Wednesday, May 2, 2012


After arriving, checking into the motel and showering last night, we went out for a good Polish meal. This was superb, and as we meandered back toward the car, we laughed, and joked, and savored the cool evening air - we had been breathing fake airport air for nearly a day. Apparently we made quite the spectacle, because we were solicited by three separate prostitutes. They didn't believe us when Fr. Marcin told them we were priests. Our young Polish hosts decided that they needed to go out with priests more often. Eventually we arrived back at our hotel (unaccompanied by ladies of negotiable affection) and had a short sleep before leaving early this morning to experience Auschwitz and Birkenau.

In five years, these two camps exterminated nearly two million people, most of whom were Jews. I have seen such efficiency in only one other place- a beef slaughter house. The camp, with it's famous sign mocking those who entered with the promise of freedom gained by work, was the most efficient industrialized complex for the slaughter of humans man has ever known. And it made money.

Prisoners were shaved after death so that the hair could be sold for profit to textile factories. Silver and gold was collected from teeth. Certain Jews were made to pay for their train ticket to the camp, thinking that they would find a better life after leaving the train. Children's shoes were taken from them before entering the "showers" so that they could be sold to Nazi families in Germany. We passed through a room literally filled with the hair of victims that had not been shipped prior to the liberation of the camp. Other rooms were filled with suitcases. Still others with brushes of all sorts and another with pots pans and kitchen equipment. All of these went back to Germany for Nazi consumption. Pharmaceutical companies of the day bought prisoners for experimentation. Bayer, of Bayer Aspirin fame, was among these companies.

In a particularly moving moment, we were allowed a long pause to pray at the cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe so generously gave his life in exchange for the life of a Jewish man. I paused again to pray to St. Edith Stien at the remnants of one of the large crematories where she would have been burned after dying in the gas chamber.

Beyond the innumerable physical atrocities committed in this place, two particularly abhorrent truths stand out in my mind. The first is that the people of Poland knew what was happening in the death camps and they either said nothing or were ignored by the rest of the world. We were told that villagers four miles away could smell the burning corpses. More than a million people were hauled into a camp that could realistically hold only forty thousand. Where did the Allies think they were being kept? Why was the camp never bombed. Second, the Nazis knew that they were committing evils. They tried to hide the camp and it's purpose from the outside world and from the prisoners within. The camp was hidden in the woods. Red Cross inspectors were allowed to see only what the Nazis wanted them to see. The gas chambers were hidden underground. When fleeing as Russian forces drew near, the Nazis blew up the gas chambers and crematories hoping to hide their purpose. Those prisoners who ran the gas chambers and crematories were kept separate from others in the camps and prior to the liberation, most of these who knew the Nazi secret were executes. SS men were forbidden from taking photos. They knew what they were doing was wrong.

What in the human heart allows a person to send a child to gas induced death? What allows a man to sell the shorn hair of a dead woman? What allows a man to treat a fellow man as though he were a rat? These camps remind us that such evil can happen again.

We ended the day concelebrating Mass at the altar of the Black Madonna. In that moment, I realize, I find some response to the evil seen earlier in the day. Even Auschwitz in all of
its evil, does not overpower the Cross. Even the meaningless suffering of so many finds redress in the victory won upon that Cross. Christ, for all of man's attempts to thwart him, remains king of all time and all creation. Why did he permit such despair? I cannot say. Can he, has he, will he use it for the good? Most certainly. If this is not so- if man can be so evil and there is no hope for a God of Justice- I am not sure that this is a life worth living.


  1. WOW!! Thanks for the pics... St. Edith Stien was a very brave young woman.. Her and her sister. I hope you found the graces of ur prayers to her. I don't know if I could be there n see what u've seen w/out crying.. How sad that they did that to innocent ppl for what they believed. Even crazier then that is how Catholics are still being persecuted today, Thank God NOT in the same way as they were then. I hope u see a "prettier" side of Auschwitz while ur there.. Be safe Tyler. Love you.
    Grace & Peace to you and Fr. Marcin :)

  2. I did type a comment yesterday, but blogger ate it:0(
    So much evil done in that place! You can almost feel it in the photos of the empty walkway where prisoners shuffled along.

  3. WOw. It looks like Sr. Magdalna will be taking us there as well. She didn't know if I wanted to go. I consider our trip a Spiritual Retreat and need to pray in the presence of suffering.

    I hope you get to see "Jotty" as the sisters call her. Tell her we love her and wish her happy birthday!



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