Poland Part III: Day 5

We are used to seeing visions of the Holocaust in black and white. But that is not what Auschwitz looks like when you are here. Because life happens in color: the past and the present, the good and the bad, the joyful and the boring and the horrible. all of it.

You could be fooled into thinking this place is beautiful as the sun sets. but that’s just another disturbing thing about Auschwitz. You look at the sky and the trees and the grass, and you realize: this is just a place. This a place, just like any other place is a place. Yes, these things happened here. But it could be anywhere. This could happen anywhere.

When we returned to the Auschwitz Museum, they had a surprise for our family… documents relating to my grandfather’s time as a prisoner of Auschwitz, documents with his name, and his number 83526 (which ultimately replaced his name as inmate of the concentration camp).

As the Nazis realized they were losing the war, they quickly burned as many of the documents as they could. Amazingly, some documents survived. The people that house the archives estimate that they have somewhere between 3-5% of what originally existed. Here is one of those documents.

This is a record of the day (March 19, 1943) my grandfather David Wisnia was late to prisoner roll call. His transgression was noted on this list, his punishment was that he was led to the gallows. A noose was put around his neck. Then, the platform was kicked out from under him.

Instead of his neck breaking, the rope slackened and he fell to the ground below with it. The guards laughed, he remembers. The SS guards were teaching him a lesson, but also amusing themselves. It was a joke.

The Nazis were so meticulous in their running of Auschwitz that they kept records of everything. Prisoners. Punishments. Transports. Death certificates. This twisted accounting of everything they did – each horror & inhumanity endured – provides proof of that reality for us today.

This is the most well documented genocide ever committed.

We often repeat the phrase “Never Forget” when speaking of the Holocaust. But to never forget, we have to first – each and every one of us – acknowledge the reality of what happened here. We have to teach it and tell these stories. It is on us to carry this burden forward.

My grandfather took us to the building in Auschwitz where he did much of his forced labor as a prisoner, disinfecting clothing for inmates and new arrivals. It was known as the Sauna, because they would steam the clothes. It is sometimes open to museum tours. Today, my grandfather was our tour guide.

My grandfather met Ralph during the Holocaust. Both selected to work in the “Sauna” in Auschwitz, disinfecting the clothes of prisoners and new arrivals. They barely knew each other & rarely spoke, too fatigued from hard labor, too frightened of the Nazi guards, too full of sadness and despair. Now 75 years later, reunited in Poland, they get to have a beautiful meal and just talk.

A momento for the survivors to commemorate 75 years since the Holocaust.