I have visited Auschwitz only once.
It is not a place to which I wish to return any time soon.
Although that visit was many years ago, Auschwitz is a place one does not forget.
Whether it is the large silent rooms with glass screens, behind which lie the stacked remains of the confiscated clothes and luggage, spectacles and identity cards or (worse still) the extracted teeth or hair from the inmates of that concentration camp; or, the still-lingering smell of gas around the chimneys of the camp incinerator; or the fact that what is said about birdsong not being heard at Auschwitz is true — whatever it is, Auschwitz is not an easy place to forget. Like a bad dream it lingers in one’s waking memory. Only this was a nightmare all too real for those unfortunate enough to be incarcerated within its razor-wire fences.
St. Maximilian Kolbe
One such inmate was the Polish priest, now martyr-saint, Maximilian Kolbe. He arrived in Auschwitz May 28, 1941. No longer a man with a name, he had become instead Prisoner No. 16670.
Two months later, Kolbe offered his life to save another prisoner who was previously unknown to the priest but who had been sentenced to death by starvation. Kolbe’s offer was accepted. He was consigned to the starvation bunker in the basement of Block 11, known as the “Death Block.” Eventually, Kolbe died Aug. 14, 1941, after having been given a lethal injection.
Having visited the block where the saint had given his life, it was time to leave Auschwitz. In fact, if truth be known, I couldn’t get away quick enough from the place.
The Fall of Rudolf Höss
Years later I heard an unexpected story about Auschwitz. Yet, perhaps, it is not so unexpected after all. In that camp where so much evil abounded, there, too, grace was to be found.
Rudolf Höss, the former commandant of Auschwitz, was born into a devout German Catholic family. World War One followed an unhappy childhood. Aged just 17 years, Höss served in the German Imperial Army as a noncommissioned officer. In the national chaos that followed his country’s defeat, Höss returned home. Soon he was involved with right-wing paramilitary groups.
It was in Munich in March 1922 that his life was changed forever. For it was then that he heard the voice of a “prophet,” calling him once more to the cause of the Fatherland. It was a decisive moment for the future commandant of Auschwitz, as the voice that transfixed him was that of Adolf Hitler.
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