In the fall of 2013, while on an academic assignment to Warsaw, I decided to travel to the nondescript town of Oswiecim which, for those unaware, is the town closest to the site of the most gruesome Nazi horrors.
As I journeyed by train from the capital city to the countryside, I marveled at the beauty of the landscape around me and the simple yet vibrant village scenes unfolding. However, nothing I saw enroute would prepare me for what I was about to experience.
Having reached Oswiecim train station, I was guided three kilometers away to the outskirts of the town. This was my destination; the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. It stood in cold and eerie silence, a telling reminder of the ghastly and heinous crimes that took place here only seven decades ago. It was here that Nazi Germany carried out the abominable mandate of the Third Reich, the complete annihilation of the Jewish people. Wagon loads of Jews along with many Poles, Roma and Soviet Prisoners of War would be brought into Auschwitz by train and lined up to be segregated by the Schutzstaffel (SS) doctors. The healthy were set to hard labor and the unfit, elderly, and young children were stripped under the pretext of a shower and sent to underground chambers. Once locked in, they were killed by forceful inhalation of the poisonous gas pesticide, Zyklon B that was dropped in canisters through hatches. Dead bodies were incinerated and ashes thrown in the fields nearby. Remains of hair and bones are found in these fields, even today. It is estimated that over one and a half million lives were lost in Auschwitz in 3 years, from Jan 1942 to Jan 1945.
As I stood in mortification on the ground that had witnessed the very worst of humanity, I felt a sense of sadness but honored to be there in memoriam of those who lost their lives to the Nazi genocide. I was grimly reminded of the price of freedom and that slavery is still rampantly prevalent in the world. In the silence of that moment, what struck me was the absolute need for those of us who live in freedom to strive to live out the real meaning of the word humanity so that people enslaved unjustly today would find hope and restoration in their lifetime.
PS: The 2016 Global Slavery Index has estimated the number of modern day slaves to be 45.8 million out of which 58% are in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.
The author Saji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Till next post, take care.