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  • I thought that visiting Auschwitz would be extremely difficult, and it was, for reasons unlike any I had expected. This place, the largest of all Nazi camps, where Mengele executed his horrible medical experiments, where many died after only weeks, is now a tourist destination. As soon as we got out of our bus, I was shocked. There were people everywhere. I felt like I was at some amusement park, not at the most well-known and notorious Nazi concentration camp. After a long wait, we finally were permitted to enter the camp, but only with a tour guide (as is required for everyone). We moved along to different points of interest that were mapped out beforehand, being corralled through the barracks (which now hold exhibits) with thousands of other people. It was almost impossible to register anything that we were seeing or what our guide was telling us, because of the sheer number of people jammed in there together with us.

    After we ate lunch, we were split into groups so that we could explore the exhibits that were not on the main tour. All of us went to the Roma/Sinti exhibit, and my group went to the French and Belgian exhibits. These were vastly less crowded (at some points, we were the only people inside), which made it easier to navigate and to absorb information. I think the exhibitions were really interesting, and I could have easily spent hours in each place. Unfortunately, none of these are destinations on the standard tour, so very few people get to see them. This is a good thing for the people that do choose to go out of their way, because it’s much more peaceful, but I think it’s a shame that hardly anyone gets to see these carefully thought out and informative exhibitions.

    I think this happens for two reasons. One, because maybe the Auschwitz Museum doesn’t advertise these exhibits, and two, because people don’t really care about them enough to seek them out. One theme that came up a lot in class was the idea of separating communities of memory, so that people only have to remember or pay homage to what/who they want to. This is probably best illustrated at Sachsenhausen, as they have separated areas for both communities of memory, but I was sad to see it in a place such as Auschwitz. I think that this icon of the Shoah should be more aggressive with visitors by insisting that they not only learn the main points, but that they should care about everyone involved, so that they can actually personalize the tragedy and remember actively. It’s important to push people out of their comfort zones, out of their communities of memory, and not coddle them. It made me so angry to see people playing or texting or complaining about how bored they were, because we were in a place teeming with death and endless opportunities to learn and to have a meaningful experience. A wise Polish professor said, “The Holocaust is a good thing to think with,” and we are not allowing people to think with the Holocaust if we let them remember just what they want to remember. Memory is ever-changing and should never feel comfortable.
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