2pm, Auschwitz II - Birkenau. Our guides now take us through the snowy roads that separate the Juden Ramp from the vast plain that used to be Birkenau.
Calm is absolute in this space where there is only a cold and frozen silence. The image evoked earlier in the day of a gigantic "graveyard without a grave" suddenly makes sense.
We head to one of the wooden barracks, restored by the Auschwitz Memorial. The guides explain that the barracks were indeed destroyed after evacuation of the camp. Sometimes by the Nazis themselves, sometimes in the post-war period, by the Poles who needed wood to heat themselves. A murmur of indignation runs through our group on this last point. "But what would you have done? You would have let your children freezing to death to perpetuate the memory of the dead? " slice our guide.
Freezing to death. In Birkenau, these words resonate more than elsewhere, where each part of the body is seized by the daggers of the Polish cold. And yet, as many of us point out, "we are equipped! ". Fleeces, padded shoes, coats, bonnets, gloves, we do not miss anything from the panoply against the winter days of Eastern Europe. "When you're cold, what are you doing? asks Ginette Kolinka "You put on a sweater! she answers automatically. "Well, we did not have a sweater. We just had to be cold."
We press a little to get faster inside the house, for - we thought it naively - warm us up. The interior of this hut of wood eaten away by mold, with large gaps in it, is icy. But the stupor of being there makes us forget the temperature for a moment. Half dazed, everyone took a few steps on either side of the narrow barracks.
Men, women, and sometimes children, have - if not slept - spent the frigid winter nights of Silesia and the hot evenings of endless summer days. At three, four, and often more, they shared shabby blankets and narrow pallets that served as their beds. In these spaces as little descriptive as possible, our thoughts are lost to the many testimonies heard in the past. The stories of these women unable to sit on their pallet, those men forced to lie on their hands, sniffing the smell of the latrine bucket spilled a few hours on the feet of the neighbor.
A little bit apart from the group, one of the young high school girls cries. She is comforted by her comrades who send us looks full of questions. We try to answer the inconceivable. "But, they did not wash? Where did they go? they ask with incomprehension. We explain to them how difficult it was to get to the few available water points in the camp and how dangerous it could be to get out of the block without permission. We call them rows of latrines, arranged at the bottom of the barracks.
"But, the toilets are broken. What did they look like before?" they inquire. No, the toilets are not broken. What you see is exactly what was here, simple holes for the needs. Back to back, elbows against elbows, men like you and I had to give up the privilege of intimacy. While questioning the fate of the youngest children, Maïa learns that they usually spent no night in the camp, sent upon their arrival at the gas chamber, often accompanied by their mother. We feel then that we must stop there in the story and that this girl can not hear more.
One of her comrades, Marie, is angry. " But that is not possible ! I do not understand ! How can a man do all this to another man ?! Without knowing it, she has just raised the biggest question of the Holocaust. "How could Hitler have imagined all this? You have to be really sick! I hate that one, it's crazy as I hate it! In addition, it was ugly! ". With her touching words as a teenager, Marie, touch the finger of the goal of this journey of memory: the revolt of hearts and minds against forgetting.
Cold, hunger, fear, beatings, filth, sickness and horror. This is what we retain from Auschwitz. Ginette Kolinka, she talks about towels sponges. "There was nothing to wipe ... Never a towel, never a fabric. Seven months without drying out ... And today, when I forget to put some softener and I dry myself with rough towels, I groan. I would have been very happy to have fresh towels at the time ... " Just as many details that for each of us that day have become essential. We are still staying in this empty booth.
The smoke that emerges from our heavy breaths draws in the dark vaporous forms, which quietly animate like febrile silhouettes in space.
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