Arbeit Macht Frei
Angela paused at the gate, swallowing hard and hiding her shaking hands in the pockets of her jacket. The brisk air blew over the empty roads, passing through quickly.
With tentative steps, she crossed the threshold and entered the camp.
The red brick buildings seemed so ordinary. So unaffected. She wondered what stories those bricks could tell if they had mouths to speak. She doubted they would wish to tell of anything seen here.
The slap of her flats on the paved ground echoed, and then she noticed the silence.
Gritting her teeth, Angela eased past the rows of barracks, wincing at the muted noise of her footsteps that seemed all too loud to her ears.
At the end of the lane, she turned to the left. At the end of this one, she stopped. To her right and to her left were rectangular buildings that looked something like a bunker with low concrete walls, small caged windows, a plain wooden door and a large chimney rising above it.
Her trembling increased.
She took a gulp of air and crossed into the doorway of the building on her right. Can echoes sound cold? Angela was sure even the echo of her breathing came back chilled. She went straight through a narrow doorway and caught a glimpse of the incinerators, but she turned to her right and paused again.
What must it have felt like to walk through this doorway, knowing you wouldn’t live long enough to exit?
The walls were streaked white where previous occupants had torn their nails against stone trying to escape. Even from the doorway, she could see stars of David etched. A last act of hope? Of reassurance? Of rebellion?
Breath shuddering in her lungs, Angela stumbled back and out the way she came, focusing hard on the ground. Outside, she gasped for air, her stomach clenching painfully in horror.
Angela’s grandmother, a Polish Jew, had died in that room. In this camp. In Auschwitz. The woman and her husband had managed to send their three children, two boys and a little girl, to America to live with her sister’s family when Nazi activities had grown suspicious.
Angela couldn’t help but wonder if her grandmother had known then that her choice had saved her children from this fate. She couldn’t have, of course.
Once she caught her breath, Angela turned back down the lane and strode away, her pace much quicker now, no longer caring about the loud slaps her shoes made in her hurry.
She just needed to leave.
A couple times she broke into a jog for a few strides before restraining herself. There was no need to run. No one was here. No one but her.
By the time she reached the gate, her heart rate was fast and harsh, her breath was ragged, and her muscles twitched sporadically. Angela felt sick.
She didn’t stop walking, though she swayed precariously.
Never before had she thought ghosts to be real. But if ever there were any, they would be in Auschwitz.