Following along behind the groups of laughing and joking tourists, I was not really sure what to expect.. I wasn’t really aware of any feelings other than excitement for the opportunity to see a new place. A place that I have read about and heard about as one of the worst examples of human experience.
I left the tour groups behind at the gate to the compound.. barbed wire fences stretching north and south. Simple wooden buildings lined the interior..little guardshacks stood in silence, perhaps remembering Nazi guards in comfort while prisoners stood in the rain or cold, often for hours at a time… waiting for the watch commander to be satisfied with the head count.
I walked through the deserted streets and wondered.. lost in thoughts of the inhumanity pressed upon the prisoners here. The squalid living conditions and the brutality, the harsh unforgiving manner of life. Capture, transport, interrogation.. execution. The gas chambers were busy .. and so was the execution wall where prisoners were just shot after being tortured and questioned.. There are places where prisoners were hanged as a warning, for no reason or any reason. In my mind, as I listened and read about the horrors committed here, nothing came close to the rooms in the basement of the “prison ward”. Here many prisoners were sentenced to death by starvation. They were given water and allowed to starve to death in a 4 x 4 room..
I felt surrounded by ghosts.. the presence of fear was palpable. Terror reigned supreme here for almost 2 years. In 1943, you feared Austwich more than war … more than death.
There was no laughter at the end of this tour.. only somber faces, lost in thought..