ago. The place sinks into you as you spend time in and among the buildings and as you pass the trees and the barbed wire fences and the demolished gas chambers. And you wonder about the lives that ended and all the families and futures that were never to be and all the generations that have been forever impacted.
Towards the end of the tour, we walked past groves of birch trees on the Birkenau side (‘birke’ means birch in German). The camp is surrounded by these trees and some have grown tall in the middle of the camp. I was taken aback by them, seeing them huddled together, dancing in the wind and the light rain. They’ve borne and continue to bear quiet witness, growing and surviving among the ashes of all those that perished, providing beauty in a place where such unthinkable ugliness happened.