Friday, March 11, 2011

Reflections on Majdanek

It is odd that a historian-in-training has not yet completed his first viewing of Band of Brothers. But I am getting close. A lot of credit is owed to those who were a part of the production of this mini-series.

Tonight I watched the 9th Episode in the Mini-Series. 'Why We Fight'.

It includes the scene in which Easy Company discovers a Concentration Camp.

After watching the episode, I began talking about it with a friend of mine. And I had to hold back tears. Because what was shown was powerful, and painful to view. As it should be - and hopefully is for everybody. But, when we started talking about Auschwitz-Birkenau, and we started talking about Majdanek, and the feeling of walking through the camps and knowing where you are, recognizing your location in a photo taken 60 years ago by a journalist documenting the extermination of people.

As cattle.

Individuals treated as cattle and left to die as though they are worth less than over-ripe cabbage in a flooded field. Only worth death, but just barely worth that.

When I was on my tour of Germany and Poland, and going through death-camps, I was given a 'person' whose story I was to follow from day-to-day. My person was named Ruth. She was Polish. Jewish. 14-years old when the war started in 1939; a dedicated piano player who loved to go to the library. She had two brothers, both younger. Lived in a house with her parents and grandparents (on her mother's side). In 1941, at the age of 15, she was taken to Majdanek. She survived the first selection, and the second, and the third. Her mother and grandmother did not. Her father, grandfather and brothers were separated long before - and she didn't know their fate (none of them survived the camps, only the father made it past the railway). On the fourth selection, without hope and having been defeated long before by the death and disease and death and disease and harassment and death that surrounded her, she failed. She was killed in late 1941 - aged 16.

My brother had a completely different story, of a boy from Yugoslavia. Jewish. 7 years old. 1943 - put into a train cart. Selected for extermination. Killed, 1943. 7 Years old.

There were 22 individuals on the tour with us. 24 different stories dangling around our necks as we walked through fields of rapidly deteriorating barracks that once housed hundreds of people. Tiny buildings, tiny beds. The ruts where the water was the run were still there. In some places you could still get a sense of how human traffic moved from day to day - weakly, but with purpose. To survive to the next meal.


  1. Wow! This is a powerful piece and beautifully written. I'm so happy you wrote it and shared your experience with us. I've never travelled to a concentration camp. I'm not sure I'd have the courage to step on the ground there.
    In the early '90s, I watched the movie "Schindler's List" several times at the theatre. I was mesmerized by what I saw. And devastated. I couldn't imagine how human beings were treated in such a brutal way.
    I couldn't wait to buy a copy of the movie when it came out, then, on VHS tape. Subsequently, I bought it on DVD. And you know what? I haven't been able to watch it--not even once. I remember the rampant killing scenes--for example, the young woman trying in vain to save her life by pretending to be an architect, who knew something about building a structure--and I can't bring myself to watch it again. I can't. It's too painful. It's too unimaginable.
    Thank you again for giving us this glimpse into you by writing this piece. You should be proud of what you've done here.

  2. Since I was a small child, I as fascinated with The Diary of Anne Frank, always relating in some way, though I was born into a country that hasn't given me exposure to the trauma these people witnessed.

    I believe that in my most recent past life, I witnessed the holocaust in some form. I don't know if it was as a victim, but I'm leaning that way, as I have an innate disgust for military commands in German. I mean, every fibre of being makes me so angry and filled with hate. It's unavoidable. I don't judge, and in this life, I don't hate them, or perpetuate hatred in any way, but I still feel it when I'm exposed to it.

    Both "Shindler's List" and Band of Brothers are exceptional depictions, in my opinion, of providing historically accurate information.

    I have yet to watch newer things that depict the holocaust, simply for my own well being.

    I am tied, inextribly, to this event, and feel a very deep connection to the people who experienced it many negative ways.

    Neal, I really don't know if I could have gone through that excersize, I think I would have broken down into fetal position and wept. For hours. Good for you for being brave and strong enough. Thank you for sharing that experience. I love finding more personal things out about the bloggers I read. It helps me understand their writing better. :)