As I mentioned in a previous post, I had the chance (or should I say opportunity?) to visit the camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in lesser Poland last week. This had been a pending wish for many years for my daughter and this place quickly came to mind when we decided to travel somewhere together. All reservations were made in advance (3 months) and the only thing we had to think about is "How will it be? What will be the feeling inside once we are there?". In fact, anticipation at its best. We've heard of people going there and cry because they realized the pain that happened there or maybe because they had relatives who spent time there and even died.
I knew I'd be in for a lot of emotions, but I had no idea of what kind of emotions. But I knew I would take picture. I knew I would convert everything to black & white. And I knew I would learn a lot and that it would make me realize a lot of things too. What I didn't know, and it relates to the "What kind of emotions" mentioned above, is that I finally ended up taking no pictures at all of anything about personal belongings (pile of glasses, pots, shoes, etc.). I just felt this was not mine. This was a physical representation of the many people she were there, but taking pictures of that would be, for me, entering somewhere I should not be. It's perfectly fine to visit the place (museum) and witness while learning so many things, but I preferred to leave it there altogether. Lots of people take pictures of everything (even when not allowed, unfortunately..), but there were lots of people who seemed to share my feeling and they were not taking picture at all. I have no regrets for that, and I'm glad I did it this way.
I did, however, took quite a lot of pictures in & out of the barracks and in the field, where everything belongs to the public and nature in general. Ultimately, what I wanted to get is some kind of "connection" and better understanding. I came back with interesting pictures, a better sense of the amplitude of the events, while I still feel it must have been incredible worst than anything we can imagine. There is a plate in Birkenau, at the end of the railroad, the end of life for anyone getting to that point, and it says: "For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity (...).
What I retain from this visit is that it's a personal experience where you can see the same things as anyone visiting, but the rest is in you, your emotions, your feelings, your thoughts. I recommend the visit, even if there is so much tourists there, but see it as a pilgrimage and for your own experience. Like a movie or a song, what you feel is different from everybody else because it is based on your own life's event. We all have our stories.
I bring back these photos without pretension and in total humility. The honors and merits should go to the victims of these camps and all I wanted is to take pictures with some kind of feeling and emotions. I sincerely hope you get that feeling.
You can find the whole picture set on my website at www.normandprimeau.com
© Normand Primeau