Last year, myself and my fellow witch gang visited an old prisoner of war camp at Hatfield Heath, hidden amongst a residential area. On the verge of being bulldozed by a property development company, we decided to take a look at this unknown local landmark before it was just a memory in history. Whist walking around its eerie yet captivating grounds (beyond the barb wire barrier), one of us mentioned Auschwitz and how if we went, what experience would we have, being mediums, feeling everything so deeply? We mentioned that we would like to go…….fast forward a year later, and my bags are packed, with two of my good friends (fellow mediums) and two of our mums, my mum included.
We were spending three nights in Krakow, Friday was to explore the city and Saturday was for our Auschwitz tour.
Ironically, our guide, who would transfer us from airport to apartment and organize our tour was a lovely young guy called Majik (which I like to pronounce as Magic). The irony of that name was not lost on us.
The apartment was quaint and although slap bang next to a tram line (so noisy at 2am!) it was in the center of the Jewish Quarter of the City. I certainly felt a presence in that apartment during my stay, in fact, I felt more spirits in my bedroom then i did on the Auschwitz tour. All night I had something/someone touching my face, I kept seeing streams of different people in my mind and I had three very restless nights. Nonetheless, my enthusiasm for the trip was strong and we had a really good day on Friday.
Krakow is a vibrant city, full of history and authenticity, the people are lovely but we did hint at a slight mafia undertone with some of the services and at night I felt a tiny bit apprehensive but apart from that, it was amazing and I would love to go back.
Majik collected us at 9am sharp on Saturday to drive us the one hour car journey to Auschwitz for the morning tour and then the plan was for us to break for lunch and then travel 4 miles to Birkenau, the second and largest camp (this surprised me, I always thought that Auschwitz was the biggest camp, it was tiny in comparison to Birkenau.).
I wasn’t quite sure what I expected from Auschwitz, I knew it would be sad, but I guess I thought I would feel a sense of detachment. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Being in that camp, amongst the human belongings, the beds (if you can call them that) where they slept, I have never felt so much a part of something that felt like it happened yesterday, let alone 75 years ago.
How do I begin to even convey the feelings that I experienced at this place? Let’s just say that the moment you walk under those famous German words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work will set you free) there is a deep sense of foreboding. We know what is in wait, however those poor innocent souls did not have a clue. They might have felt unease, but this was before TV and the internet, there was no chance of an uprising (can you imagine, there were 20,000 bodies that passed through those gates every day, they could have, on mass, took out the guards, with guns or not) so there was a very planned and organized air of secrecy as to what would happen once they entered the camp.
There is so much more I can talk about what happened, the history etc, but it is outside the scope of this blog, so what I will do is tell you what affected me so very deeply.
As we followed our female guide in a singular line, with headphones on so we could hear her talking from the front, we entered what used to be the administration buildings but now are the main part of the museum. I say museum, as that is what it is, but I have never been to a “museum” and felt connected to the situation in such a profound way.
First, we saw the human hair, the piles, and piles of hair that had been kept in a sickly pyramid. There were so many plaits, long beautiful plaits that used to belong to beautiful girls and women. My hair was in plaits that day and instantly my mum, standing next to me, made an association, of me and to those women.
Then came the artificial legs and back braces, equipment needed for less-abled bodies (probably those who were maimed from the first world war), then suit-cases, which owners were clearly identifiable by the black ink, so carefully written on the leather…..those suitcases would have been so important, that is all they had, their only earthly possessions in a bag…..the glasses were piled up next, boot polish……..then the area that really made a lump stick in my throat. There were piles upon piles of beautiful, ornate pots and plates. These were what the women, the mothers, would have packed, to make sure their children were fed when they arrived at the camp. This basic, yet humbling object is what reduced my mum to tears. She cried because she is a mother and she knows that all she would have wanted would be for her children to eat, to be and feel safe. There were so many pots.
My tears came after I saw a child’s, a little girl, pretty outfit laid out, small beige boots with a brown cardigan and frilly dress. I instantly thought of my daughter, then the terror of the place I was standing in hit me. I felt immensely grateful just then, to be alive during now, for my daughter and I to have the rights and freedom that we deserve, the rights denied to so many.
During the time we walked along the long corridors, it gave us time to study the many hundreds of profile photographs hanging on the walls of the men and women that were in that camp, of course, this is only a very small number of people compared to the scale of what happened, but it was enough for me to feel deeply and connect with them.
I was drawn to the women mostly, Helena…….Maria……….Rose…..the names and faces kept coming. Looking at their faces, some sad, others indifferent, some even smiling defiantly into the camera lens, I felt an army of invisible women and girls, standing together, saying “don’t’ cry for us, use the anger to never let this happen again and to show the world that it did happen and it should never be forgotten”.
As I stood in the sunshine on my way into the concentration camp, I looked at the blue sky and a tall tree that hung over the roof of the building and thought about the many people who would have looked at the same tree, as they took the same steps as me, that tree would have been the last thing they saw of the outside world before they stepped into the showers of death.
After our trip, we asked Majik to take us to a bar, where we sat and drank a strong vodka and coke. The atmosphere was light and we laughed and chatted to Majik, but now I think we were all slightly changed, after going to Auschwitz you will understand what the darker side of human nature is capable of.
I am glad we went on this trip, I for one, will never forget it. I felt so lucky to be able to walk away from that place, to enjoy the company of the women with me, for us to chat, eat delicious food, drink wine, buy pretty trinkets for our families, to have fun and enjoy tarot readings and coffee back at the apartment……a chance to be myself in a world that lets me do that. Long may that continue, whilst we never forget those that took the path before us and may they rest in peace.
Until next time,