Today was a day of stories. We traveled to Poland to see Auschwitz-Birkenau. I’ve read many books about Auschwitz. Part of my novel Night Song took place there, and being there was surreal. More than 1.4 million people visit Auschwitz every year, and the place was packed with people from around the world. As we walked, we heard facts about the locations, and in my mind I scrolled through the stories I read of those who’d been there.
As I walked through the barracks, I considered those who’d walked the same path. I looked at prisoners’ photographs, and I wished I could hear the story of each one. My heart broke the most when I saw the suitcases stacked with names and birth dates of those who’d traveled by train not knowing what awaited them at the last stop. Parents were scared and worried about their children. They most likely guessed that hard days lie ahead, but no one could imagine that death waited, that only those capable of work would live more than twenty-four hours within the barbed wire.
I also teared up to see the small sweaters, shoes, and dolls from the children. Lives cut short because of evil. Little Alyssa was with us through the tour. She rode on a backpack on her dad’s back. His smart phone played Barney and happy songs flowed through her earphones. She had no idea where we were or what that place represented. Her smiling face and plump arms and legs were such contrast to the skeletal photographs plastered on the walls.
The stories from within the camp weren’t the only ones I listened to. On the drive to and from the camp we had the chance to spend time with our Czech pastor friend, Petr. His family’s story moved me. Christians during WWI, during WWII, and during the Communist regime, his family served God and others during difficult times. I could almost picture the printed pages of a novel as I listened to him speak. About my age, Petr has experienced so much. Following Christ has been downright dangerous for his family, and that amazes me.