Today was much anticipated by both young and old pilgrims, our visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau. Personally, it has been a goal of mine all my life to stand on this Holy ground, the occasion did not disappoint. Yes, the facts of the atrocity are always mortifying but being there brings a new depth to your understanding. Standing in the very rooms of the victims, hearing the sound of hundreds of shoes grinding rocks on the wet path brings the grounds alive. Whilst many of us have seen the pictures of the gas chambers, incinerators, the collection of shoes and other items, the pictures simply don’t do it justice. What hit me the hardest was the amount of victim’s hair collected by the Nazis. The unfathomable collection still remains behind glass but must be seen to be believed. Seeing this put a life to the prisoner
A highlight of the tour was walking down to the basement of block 11 where a range of different cells were established to kill prisoners. Walking down these stairs you realise you are walking the same steps of many thousands of martyrs before you. You could almost imagine a situation similar to that of the stations of the cross, where victims fall, are humiliated or beaten, all the while Christ stands with them, crying and preparing their way home. To think that St Maximilian Kolbe walked these stairs when he sacrificed himself for another offered excitement and a ray of hope in this dark place. Viewing his cell where he died, where a saint was made will certainly be a highlight of the trip for many.
Visiting this place challenges each person differently. Many were upset and needed just a minute to sit and regather. The thing that held me together was knowing that somewhere in our tour, I would have the privilege to look upon the ground where one of great modern day saints stood, St Maximilian Kolbe.
Sure, I encourage everyone to read about the death camps and watch the documentaries. But come, listen to a polish guide talk about it, and walk through the gates of Auschwitz and Birkenau and you will come to fully appreciate one of the most horrific moments in human history.
Greater love than this no man has that a man lay down his life for his friends – words that St Maximilian Kolbe lived by.