The sand and gravel cling to our shoes—
sand, gravel, dust and ashes.
The spirits of the dead haunt the exhibits:
two tons of hair, with clothing and rugs woven from it;
thousands of eyeglass frames; photos and books of all kinds;
hundreds of braces and artificial limbs;
shoes in all sizes; children’s clothing and toys;
suitcases neatly labeled with names and addresses.

It is a museum now, beautifully kept, carefully tended.
A historian takes us from block to block:
each tells a story of suffering and death.
Death by disease and starvation,
death by terror and torture.
The sand, gravel, dust and ashes cling to our shoes
as we move silently through the camp.
No words can do justice to the horror of this place.

The first gas chamber and crematorium were too small
to dispose of the requisite number of bodies efficiently,
so they created Birkenau—the same slogan,
“Arbeit macht frei,” emblazoned on the entrance.
The death machines there are gone—blown up
when the camp was liberated at the war’s end,
but the rows of barracks, wooden and brick, still stand,
proclaiming the hundreds of thousands
who passed through here on their way to death.

The train tracks lead nowhere.  Those chosen
fresh off the transports in the first selection
went straight to the gas chambers, where Zyklon B
guaranteed that their last living moments
would overflow with fear and despair.
Then, their bodies picked clean, they traveled
to the ovens and up through the chimneys,
where the soot and ashes—all that was left—
drifted down to the ground and turned to dust.

The grass is very green here.
The sand, gravel, dust and ashes cling to our shoes
as we stand in awe at this scene of infinite cruelty.
The spirits of the dead hover around us;
they whisper: Remember, remember.
Despite our grief and mourning, despite our tears,
we are grateful to have come to this place.
We and our shoes will bear witness,
as the shoes of all who come here
carry Auschwitz to the ends of the earth.

©1999 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf

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