January 13: Following the day visit to Treblinka, we were all excited to relax and release our minds of the Holocaust during our 8ish hour bus ride to Krakow.
Psych. We were surprised by our professors that we had a group tour appointment at Majdanek, located about 3 hours east of Warsaw. Though we were tired and a little uneasy about going to two death camps in a row (well, three if we include tomorrow’s visit to Auschwitz), but this was an opportunity too hard to pass up. Majdanek is truly a valuable death camp, at least when it comes to today’s understanding of the Holocaust.
Why is this death camp so special? After all, if you are like me, I had never even heard of it. It is a small camp (i.e. approximately 80,000-90,000 Jews were deported there), and there are no notable figures that were imprisoned there. Its rarity emerges from its liberation. Since it was one of the first camps to be liberated, the SS did not have enough time to destroy the evidence. Almost all of the buildings, including the administrative, barracks, crematorium, gas chambers, and disinfection stations, are completely intact. Majdanek is as authentic as you can get when it comes to concentration camp preservation.
Walking around the camp was a weird experience. The weather was bone-chilling cold and ironically, the sun was out that day. I told my professors that I found it funny that the first day we saw the sun on our trip was one of the darkest content days. The coldness of the camp also resonated from the things we saw. Our guide lead us to the registration rooms, showed us where people were shaved and showered, walked us through where people’s possessions were disinfected, and finally to the gas chambers. I will never forget seeing the blue-stained walls of those rooms (from the Zyklon B poison) and the original steel doors that sealed-of the victims’ lives.
Our tour continued to take us to the different areas of the camp. The barracks are set up as museum displays and examples for people to better understand how Majdanek was run. We saw original bunks, the camp model, and cages upon cages upon cages of victim’s shoes. That was hard to see. We then proceeded to the crematorium at the very end of the camp, another difficult site. We learned here that many of the victim’s remains were used to produce fertilizer (yes, fertilizer) for the camp. Since liberation, a large section of dirt has been preserved and memorialized under a dome structure.
Majdanek is also noted for one of the darkest days of the Holocaust: “The Harvest Festival”. This event happened on November 3, 1943 and resulted in the murder of 18,000 prisoners within that 24 hour period. There were many uprisings happening around that time at various camps, and the SS guards were worried that the prisoners of Majdanek would conspire in the same activities. In an effort to eliminate this risk, the Harvest Festival was instated. It is the largest single-day, single-location massacre in Holocaust history.
Now, you might think that the title of this post is a little odd. Why would I entitle something about a death camp alluding to something so innocent and lighthearted? Well, this is based off of a strange observation me and my class had while we were touring the camp. We found that there were multiple families strolling around the grounds, like they were walking in the park. Couples, dogs, and even children riding in sleds were enjoying the nice weather, almost ignoring the fact they were in a concentration camp. The irony of this baffles me and really makes me think- are we really doing enough to fully recognize these places of darkness?
This camp was a great stepping stone to what we will see in Auschwitz. The professors have scheduled our visits well, allowing us to work up to what I consider the climax of our journey to be: Auschwitz.