After Visiting Auschwitz Concentration Camp, I Am Very, Very Afraid

During World War Two, the mass murder of millions of Jews, gypsies, Poles, homosexuals, mentally disabled, physically handicapped, and communists was the result of simple, vile ideas that were espoused by one hate-filled man. Hitler did not grow up hating Jews. As a young man he was a German Nationalist, however at that time he did not equate extreme nationalism with antisemitism. It was only after World War One that his anti-Jewish and anti-other sentiments began to emerge. 

The words "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Makes You Free) span the entrance to Auschwitz Concentration Camp
The words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free) span the entrance to Auschwitz Concentration Camp

In the second chapter of his book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler wrote:

“Today it is difficult, if not impossible, for me to say when the word ‘Jew ‘ first gave me ground for special thoughts. At home I do not remember having heard the word during my father’s lifetime. I believe that the old gentleman would have regarded any special emphasis on this term as cultural backwardness. In the course of his life he had arrived at more or less cosmopolitan views which, despite his pronounced national sentiments, not only remained intact, but also affected me to some extent…

…Not until my fourteenth or fifteenth year did I begin to come across the word ‘Jew,’ with any frequency, partly in connection with political discussions. This filled me with a mild distaste, and I could not rid myself of an unpleasant feeling that always came over me whenever religious quarrels occurred in my presence.

At that time I did not think anything else of the question.

There were few Jews in Linz. In the course of the centuries their outward appearance had become Europeanized and had taken on a human look; in fact, I even took them for Germans. The absurdity of this idea did not dawn on me because I saw no distinguishing feature but the strange religion. The fact that they had, as I believed, been persecuted on this account sometimes almost turned my distaste at unfavorable remarks about them into horror.

Thus far I did not so much as suspect the existence of an organized opposition to the Jews.

Then I came to Vienna.”

Buildings in the prisoner block at Auschwitz Concentration Camp are deceptively nice, as if it was a suburban housing division
Buildings in the prisoner block at Auschwitz Concentration Camp are deceptively nice, as if it was a suburban housing division

Hitler moved to Vienna in 1908 at the age of 17, hoping to attend the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Not only did the Academy turn down his application twice, he was rejected by the Austro-Hungarian Army as being unfit for military service.  He lived several years in poor circumstances, selling his artwork to survive and absorbing the vitriolic antisemitism that was rampant at that time in Vienna. Finally, at the outbreak of WWI, Hitler returned to Munich and volunteered for service in the German Army.

As a soldier in WWI, Hitler bought into the myth that Germany had lost the war because they were betrayed by civilians, especially republicans who overthrew the monarchy in the German Revolution of 1918–19. This Dolchstoßlegende, or “stab-in-the-back” myth, was widely propagated by the German military in order to save face. To him, the “November Criminals” who signed the armistice leading to the Versailles Treaty were a collection of Social Democrats, Marxists, and Jews. Over time, Jews, as had been the wont throughout Europe since the Middle Ages, became scapegoats and were seen as the main reason Germany had lost the war.

After his rise to power in 1933-34, Hitler began systematically eliminating Jews by exporting them to concentration camps. I visited one of those camps during my recent trip to Krakow, Poland. My blood ran cold as I read the words that stretched over the entrance of the camp, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free). Out of 1.3 million deportees, only 400,000 were imprisoned at the camp. The remainder were immediately sent to the gas chambers. The remaining 400,000 were tasked with hard labor and fed rations of soup with a few lumps of potatoes once a day. Within months, most prisoners were dead of starvation, sickness, or exhaustion. The irony of “Arbeit Macht Frei” was not lost on me.

Detainees were forced to leave their baggage in piles on the railroad siding, while they were herded to a building for a "shower"
Detainees were forced to leave their baggage in piles on the railroad siding, while they were herded to a building for a “shower”

I felt like I’d entered the Twilight Zone as I followed a thoughtful and compassionate tour guide throughout the grounds. Except for the occasional watchtower and barbed wire barriers, the rows of red brick buildings looked so normal. They could have been any middle-class housing project. But signage told a different story. In one block, several hundred prisoners, mainly Jewish, were used as human guinea pigs for sterilization experiments conducted by a German gynecologist. Most of those who did not die from the painful treatments were murdered so that autopsies could be conducted on them.

From 1941 to 1943, Hitler’s feared Schutzstaffel paramilitary force (commonly known as the SS), shot several thousand prisoners in a walled courtyard between Blocks 10 and 11. The SS also administered brutal punishments in this courtyard, including floggings and a torture known as “the post,” where prisoners were hung from a post by their wrists with their arms twisted behind their backs.

Courtyard where thousands of prisoners were stood against the wall and shot
Courtyard where thousands of prisoners were stood against the wall and shot

One building was entirely devoted to displays of possessions brought to the camp by prisoners who believed they were there to start a new life. Piles of luggage, each bag bearing the name of the owner in white chalk, sat behind one plate glass window. Behind another, a pile of dishes and ceramics; yet another held a mound of shoes confiscated by the Nazis. Out of respect, no photos were allowed in a fourth display room. As my eyes adjusted to the darkened light, I was horrified. A mountain of human hair, shaved from the scalps of the dead, had been abandoned in the final days of World War II. The Nazis found it an ideal material for stuffing pillows and weaving rugs.

Perhaps most unsettling was the ruins of the crematorium, which was blown up by the Nazis just before they fled the approaching Russian liberating army. The facility seemed so small. I simply could not wrap my brain around the idea that at least 900,000 deportees had been gassed to death within its unassuming walls.

Piles of shoes that the Nazis confiscated from those who were about to be gassed
Piles of shoes that the Nazis confiscated from those who were about to be gassed

In the three months that have passed since my visit to Auschwitz, I have listened to the vitriolic rhetoric of the man who will soon become the President of the United States of America. I shudder at the prospect. I cannot help but draw correlations. The man who has denigrated Moslems, Mexicans, homosexuals, and women, among others, will soon take the reins of our country. Who has said that people who do not snitch on their neighbors should be prosecuted. The man who has said he does not mind being compared to Hitler will be the most powerful person in the world. This is how it began with Hitler. Slowly, one step at a time, with an unbelieving German public that became unable to do anything once his power was unassailable. I look at Mr. Trump and I am afraid. I am very, very afraid.

If you found this article about Auschwitz Concentration Camp worthwhile, you may also wish to read my story about visiting Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich, Germany. For more information about visiting the site, click here.

45 thoughts on “After Visiting Auschwitz Concentration Camp, I Am Very, Very Afraid”

  1. I visited the Holocaust museum earlier this year in DC and felt the same way. You could pull quotes from Trump\’s speeches, exchange the words for Muslims and Jews, and you\’d never know the difference. I sincerely hope, that both of us are wrong and he does proof to be harmless in the way. I\’ll take all the \”I told you so\”.

    I grew up in Germany and our history has had a big influence on my upbringing. Visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich as a student was such a gut-wrenching experience, it makes me sick to read that some people have the ideocratic idea that the Holocaust never happened. Facts don\’t seem to matter to certain kinds of people anymore.

    I applaud you for standing up for your beliefs and for sharing them on your blog. Travel and politics are intertwined and cannot be separated. Don\’t let the negative comments derail you. People need to stand up against racism, bigotry and hate. Thank you for doing just that!

  2. I enjoy your blog.
    Last winter I went to see the movie “Race” about Jesse Owens and the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I saw the movie about the same time as it was sinking in that a DJT candidacy, which I had– until that time– been able to dismiss as a bad joke, might really happen. I sat in that dark movie theatre and the depictions of seemingly “normal”, middle class German citizens who were either deluded or otherwise trapped in what was happening in their country hit hard. I began to cry, mourn, really, for MY country. I am a well-educated, recently retired physician. I try to read enough to make informed choices politically. What I felt in that movie theatre was sad and scared. It is perfectly appropriate for you to share your feelings in this forum. The naysayers (above) are lost souls, but we all must be diligent. America is still a bastion for good-hearted people and there are a lot of us who care enough to turn this tide.

  3. Thank you for your courage. You inspire me to try to be as brave as you are. Not for the first time, incidentally, but for the first time for your political stand, with which I agree entirely.


  4. Barbara, thank you so much for this posting. I have been blogging about it myself. Some of the reactions to your posting are…well typical for a divided America. It shows that ignorance and missing education in America is a big problem. I was born in Germany and my Dad was an SS-soldier (no officer though) During childhood and youth I had to grapple with the fact that he was in the SS. I never got behind his motivation. My parents told me they did not know what was going on in concentration camps, though my mother recalled having seen people being herded through the streets in Cologne while she was visiting a relative there. We sure don’t hope that it will come to excessive force and persecution in the U.S. but Trump’s rhetoric gave me the creeps every time he opened his big mouth. “Make America HATE again” should have been his line. I am saddened by the development in the U.S., especially as we live just 3 miles north of the border in Canada and used to travel a lot in the U.S. I have taken down the American flag at my house, and it will not fly again until Trump has vanished in the dark abyss of history. Thanks again Barbara.

  5. Thanks for your bravery Barbara, for daring to speak politically in your travel blog. Honestly, it’s the people (like yourself) who travel and are exposed to many cultures and other perspectives that are the ones everyone needs to be paying attention to. So thank you for your insights.

  6. I agree totally. Thank you for your heartfelt article. Everyone i know or even talk to in stores and such is in shock and disbelief that our fellow Americans could be so hateful to vote fo Rump.

  7. It took courage to write this post. Thank you. Donald Trump may never be a Hitler, but the hatred and fear that he built his campaign on, the blatant racists that he has invited into his cabinet, and the fact that he has not denounced acts of domestic racism, are very alarming. I think we are naive to think that we in the great USA are safe from the forces that brought Hitler into power. The more I travel, the more I am reminded that there is nothing special or unique about being American that would inherently protect us from falling under the spell of a Hitler. If it happened to the Germans, it could happen to us.

  8. Hi Barbara,
    Please don’t worry about the negative comments! You are writing honestly about your experiences and insights while traveling. That’s all that matters here on your blog. Thank you for being brave to express your thoughts!


  9. Hi Barbara,
    Please don\’t worry about the negative comments! You are writing honestly about your experiences and insights while traveling. That\’s all that matters here on your blog. Thank you for being brave to express your thoughts!


  10. Let them go Barbara. I am an immigrant of Asian descent and those people who elected a racist, bigot and misoginist has no love for their children and family. To decent people it should be a deal breaker!!! Hanging on to a promise to make “America great again’ by a con artist who has anchored his entire life by gaming the system and taking care ONLY of his own pockets. These people are in for a rude awakening!

    That is why you travel and just don’t live in these bubble called America so you will have a sense
    of what’s out there. Denying the holocaust reeks of ignorance and stupidity beyond belief.

  11. Hi Barbara, I just can’t believe there are so many gullible, hateful, ignorant people in our country. I agree with your comparison of Hitler to Trump. These are going to be trying times. I just hope none of these haters have a passport to spread their hatred outside our boarders.

    It’s going to take awhile because it starts with education. These people have no idea what Trump really stands for. He’s a bully. Money and power are his love. And, sorry to say, his followers think and act the same. They are fearful of anything they don’t understand and they truly think he will protect them. Sad

    Come February, I’ll embark on a six month trip to Southeast Asia. I’m not running away as I’ve been planning this adventure for quite awhile. I just hope there’s something to come home to. I’ll be trying to convince the people I meet along the way that we Americans are not all crazy. As it now stands, a million and a half more of us wanted a sane leader.

    Stay safe.

  12. It is a shame that your comments have now turned your travel blog to any direction except the pure love of travel. If you feel the need to do so then you should start a political blog and leave the travel to travelers and the political comments to that kind of person. We all live with this political, racial and emotional unrest on a daily basis and look to travel to, at least for a few moments escape it all and read of your travels. Now that is gone, we have peeked under the skirt and there is no going back. Time for you to hang it up and join the protest lines somewhere for some cause. I am saddened with your loss of neutrality.

    • I agree, our President Elect is nothing like Hitler. To spread and encourage such negativity is sad. I am more afraid of such negativity as you espouse.

      • I assume that if you were in Germany pre-World War II you would’ve thought “this guy isn’t so bad”. No one knew that Hitler was such an evil person until the damage was done. Stay educated my friend nothing will surprise me with our new administration. As a matter fact the only thing that’s surprises me Is our ignorance to think that one man could not make a difference in the lives of those different sick minority or fou is our ignorance to think that one man could not make a difference in the lives of those in anyway are different. The most powerful man in the world has free reign to do and say whatever he wants to whoever he wants. That sounds A little bit like Hitler. If you are ignorant history will repeat itself it’s inevitable . God Speed

  13. Hi Barbara, we met in Chiangmai last January, had a wonderful day, and I’ve not been very communicative since, for which I’m sorry.

    Writing to let you know I support your free speech rights and the civil courteous tone of your last post. It is fine that people disagree with each other’s opinions but the nastiness expressed by some of the comments certainly do reflect how degenerative our society has become.

    I too am very concerned about the Trump presidency, along with millions of other Americans and nations, but need not say more on this site. Sending you support and a big hug.

  14. The entire Jewish holocaust is a lie . It did not happen and there is no proof that it did , and much proof that it did not . Shame on you Barbara .

    • I am a proud friend of a (late) holocaust survivor and you can\\\’t erase the truth. Never again. The shame is on you. Keep talking Barbara!

    • Shame on you, Patrick and other Holocaust and concentration camp deniers. I am not Jewish but my Grandfather, who fought against the invaders of his country, was arrested on 5 January 1943 along with the other men in his partisan unit and sent to Auschwitz, where GERMAN RECORDS confirmed his death in March of that year. He was not even 50 years old. Germany and Germans acknowledge the Holocaust, and after Allied forces entered Germany in 1945, General Eisenhower required German citizens walk through the camps and see what was done there. There are films of those visits and of the bodies left in the camp. Concentration camps were indeed built, and the Holocaust did indeed happen.

  15. The whole world is afraid, Barbara. Since he first threw his hat into the ring my take has been that he doesn’t really mean half of what he says. I think he thrives on the publicity, and each time he touched a nerve he grew in confidence, harnessing all the hate, and feeding off it. He is interested only in his own ego, whether that makes him more or less dangerous I don’t know. He certainly is thinking skinned and ignorant and that makes him dangerous when handed such power. Even if having the power calms him down, the danger is in the permission he gives others to be racist, misogynistic and violent.

  16. PS Yeah that pile of shoes really convinces me.
    I’d also believe it if I saw a pile of teeth collected by the tooth fairy.

  17. Ignorance is no excuse in the age of the internet.
    What other historical events earn you prison time when you challenge certain assertions or details.
    Um….let me see..
    Can’t think of one.
    Ask Ursula Haverbeck if she can think of one.

    You’ve been had and now you look very silly, Barbara.
    You’re in way over head.

  18. Thank you for this Barbara – There are some interesting and factual articles (see link below) that connect Hitler to the eugenics program pioneered in our own state of California and practiced in many others. So those of you who think it can’t happen here, it can, and you need to pull your cranium out of your rectum and educate yourself a bit. That, along with the internment camps, are just a few of the dirty little secrets in US history.

  19. Simply warped and disturbing! You are the exact reason this country is so divided today. To spend a 1000 words describing the most evil and autrocious human ever to live and then to to inevitably tie those words to Donald Trump was predictable and simple of you!

    Is he perfect … No! But I’m sure that Hillary who has hardly ever held a job in the private sector and is worth almost $500million and taken millions and millions of dollars from governments that HAVE actually oppressed the individuals you so gallantly defend, doesn’t bother you and your kind at all.

    Hitler was the most evil person ever to walk on earth but Slick Willie and Crooked Hillary are the biggest con artists ever to live.

    Good riddance Hillary. You no longer matter.

    Oh and by he way, I am a proud African American.

  20. I am a second generation survivor of the Holocaust in Europe. Most of my family was murdered in Treblinka Concentration camp.
    To compare the Holocaust to what may be happening here in the USA is irrational and requires some serious mental health intervention. Hope it goes well for you.
    I have been a RSS subscriber for a long time, but today I am unsubscribing.

  21. Interesting article on Auschwitz, but to compare Donald Trump to Hitler is totally unfair. To suggest that he would have millions of people killed is preposterous and just plain mean. You have bought into the lies of the liberal media. Taking statements and blowing them way out of proportion. I would be much more afraid of Hillary Clinton becoming president. At least, he will keep us safe.

    • Thank you, Barb. You are unfortunately very, very correct.

      I, too, am afraid. And also more determined than I have ever been to resist this evil thing that we in the US have brought upon ourselves and the world. If we are silent in the face of bigotry and racism, then we’ll repeat the past. God forbid.

      I’ll be doing my own blog post about it soon. But thanks for your incisive and globally informed opinion.


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