|Innocence of holding hands.|
In early 1990, just as the Berlin Wall was about to fall, I was among the very first westerners behind the Iron Curtain. My next door neighbor was a refugee from the Solidarity movement of Poland in the early 1980s and we had become both friends and business partners. Using his contacts Jurek and I had been able to get past the heavy security and gain very early access to the untapped potential of black market businesses which had been subsisting beneath the shadow of a communistic hand.
|Faun fountain in Glwice|
Our base of operations was in Gliwice, a city in the Upper Silesia district of Poland. Gliwice was symbolic as the place where Hitler's launched his first attack of World War Two using storm-troopers dressed as Polish soldiers to give him the excuse he needed for war.
After we had been there a week meeting with those whom desired trade and commerce, we took a day off for a specially arranged tour of Auschwitz. Konzentrationslager Auschwitz, as the German's would say, was a special prison camp where extermination of those people unwanted by the state occurred. This camp had been designated the place where the final solution to the Jewish question in Europe would be resolved. One of the secret business owners we had been negotiating with had pulled some strings and got us a private tour of this place of terror and great pain.
|"Work will Make you Free" says the gate to the camp|
|Jews lining up to be "relocated"|
The ghastly procedure was carried out with incredible efficiency Trains of humans packed in by the hundreds to cars made for hauling livestock would arrive. All had been told to bring a small kit of goods so that they could be resettled to the newly conquered land or “lebensraum”. Getting out of the trains, SS soldiers would divide those who could work from those to be immediately killed. After working them in starvation conditions or being used for medical experimentation, even those divided out would be sent on to a fateful shower of Zykon B.
|Combs stripped from the bodies|
We spent several unbelievably difficult minutes by the ovens where the bodies were burned, stacked and packed remains filling the small space of heat to maximize the energy used to reduce to ash what had only minutes before been human beings.
As I stood there filled with a horrific sense of fascination upon the limits of cruelty possible by my fellow man; I by reflex reached out and touched the oven brick and its open metal arch shaped door. Becoming conscious of what I had done, I jerked my hand away. I tried to wipe it clean of the feeling of the thing on my pants. There were no remains, or even dust, on my hand as I stared down at it in disbelief of my own action. Ewa, sensing my violent physical reaction to the abominable touch, quickly and mercifully hustled us on to the next monstrous exhibit.
This sense of having become personally involved with the destruction did not soon leave me. Like post-traumatic shock or the death of a family member, my heart was darkened by a force I could not shake. Even the shared bottle of vodka Jurek and I downed could not obliterate the feeling that I had been polluted.
Several weeks later, upon returning to my home, I reached out to touch my young daughter's cheek. Remembering the ovens, I was unable to even place that hand upon her. The idea of sharing that evil, even in so indirect a way caused me to shudder and lose courage.
As time passed and my perspective changed by other events entering my mind and concern, the intensity of the experience faded. Even during the worst of it, I never thought there was anything real to this haunting feeling, but all along I knew it was my own emotions run amok. This knowledge did not provide comfort. Eventually I was able to put the feelings aside.
Confronting evil, staring in the abyss of what men can do, while jarring and unpleasant has had a profound impact on my conscience and morality. This many years removed I can say that it has allowed me to become more patient, more tolerant, and more filled with the desire to understand the diversity and beauty of my fellow man.
To those of you who are filled with hate. Who fear the gay, the black, the Jew, the religion unlike your own; I challenge you. Go to such a place of great evil, mediate and return to those you love, if you dare.