My first visit to Auschwitz in Poland was overwhelming. I got there early and toured the entire place. I then joined the tour that I prepaid – listening in, asking questions, wanting to stay longer at each spot, but being pushed to move forward to keep up with the guide. I then went back after my guided tour was over. I would fall in behind other guides to learn more. At the end of the day, I walked the grounds again just thinking, reflecting on all that I had learned at the very site of mankind’s most heinous criminal acts.
I went back for a second time a few years later. I got to Auschwitz after noon for my first day. I began to walk through the barracks, peer through the barbed wire, stand at the place where transports came daily, imagining the dreaded selection process. I walked into other barracks where no one was, just wanting to imagine the faces, the voices, the fear, the determination, the frustration, the depression, and the surrender of life. I listened in silence. I then walked down to the crematories – or to what was left of them. I looked at the brick remains. I imagined the bodies being brought there, soldiers rifling through each to see if there was anything of value left like gold fillings in the victims’ teeth. I imagined the iron doors to the heated furnaces, the burning, the emptying of ashes. I stood at the ash pits where bodies were irreverently disposed.
Shadows of the evening began to fall. I just stood there. The crowds thinned. Later that evening, I finally noticed everyone had gone. I did not want to leave, but I knew they had to be closing the grounds soon. I slowly made my way past the women’s barracks, toward the entrance gate just to find it was locked. The caretakers had no idea I was there. They literally locked me in Auschwitz for the night. Fear swept over me. I had a current fear of how I would get out and get to my hotel. A distant past fear also swept over me. Is this what they felt when they were brought and locked in Auschwitz, the death camp? I called but no one answered. I looked for people, anyone, but found no one. There was a light in the guard house at the entrance, but I saw and heard not one human being. Is this how it was? Looking around, it didn’t feel like 2004, more like 1944. I walked hurriedly around the barbed wire fences, the brick entrance, looking for some way out, some open gate, some gap in the wire to squeeze through. I found nothing. I started to cry out. I knocked and then banged on the door to the guard house hoping someone was near the light in the upper window. Finally, a guard whose language I did not understand yelled back. I responded in hope. Another light came on, then a sound of walking. I was relieved. The guard opened the gate and let me leave Auschwitz.
The third visit to Auschwitz, I had my family with me – my wife and our two girls. I wanted them to see this, to learn this. As we went through the women’s’ barracks. I related my story of being locked in Auschwitz. I put my hand on a bunk near the window of one of the barracks and I reimagined for them what it was like to be Anne Frank here. My family was spellbound. They didn’t say a word. Reverence and silence was absorbed by all four of us. With that, my wife said quietly, “You have got to retell this to others. You have got to tell the rest of Anne’s story”. So, I have with great affection and care, holding to the facts and reaching for the emotions.
My book, The Lost Diary of Anne Frank, is available now I pray you will order it, read it, and discover all that Anne faced. Just as the Jewish people have said every year since, “May we never forget”. You can order “The Lost Diary of Anne Frank” on Amazon at