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  • Imagine our surprise as we got off the bus at the most famous and notorious of the Nazi concentration camps. There were people EVERYWHERE. It was if we had arrived at an amusement park and it was time to get in line to ride the rides. I could not believe the amount of people there. Obviously, we weren't going to be the only ones visiting Auschwitz I & II.

    It is one of the largest tourist attractions in the world and June 6-7, 2012 were no different. However, we did not realize the extent to which the insane tourism would take over and completely dominate our two days there.

    As we were walking into Auschwitz, a nervous feeling settled in my stomach and I just didn't feel right. One might expect this reaction considering where we were, but as we trudged along in the never-ending line of people, it just got worse and worse. Why were these people there? Obviously they were interested in the history of the Holocaust but did they just go to say they'd been or were there deeper reasons? What about the people arguing? Or the ones on their cell phones? Or the ones taking pictures in front of the gas chambers and crematoria? Why were they there?

    Clearly, I have no right to judge and people have their own way of grieving but it just didn't seem right to me. We were standing in one of the largest cemeteries on Earth and it was just a massive crowd of people shuffling along behind their required tour guides. How could anyone absorb anything with all of the distractions? I honestly felt so uncomfortable while I was there. All I could think about were the hundreds of other people there with me.

    Luckily, the second day of our Auschwitz experience was spent at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This is of course where the more terrible things happened but it is somewhat off the beaten path, and visitors who made the trek there were more interested in the history rather than the glory of visiting Auschwitz.

    It was shocking to be there, to stand next to the crematoria in ruins, to walk in the barracks. To think about all of the horrible things that occurred there and to think of all of the suffering that took place there.

    And what about the memory of what happened and of all who perished? Are we honoring that memory by encouraging an amusement park-esque atmosphere? Is that really doing it justice? I'm not so sure...

    Being in those camps made me think about our tour through Oświęcim, the town next to Auschwitz. It also made me think back to a quotation from an article that Jody Russell Manning co-authored. The authors state, “The citizens of Oświęcim are in a difficult position: they are aiming to define their collective identity in the present, but this identity is affected by collective memory of Auschwitz, which belongs not only to them, but to the global community as well.”*

    What must it be like for the residents of Oświęcim to live next to the most notorious concentration camp in the world? How could they possibly live ordinary, everyday lives with people constantly trekking by their town to visit the crematoria and gas chambers? Oświęcim is their home and it shouldn’t be open to the scrutiny of the public that judges it everyday. There is absolutely nothing they can do to change the fact that they live next door to Auschwitz, yet they are constantly ridiculed and critiqued when they attempt to make changes to their town.

    But is it really just theirs? Or, as the authors suggest, does it belong to the world? Are we all responsible for it because of the horrors that took place down the street? I think that in a way, it is a part of all of us, whether we like it or not. We have created a world in which atrocities like the Holocaust continue to happen and yet, we do absolutely nothing about them.

    We need to find some sort of happy medium that placates everyone or else everything is just going to keep building and then eventually explode and leave people angry and upset and not willing to cooperate. We need to find a way that not only memorializes Auschwitz, the lives lost and the terror suffered there, but something that also pays tribute to the citizens of Oświęcim and how they must cope with Auschwitz looming next door to them everyday.

    *Cristina Maria Andriani & Jody Russell Manning, ““Negotiating With the Dead”: On the Past of Auschwitz and the Present of Oświęcim”, pg. 51
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