I’ve heard people say that you can’t grasp the magnitude of the horrors perpetrated at Auschwitz until you have been there.
I visited today and I can confirm that what people say is true. In fact I don’t think I can comprehend it even now, after a three hour guided tour. It may be further beyond me now than it was yesterday.
The word ‘extermination’ was used frequently. I don’t like the word because in a way it seems to legitimise the Nazi view of Jews and others as a sub-human pest to be eradicated. ‘Death’ was also common – death walk, death barrack, and so on. But death sounds clean and natural, and there was nothing clean or natural about the death camps.
The only word that seems right to me at this moment is murder. And what I witnessed today was the gruesome evidence of the industrialisation of murder. And that inevitably leads us to ask many questions of why?
I’ve tried, in my less than adequate way, to answer the question of evil in previous posts, for example Is That All There Is. I can’t add anything new to that debate, I just want to briefly reflect on what the knowledge and experience of evil does to us.
I don’t think it leaves anyone unmoved. It either draws you closer to God, or further away. For me, the critical moment was when I entered the ‘Hair Room’. I felt my heart break, weighed down by sorrow and compassion for those poor (mostly) women. And as I was drawn closer to them and their memory, I also found myself drawn closer to God, who created them, and who loved each one of them more than I can imagine.
I think there’s something very profound connecting the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust and the suffering of Christ on the Cross. They are not the same thing, and I don’t have words to describe the connection I feel. I just know that there is a deep, deep significance in what I saw today, that somehow magnifies the life of every one of the murdered millions, and also magnifies the love of Christ for each one of them, and for each one of us.