Three days in Krakow, Poland and extensive research for a film I’m producing has been difficult. I spent hours on end flipping page after page of archives in a second floor reading room in a building that once housed concentration camp prisoners at Auschwitz. At times, in the still of silence, I could swear I heard screams and moans.
I would stop my research, look around to the others sitting around me at reading desks, doing their own research, seeing them unfazed. OK, it was nothing, I thought. My own imagination. But then occasionally, I would notice other researchers doing the same thing. Stopping their reading– looking around at everyone else– probably wanting to say “Did you just hear that?”
But none of us asked each other… It just went on throughout the day. Not often, but often enough to creep me out a bit.
I visited Auschwitz for three days to conduct research for a film I’m producing called Eleftheromania– a story of 400 Greek prisoners during the Holocaust. I prepared myself as much as I could by reading books on the subject. One book, in particular, “We Wept Without Tears” was especially helpful as it included a series of testimonies by Auschwitz survivors who were forced to work the gas chambers, including testimony by a Greek prisoner. But no book in the world could prepare me for the range of emotions and numbness that I experienced while here. None.
It was one of the ugliest places on earth– where man’s inhumanity to man was manifested in the form of an industrialized death machine– and the mechanisms they used were right there in front of you.
They were three of the most challenging days of my life. I cried a lot. A lot. I stepped inside a gas chamber– where thousands of people over the course of only a few years, were gassed– then burned. I saw the ovens that they were placed in, as well. I walked along barbed wire fences that separated the prisoners from freedom, and on which so many threw themselves– because death was their only access to the freedom they were longing for.
I stood outside the “clinic” where Nazi doctors performed some of the most heinous “tests” on women known to humankind. Human guinea pigs. I just stood outside this building and shook— thinking of my mom, my aunts and cousins— all of the females in my own life and wondering how on earth any human could commit such evil on a woman.
I also visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp– a second of a series of dozens of camps the Nazis built, where tens of thousands of prisoners lived in horrific conditions and where the remains of four gas chamber and crematoria buildings stand– remains, because the Nazi German cowards blew them up and tried to hide their crimes as they retreated as the Allies were approaching at the tail end of World War II.
I saw the Gate of Death– and stood inside the watchtower were some of the most evil men in history stood, where directly underneath, endless trains filled with human cargo arrived on a daily basis, bringing people from throughout Europe– including 50,000 from Greece, to their final resting places.
But are they resting? It was a thought that stayed with me throughout my three days visiting this dreaded place.
I saw hundreds of thousands of pairs of shoes, 7000 kilos of hair— once attached to human beings and so many other horrific sights, like a room full of shoes. Tens of thousands of shoes. At times, I swear I thought I heard things– strange sounds, human noises. I felt people brushing up against me, only to turn around and see no one around me. I stood in empty, cavernous rooms– cell blocks, with the strangest feeling of being in a crowded room.
I walked along the train tracks, and stood at the platform where the selection process took place. Those who were selected for work, or those who went to their immediate death inside the gas chambers.
All around me and all the time I could hear see and smell the events of 70 years ago. It wasn’t anything staged. Yes this place is now a museum, and they have done a great job at preserving the place and in some cases, recreating and renovating certain places. But these were experiences that couldn’t be created by contemporary man. The ghosts of Auschwitz Birkenau were everywhere, and they were following me everywhere I went.
I couldn’t write while I was in Krakow. I was numb most of the time and paralyzed, reserving my commentary to occasional posts on my Facebook page.
I did shoot a short video after my second day of research after I returned to my hotel room. It was a surreal feeling. All I could do was blast Anna Vissi songs and sing and dance alone in my room, as loudly as I could. Songs about love, songs about life, and share some thoughts.
But now that I’ve had the chance to regroup, emotionally, I’ll be sharing— in chronological order, my experiences via my blog. I hope you’ll follow along and at least try and understand what went on at this horrific place.