Concentration camps, as a general rule, are not always at the top of the list when people are sight-seeing. People do not like being reminded of certain historical events. Especially events that, in the grand scheme of things, did not happen all that long ago.
From an historical perspective though, concentration camps, offer a glimpse at the horror that was the Holocaust. While most people know the history behind Auschwitz, few know about the Gross-Rosen camp. A Nazi concentration camp about 65 miles southwest of Wroclaw in what is now Poland.
Gross-Rosen is very much out of the way, lying just outside of RogoÅºnica. It is not easy to get there. The train station, is a small building which seems to watch more freight trains go by than passenger trains. Which is why I found myself taking a very long, but reasonably priced, taxi ride out to RogoÅºnica.
I arrived to vast emptiness. Not a single person was around. I wandered around thinking I would eventually run into someone. Somewhere. Finally, I walked into a building, which doubled as the reception and the museum. Expecting to have to pay something, I asked how much. Nothing. It was free. I was prepared to pay; I wanted to support the preservation of this history, but nope, completely free.
Instead, I wandered around the museum with a notebook that translated everything into English for me. The displays were incredible. Graphic. Depressing. The actual concentration camp was much of the same.
Having started as a work-camp, eventually becoming a concentration camp, Gross-Rosen put over 100,000 people to work in the rock quarry. Over 40,000 of them died.
The entrance made this abundantly clear, in a most macabre way because posted just above the entrance were the words “ARBEIT MACHT FREI.” In my very loose and literal English translation, “work makes free.”
I wandered through the camp, looking at the various buildings, the personal memorials, the large memorial to all victims of the Holocaust. They stood in stark contrast to the beautiful Polish countryside surrounding the camp.
After nearly three hours of throwing myself into one of the most sobering travel experiences, I was still alone. Not a single person had stopped by. Finally, I began making my way back into RogoÅºnica and my trip back to Wroclaw.
My time at Gross-Rosen was quiet, humbling, depressing, but most important, it was historical. Given the chance, I would visit a concentration camp again. Because some things are better not forgotten.
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