The gates were staggeringly bold. Thick black type in an arch, framed by fading autumn leaves. The man with the thick Polish accent and (a name I could not pronounce) told us, ‘The transcription of the sign here, ‘Arbeit macht frei’, is ‘work will set you free’. There are no recorded cases of any prisoner of Auschwitz being released on account of their hard work’. Honesty was not a commodity valued by the Nazis - they lied about the ghettos, where the trains were headed, and before you had even stepped into the territories of Auschwitz, you were lied to again by your captors. I found myself angry, bitterly so, as I passed under the sign and it's dark shadow on the ground.
The tour was unlike any I had experienced before, a brisk trek past blocks and repurposed barracks, with occasional stops at things to be seen. Every collection of lost belongings and pale photographs seemed so surreal, each firing wall and gas chamber like abandoned film sets. The very notion of treading the same ground that millions of times already had been disturbed by weary feet of the walking dead was almost incomprehensible.
It’s hard to judge how you’ll act in these circumstances, even if you know yourself well. I had expected myself to be one of those painfully irritating girls that sniffled and sobbed through every talk from our guides, and to flame red in my cheeks if anyone should ask me if I were okay. In spite of myself, I remained fairly controlled. I listened. I understood. I accepted the events, and for some reason, I felt safe from them. Yet, after the museums of lost shoes, and stacked up shaving kits, and piles of tangled spectacles, all belonging to people who endured Auschwitz all those years ago, we were to enter a room with the instruction, ‘No photographs at all, please. We must insist.’
It was a room of hair. A monumental glass case filled the length of the wall, filled with wiry strands in precarious towers. The Polish voice grew softer, and gently told us that time had drawn the colour from the brutally cut tresses, and their hues had, for the most part, been lost in the eyes of every visitor who came. Each lock had bleached itself to the same colour as its companions in the case. I was caught off guard, and much to my annoyance, welled up in the way that only a person nervously upset can be. Kitty, now with her silver hair in her precise and looked-after cut, was once herself subject to the blunt knives, and her youthful hair may lie somewhere within that tomb.
Taylor didn’t say anything, but wrapped a thickly coated arm around my shoulders for a brief moment of reassuring pressure before we swept out of the room.