It is a beautiful June day as our bus travels along the winding Polish country roads.  We are headed for Auschwitz and Birkenau.  My stomach churns in anticipation as an announcement is made that we will be arriving soon.  Before I have the chance to explore my nerves and hesitation, my eyes are drawn to the quaint homes that line the road as we approach the camp.  An elderly woman stands outside her home, perhaps getting ready to hang her laundry to dry or sweep her front steps, and I cannot help but wonder if she has lived here all her life.  Did she see the raging smoke stacks, lifting the ashes of my Jewish ancestors?  Did she break from daily activity to wonder who was enclosed beyond the walls of the camp?

            At the gates of Birkenau, we exit the bus in silence, confronted with the enormity of this death camp.  The only sounds are those of the clicking of cameras as photographs are taken for posterity.  I feel like an ambassador and simultaneously an incredible responsibility is placed on my shoulders.  How can I capture all that I will experience and relay this information so vividly to my family and friends at home?  What role will I play in making sure a place such as Auschwitz is never created again?  As I walk the grounds, the earth below me seems to struggle under the weight of so much innocent blood.  The muted screams of the dead seem to fill the barracks and explode through the train tracks that divide the camp. 

            Just a few kilometers away in the work camp, the sights stun my senses as I begin to feel rushed moving from place to place.   Thousands of shoes and glasses pull me closer to the individuals who wandered these camps.  My scalp burns as I pass by a room filled with locks of hair.  I search the labeled luggage for familiar names.  I am relieved that I have not encountered my own last name.

            It is time to leave the camp and head to Krakow.  My pace slows to a crawl as I head toward our bus.  I glance over my shoulder and take in the view one last time.  I squint my eyes to visualize the camp at its prime.  I peer down the long train track as I imagine the sadistic Nazi sorting process.  Death to the left.  Life to the right.  I board the bus and take note of how I can leave, but still feel imprisoned by the barbwire fences that so many innocent people could not escape.

Rebecca Kurzweil 03