Before visiting Auschwitz – Birkenau, I expected an emotional experience, but didn't expect to cry. I’ve visited concentration camps before, with friends who sobbed from room to room, in shock and disbelief of the horror that took place there, but for some reason, that has never been me. I have just assumed that the thought of millions (millions!) of Jews, Poles, handicapped, homosexuals, etc. dying at the hands of Nazi monsters is almost too much to truly grasp, emotionally.
When we walked up to the camp grounds, though, we were all alone, without a fellow onlooker in sight. We saw a lone train cart and approached the tracks. These tracks were the very tracks upon which trainload after trainload of prisoners arrived. This train cart was indeed one of many carts into which displaced Poles were pushed, kicked and shoved, after being yanked from homes to which they’d never return. Knowing that perhaps a girl of the same age once stood here with the same ominous work camp stretched out before her – her fate very different from mine – was haunting. Imagining that prisoners once looked out upon this same horizon – not knowing exactly what was in store for them but most likely innately sensing the looming prospect of misery and death – made me shiver. Already, I felt more emotional than I had felt at any other concentration camp exhibit, museum or memorial.
And then I glanced down at my feet and noticed dozens of rocks covered in writing – various German words scrawled across white rocks in black permanent marker. If I had to guess, I would have said a group of German students came here on a class trip and left these rocks behind; their small offering lined along the railroad tracks. On one rock, I noticed the word “Freiheit” (freedom), on another “Klarheit” (clarity). I read German word after German word and then noticed one in English. Written in small black letters were the words, "I’m so sorry”. For whatever reason, it touched me like nothing else and, silently, I began to cry. And the weirdest part of all is that nothing else I saw that day moved me as much as that one little rock on the tracks.