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July 15th, 2009

I was struck by the looks in their eyes, captured in the photographs of the men and women who were kidnapped and taken to the SS’s concentration camps to die or be worked to death.

Much can be written about Auschwitz and its sister — and larger — concentration camp at Birkenau, a couple of miles away. But it was the photos of the victims, taken just as they were being processed in, that may be the most haunting.

The tour of the two camps seemed surreal, because it is difficult to comprehend the enormity of the murders even after having been there. Maybe even harder, now that we have been there. The thousands of pairs of baby shoes. The rooms of women’s hair, sheared to make soldiers for blankets. The suitcases that bore the victims’ names so, if luggage and its owner was separated on their train ride to a new future, as they thought, they could be reunited. Now they read like tombstones without the interred bodies. A name, a birthdate, no death date.  

There is much to reflect but the photos were what I studied the longest. Some were the eyes of despair. Resignation. Some looked stunned, bewildered. Some looked defiant and angry. 

We were not allowed to take photos of these exhibits. I don’t know that I would have wanted to. The images will stay with me.

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