Inside Auschwitz I, originally a camp for Polish political dissidents, now a museum, a trained guide led us through the prison blocks, each of which now houses the common, everyday belongings of human beings who suffered here. What is left behind from the piles of suitcases are personal items: toothbrushes, eyeglasses, hairbrushes, clothing and shoes. From our studies, we know that before being deported, these helpless people were given little time to pack for whatever journey lay ahead. These items, including the sandals with the red, white and blue braided straps, show that the people coming here had no idea what fate awaited them.
Our guide led us through the prison block with two standing cells, in which four prisoners would have to stand in a three by three foot square throughout the night, and then go to work each day. Also in this block was the starvation cell of Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish priest who volunteered for this punishment in place of a man with a family. Through his actions, he saved the man's life. Kolbe survived the two weeks of starvation, but then was given a lethal injection and killed.
We then proceeded to the crematorium, beside the gallows where Rudolf Hoess was executed in 1947. While gazing at the gallows, we could see the villa of Hoess to our right, a picturesque scene like something out of a movie, and to our right, we could see the building housing a hospital and canteen for the SS officers. Once again bringing to mind the perplexing question of the identity of these men who worked here and committed these acts, and how was this humanly possible.
. . .I imagined each lock of hair, belonging to a different victim. I imagined beautiful women as their hair was being shaved, and they could do nothing. I imagined Jewish Rabbis with shaved faces, looking to the ground seeing their self-defining beards. We continued seeing the objects taken from victims such as glasses, prosthetic limbs, shoes, clothes, kitchenware, babies’ clothes and brushes. . .
….I tried to imagine myself in their shoes as I walked through Auschwitz. What surprised me the most was the roads. They were rocky – like concrete – but the stones weren’t finely ground; like half concrete and half jagged rocks. My shoes were thin so I could feel every rock as I stepped on them. Then in my mind I switched my five layers of clothing to thin, striped cloth pajamas, stripped of personal belongings. . .
Matt Berner says: