Tales from the Road: Death Camps, part 2

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Part 2

The term "dark tourism" is a relatively new one. It refers to visiting places that have a gruesome history, places that get your hair standing on end.
In a sense, it is similar to watching a horror film: you are frightened, but also safe. So, being safe, you can "enjoy" the fear. It's a bizarre human condition, but also a very real one.

The death camps should not be viewed as places of "dark tourism", even though they often are. Perhaps some people go there with that intention, but the reality of them soon presents a different set of emotions.

The infamous Auschwitz camp is actually two major sites: the Auschwitz camp proper, and the Birkenau camp close by.

The camp started out only as Auschwitz: today, surprisingly, it all looks rather proper. Tidy, solid looking brick buildings, neat courtyards, a nice looking officers quarters and so on. It was planned as a rather small prison, and was by no means capable of dealing with the numbers that "the final solution" would eventually provide.

When huge transports of humans began arriving, the Nazis realised they would need a lot more space, and so Birkenau was quickly built. Row after row of simple wooden barracks were constructed. The only solid part of these wooden barn-like structures were the brick chimneys, and today those chimneys are all that remains.

Auschwitz proper feels like a museum, but probably the most horrible museum on earth. Yes, there are piles of shoes, human hair, personal belongings and much more to haunt your dreams. But it still feels somewhat museum like, somewhat sterile, or processed.

Birkenau is a different matter: it is desolate. It feels abandoned. The sheer massive size of it drives home the point of what went on here. It leaves you stunned, feeling very small and powerless.

So who visits these places? More and more people every year. It ranges from the morbidly curious to the descendants of victims.

You see people in shock. You see people crying. Understandably, children are not allowed. Some people need support and counselling as they leave. It is, in a word, dramatic.

To be continued.