Auschwitz: Not Long Ago. Not Far Away

context, because this former travel blog evolved into a weight loss and running blog over the last decade. I actually thought of reactivating my Tumblr for this instead, but decided this is not a subject which I can stomach trolls on.

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Sixteen years ago I was in Prague in January. I didn’t make it to Poland then and deeply regretted not visiting Auschwitz & Birkenau. When I returned to Prague for a summer abroad program in grad school in 2007, Poland was at the top of the weekend sojourn list. That month also included Berlin and Terezin

Much of that blog is lost to a prior crash, but some remains thanks to the Internet Archive:

Some of it will always remain: the raw authenticity of Birkenau, purchasing & reading Night in Krakow while waiting for the train back to Prague.I started this post a week ago but held it until today and in the mean time. I was walking to a meeting on Tuesday and Tim McGraw’s The Book of John came on my iPod:

The Polaroids are just reminders,
You can’t hold life in a three ring binder

In the days before everything had to be photographed “just right” for social media, it was a lot easier to be present. I knew I had this photo and went looking for it, but I didn’t need it to remember the moment.

still haunting, 12 years later

The original caption on that photo, when uploaded to Facebook several years later:

“It’s wrong to say I loved it, but this trip moved me in so many ways. By far the most powerful view at Birkenau. I could see and feel the ghosts, especially after reading Night.”

Like Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, I believe Auschwitz is a place that everyone should visit. It is the best way to learn from history. I didn’t do the Berlin Holocaust Memorial as I just couldn’t, but finally made it to DC’s in 2014 and visited Yad Vashem in 2009.

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On Thursday morning, May 2, a colleague and I attended the preview of Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away, the largest Holocaust exhibit in the US and:

“the first exhibition to feature major loans of artifacts from the former Nazi concentration camp in occupied Poland, is currently on display in Madrid and has drawn some 600,000 visitors. It will open in New York on May 8 — the date of the Nazi surrender in 1945.”  ~ The Horrors of Auschwitz at a Museum in New York, New York Times.

This exhibit builds in some ways on the museum’s 2014 exhibit, A Town Known as Auschwitz, and, as noted in a review (English) of the Spanish exhibit, seeks to spread Auschwitz’ history to a larger audience.

Auschwitz was more than a death camp, but its German name has become synonymous with hate, fear and death. The exhibit opens today, May 8th, the anniversary of the Nazi surrender. The date that haunted me through the exhibit was that April 30 – the day of Hitler’s suicide – was just a few days before my visit.

They recommended 90m to walk through the exhibit and somehow that wasn’t quite enough. Some of the items on view were expected in terms of what is often found at a Holocaust exhibit or museum: shoes, glasses. luggage left behind by those who were no longer there to use them. The luggage hit me hardest-so many packed as if they would for a short holiday. Seeing the German rail car out front of the museum just brought that home and hard.

I took a few photos, but mostly just took in the information. There is a lot to read and a lot was new to me even as someone who studied the Holocaust. The simplicity of it is what lingers with me a week later.

Powerful words by Charlotte Delbo

12 comments to this article

  1. Liz Dexter

    on May 8, 2019 at 03:17 - Reply

    Goodness me. Thank you for sharing this – very powerful. Matthew has been to one of the camps, but I wouldn’t be able to face that. I was very upset going round Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam which had a large section on the camps, but it was of course right to show it and it’s vital for people to learn about it. It wasn’t long ago and it certainly wasn’t far from here and must be remembered.

    • cari

      on May 8, 2019 at 11:46 - Reply

      Seeing Terezin and Auschwitz & Birkenau within two weeks was probably too much. I didn’t do Dachau as a consequence and don’t really regret it. To me, Anne Frank’s house felt different to both the camps and the “standard” Holocaust museums. One of my issues with Auschwitz I is that it felt too much like a museum and consequently too far removed from the atrocities, whereas Auschwitz II (Birkenau) is less developed and more preserved. I felt the same as Auschwitz I for Anne Frank until we went into her bedroom, where it hit me.
      This exhibit was planned & developed before the current world situation, but it’s frightening how close it is.

  2. runswithpugs

    on May 8, 2019 at 11:50 - Reply

    What an experience. This must have been so powerful and so moving – I can’t wrap my head around how it wouldn’t be. It’s so important to remember this terrible time in history, so we never allow anything like it to happen again.

    My good friend has family who were survivors: one was a spy and one was actually imprisoned in one of the camps. It is such a privilege to see their photos and hear her share their stories.

    • cari

      on May 10, 2019 at 17:29 - Reply

      I totally agree with you re: privilege and responsibility. It’s our duty — and especially those in our generation who are parents – to pass on the message of the survivors as it will be all too soon that they’re not here to be witness to the horrors. In middle/high school we had a presentation by a traveling exhibit and didn’t even realize at first they were survivors. So powerful

  3. MCM Mama Runs (@mcmmama)

    on May 8, 2019 at 13:49 - Reply

    I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in DC. It was one of the most intense things I’ve ever experienced. So powerful. I imagine the above exhibit hits much the same way. It’s so important for people to see these exhibits and remember what happened because it needs to never happen again.

    • cari

      on May 10, 2019 at 17:35 - Reply

      I need to go back. I finally went a couple of years ago, but it was super crowded and overwhelming. I don’t do well with sensitive topics when they’re open to the public, but I’m so glad people take the time to go & learn

  4. Coco

    on May 9, 2019 at 06:02 - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this here. It wasn’t long ago and we aren’t so far away as we’d like to believe. 🙁

    • cari

      on May 10, 2019 at 17:40 - Reply

      At times it seems frighteningly close

  5. Wendy

    on May 9, 2019 at 07:58 - Reply

    This is so haunting, especially at this point in time, where we seem to be heading in a direction I don’t want to think about. Thank you for sharing.

    • cari

      on May 9, 2019 at 15:52 - Reply

      Same. Frightening.
      IF this exhibit comes anywhere near you, go see it. It’s worth travel time.

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