We visited the website ( www.auschwitz.org.pl ) which told us that they did not recommend visitors under the age of 14-years old so we were pretty hesitant to go at all. We had finished listening to the book on CD, "Night" by Elie Wiesel by the time we had reached Berlin. And by the time the book ended we were all thinking that visiting Auschwitz was a bad idea.
So? What happened? Why did we decide to visit anyway? Wiesel, the Iron Curtain, the Jewish Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie and the Topography of Terror, and then the obvious state of communist oppression Poland is still trying to recover from... I don't know. The whole story is painfully tragic... but our family is slowly putting the pieces of history together. Auschwitz is one of the pieces.
Birkenau and Auschwitz were the first concentration camps. They were originally used as the prison camps for prisoners of war. But then, Hitler got the idea to turn Auschwitz into an extermination camp. The horrors that went on there...
We decided that we would go slowly and stay sensitive to where the children were at emotionally and play out the visit bit by bit this way. Israel only made it through two buildings before making it very clear to us that she was done. "Mommy, I just feel so sad that this happened. I don't want to see any more." (Perhaps I could share our experiences with you someday.) So LeRoy and I took turns going inside the buildings while the other stayed outside with Israel and Ezekiel, (Zeke made it through one more building and then said he was done, too).
Our family will be processing all of this for a long, long time, (probably a lifetime). As we walked to our vehicle when leaving Auschwitz, Eli said, "Mom, I wish we didn't come here. But at the same time I'm glad we did. But our family will never be the same." I think he's right. I don't know how a person could visit these places and not let it affect them.
I have a lot of thoughts about our visit... I just don't have the words to put with them yet.