In Footsteps


by Katrina Clarke

At Auschwitz, I stare at the sky;

I want to imagine there was hope;

I want to imagine that birds flew and trees had leaves even when humans killed each other here.

The horrors don’t feel real today;

The hot sun dulls my knowledge of a land millions were murdered on;

This place feels like a museum, I feel like a kid on a class trip;

I shuffle from barrack to barrack with packs of visitors and listen to a guide’s voice through a headset.

Maybe it’s that I’m prepared for this visit;

I know about the piles of hair and the never-to-be-retrieved shoes;

I know about the torture and the experiments and the staggering number of dead.

Something tugs at me when we see videos of happy Jewish families pre-Holocaust;

And it tugs at me again when I see a child’s drawing of a crying princess;

But we keep moving.

I know what’s next and I’m not ready.

We enter the gas chamber, the scene of my recurring childhood nightmares;

There are no windows;

I’m thinking of my great-grandmother;

Am I walking in her footsteps? 

Did she know what would happen? Was she scared?

I’ve always told myself she didn’t and she wasn’t;

Now I’m not sure.

I feel hot. My chin trembles. Tears come fast.

And then we move to the next room;

And it’s a crematorium;

I didn’t realize it would be next door;

It’s so disgustingly efficient;

In, out.

I can’t stand this room;

I can’t stand this place;

I feel hands on my back;

My friends are holding me.

We’re outside and I’m trying to steady my breathing;

My friends call me over;

Our professor is reciting the Jewish prayer for the dead;

He’s remembering people who died here and remembering “Katrina’s great-grandmother.”

I feel a release in his words;

This is respect, I think;

This is what the Nazis robbed of those they murdered;

Something feels restored. Something feels closed.

I’m not okay;

Nothing about this place is okay;

But I feel good leaving Auschwitz.

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