Tales from the Road: Death Camps

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Beach Hiker

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Part 1

Humanity has a strange fascination for the macabre.
Sites such as the catacombs in Rome, or those hidden under the streets of Paris, attract large crowds.

It is indeed a bizarre, creepy and rather unsettling thing to walk around the tiny underground corridors of these open graveyards surrounded by tens of thousands of skeletons. It leaves you feeling.... strange. It's an unusual feeling, and one that is very rarely experienced. It is likely that unusual feeling that keeps us searching for it again: we like to be scared, we like the shiver down the spine.

Yet there are some places on this planet where the scare turns into shock, and then into a sort of mind-numbing depression. It is miserable, and unpleasant, and hard to shake.
Some of these places are, of course, the infamous death camps of wwII.

I first visited a death camp when I was 16. I was travelling through Germany, and found myself in Munich. The Dachau camp is close by, and really having no clue what to expect, I set out to visit it.

At Dachau the horrors are extremely well documented, and offered up in full view. Nothing is hidden away, and after an hour or two your heart begins to ache, your mind gets numb, and it seems your very soul is about to scream.

I remember returning to the lively heart of Munich feeling empty. The happy beer gardens with their brass bands and joyful vibe suddenly held no pleasure for me.

A few years later -on the road once again- I found myself in Krakow, in what was still communist Poland. Not too far away from the beautiful old city is the most notorious of all of the Nazi death camps: Auschwitz.

Located in the approximste geographical centre of Europe, Auschwitz was a logistics solution.
Getting people there was easy, because of its central location. Bizarrely enough, even today, that central location (north, south, east and west) has made the surrounding area home to huge warehouses and factories.
But rather than shipping goods in or out, the Nazis were shipping in humans. With remarkable efficiency, Auschwitz quickly became the centre for a plan so awful in conception that it is almost impossible to imagine that it's real. But real it is.

I found myself standing in front of the infamous gates, with the sign proclaiming "Work will make you free". What awaited inside disturbs me to this day.

To be continued.