I had always dreamed of seeing Auschwitz. Perhaps because I had studied genocide in high school; perhaps because terror, no matter how well-documented and analyzed, never ceases to shock the human system when we see the dark reality for ourselves. It is far too easy to forget, to lie within our layers of comfort and contemporary distractions, to bury ourselves within another part of history. I was never one for the easy path. I seek the remembrance of pain because it feels more real to me, far more real to be hurt than to be happy.
Well, it was snowing in Munich and forecasted to be inevitably colder in Poland. I could barely lift my head, let alone brave a train to the capital of the crematoriums. So what did I do? After sniffling and moaning and fretting the bad luck of getting sick at such an inopportune moment,(although I cant recall of an opportune time to get sick), I gave up a dream. Substituted it rather, with the help of free WI-FI and my trusty sidekick, the ubiquitous IPOD touch (wonderful invention, God bless Steve Jobs). In the haze of a sinus headache and a wet, rattling cough, I booked a local tour to Dachau. Not that one concentration camp could replace another, but I never did make it to Auschwitz.
The next morning, I dragged myself out of bed to see a site of the Holocaust. What is it about ourselves that we keep pushing towards a destination, a goal even if we know we are poorly equipped for it? The hour train ride was torturous, and towards the end I had forgotten that I had elected this. At the stark, iron-wrought entrance gate, I suppressed waves of nausea roiling inside my stomache. I wasn't sure if it was the flu or if I was sickened by imagining all those premeditated deaths, stacked into piles like in documentaries.
Two things truck me about Dachau. How bare the space was, and how small the showers and crematoriums were. How they were reduced to nothing, how life was nothing, only a room and a bench and a shared bunker if they were lucky enough to live. If not, bodies crammed into the showers, smothering together, not that there was any air to breathe in the first place, but that sulfurous poison enveloping the lungs like a parasite.
The wind was frigid, and penetrated through the fabric of my jeans as if they were threadbare, a gust of paralyzing cold. So this is hopelessness. The labor, the cold, the desensitization of death. Except not everyone lost hope. Viktor Frankel, a noted Jewish psychologist and Holocaust survivor, remarked that man's suffering is like a gaseous entity, no matter how much or how little, it always fills up the volume of the container. Enlightened thoughts.
Then I thought of the lotus, how it grows from the filthiest mud possible, the scourge of the earth, to become an uplifted blossom, opening towards the sky. Lotus was Buddha's flower.
Try as I might, I couldn't help but taste ashes in my mouth.