CREDOS : Distorted memory — I

Rebecca Phillips:

The thing I remember most about Auschwitz is not the sight of barbed wire surrounding the camp, not the morbid walk from the main living quarters to the crematorium, not even the nausea induced by the sight of the fingernail marks etched in desperation on the walls of the gas chambers. What I remember most clearly about my visit to the death camp in Poland last spring is a group of three European teenagers. I noticed them soon after entering the camp, just beyond the gate reading “Arbeit Macht Frei,” words I think I learned to say in German before I even knew how to construct a proper sentence in English. The three kids were taking a photograph. Two of them flanked a sign by the gate that depicted a skull and crossbones and the German word for danger, a dire warning for any inmate who might try to escape. Kneeling close to the skeleton head, the two teenagers put on their scariest faces and lifted their arms and legs in the air, crossing them to mimic the sign. The third snapped their picture, while all three laughed jubilantly at their joke.

Their laughter was the first sound I heard in Auschwitz, an otherwise silent, lifeless place. Guided tours of the Auschwitz grounds are muted; the guides dress in drab colours, the bunkers seem eerily sterile. For the most part, the tourists I saw there, even large groups, were hushed and inconspicuous amid desolation. It’s a place where laughter stands out, and even now, close to a year later, the sound of those kids’ laughter still echoes in my mind. I went to Auschwitz because it is part of my own story; I left thinking about how little it means to many others. —