This is a description of my visit to Auschwitz during my stay in Krakow.
It is not easy to find words to write about the hideous depravity of the Nazis. The double reality of sitting on a coach with the warm sunny autumn countryside outisde and a black and white screen of grotesque cruelty on the inside. As we travelled out of Kracow, a documentary from filmed footage by a Russian soldier helped to prepare us for our visit to the concentration camp.
Once there our impeccable guide took us around with precise, clear descriptions of every aspect of life and death.
‘Hospital‘ (unthinkable experimentation)
‘Starvation to death’
‘The Wall‘ (execution)
‘hanging by arms punishment’
‘selection from the ramp’
The rooms full, behind glass cases, of human hair, spectacles, prostheses, shoes, baby clothes, every day paraphernalia, sorted and recorded with horrible, meticulous efficiency .
The gas chambers and crematoria.
The post mortem records of emaciated babies.
The gaunt heads and shoulders identity photographs displayed on the stalls.
The community of parentless children, damaged forever.
The sheer scale and volume of obscene suffering over the vast, barren site, with its single rail cart and miles of wire fencing
The guides were all extraordinary in their clarity and professionalism. Description,
not judgement being their way to allow the facts to speak for themselves. Many of them have personal connections to a survivor and have dedicated themselves to keeping this memorial to those who were incarcerated here and who perished or survived available to the rest of the world.
At the time I can remember feeling a numbing sense of unreality.
Writing now, I cannot do it justice in words. It has sickened me to try.
Somehow the music of Bach’s cantata, Schlummert ein, comes to my mind in a desperate attempt to pour healing oil onto a living humanitarian wound that defies reason.
Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen
Fallet snaft und selig zu!
Welt, ich bleibe nicht mehr hier,
Hab ich doch kein Teil an dir,
Das der Seele konnte taugen.(konnte o umlout)
Hier mus (german big B) ich das Eland bauen,
Aber dort, dort werd ich schauen
Susen Friede, stille Ruh
Slumber now, you weary eyes,
Close softly and pleasantly!
World, I will not remain here any longer,
I own no part of you
That could matter to my soul.
Here I must build up misery,
But there, I will see
Sweet peace, quiet rest
In an extraordinary performance of bach’s Cantata BWV 82 Lorraine Hunt depicted Simeon, in his readiness to die. She came onto the stage wearing a hospital gown and with medical tubes emerging from her exhausted body, confronting her agony and allowing it to dissolve into “love, release, freedom”
(Lorraine Hunt Lieberson Bach Cantatas BWV 82 and 199 nonesuch )
The above quote is almost meaningless in comparison to its perfect marriage with the cradling of the music as it wraps itself like a healing balm around the listener.