Return to Auschwitz
by Naresh Asnani
I recently went to Poland on a retreat. On the agenda was a day trip to Auschwitz. When I was informed of this, something in my guts did not want me to go. However, I am not one to be a stickler so I didn't mention it and the arrangements were made.
On the morning as we headed to Auschwitz, I still didn't think too much of it. I knew it would be a sobering experience but was not sure what to expect.
Just to remind ourselves Auschwitz was the world’s largest death camp where 1,100,000 people were mass murdered by Hitler and his Nazis.
We were met by our guide who recounted the stories of the ghastly events that happened there. I tried to put myself in the shoes of what it must have been like for the people as they arrived there but it was too horrible to imagine and I quickly jumped out of those shoes.
People who were "invited" to Auschwitz (mostly Jews but also gypsies, Poles, prisoners of war and political prisoners) had no idea where they were heading to. They were told to pack a bag as they were being moved to better living conditions.
As they reached Auschwitz, they were told to walk in a line and a Nazi doctor separated them into two groups. Those who were sent to the left (mostly women, children, elderly and the unfit) were the “unlucky ones” selected to die. They were marched onto the gas chambers, told to strip and enter the mass shower area. This is where poisonous gas was released killing everyone.
Once they were murdered, the Nazi’s robbed them of all possession. Women’s hair was shaven off to be used. Jewellery and clothes were stolen. They were either kept for Nazi use or sent back to be distributed to German citizens.
We physically saw the photographs of this. In addition, we saw piles of women hair, slippers, spectacles and many other personal possessions that had remained at the last moments. These all belonged to those murdered and what we saw was a very small fraction of what was actually stolen. Thinking about what had happened, I felt sick in my stomach. I had never experienced disgust to this degree.
Have you ever been questioned, “What one person living or dead would you like to meet and what would you ask them. At this moment, I really wanted to meet Adolf Hitler and simply ask him “WHY?”
The second phase of our tour shifted to showing us what happened to those who survived. Very quickly we realized that those who were murdered were the “lucky ones”. Surviving Auschwitz was worse.
Those who were selected to live were immediately stripped of their human identity. Their hair was shaved. They were tattooed ID numbers. No more names. The clothes and wooden slippers they were given were no protection against the cold winter. They were grossly underfed. We even saw some rooms which were barely enough for four men to stand. No way they could sit or lie down. They punished people by leaving them for months there. There was a room that showed the state of children but I did not have the stomach to enter that room and had to leave the group to get fresh air.
Throughout this experience I was doing my best to dullen my senses & feelings. Switching these off were the only way I could survive this experience.
Towards the end we entered a dungeon where people were mass executed. At this point one of my friends pointed out to me a graffiti that someone had scrolled on the wall
To me it looked like my own handwriting where someone had attempted to scroll my name, Naresh Asnani. At that moment a strong feeling took over me and I asked myself. What if that was written by me in a previous birth? What if I was one of the Auschwitz prisoners? Maybe I was trying to leave a sign for myself when I returned. Somehow those questions left me with a feeling of peace because if that was the case, it did not matter anymore because here I was leading a great life this time around.
I am not trying to claim that reincarnation is the truth and that I had been to Auschwitz in a previous birth. I will never know and to me that is irrelevant. However regardless of what may or may not have happened two truths stuck out at me.
1) Whoever had been to Auschwitz had moved onto a better place. Whether you believe in a reincarnation or a heaven, they were no longer there. That suffering was all in the past and realizing this made me feel lighter.
2) If that was really me who had been there it meant that I had been subjected to the most horrendous experience that a human being can be subjected. It made me feel strong that I could handle anything in this life. Compared to what I had been through, anything else would be a breeze.