I know it's nearly Christmas and everyone is doing happy, festive, fun things. But last week while in Krakow I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi concentration and extermination camps built in the isolated suburbs of Southern Poland.
I already knew a lot about what happened there: from history lessons at school, from books and from films, but seeing the physical spaces that bore witness to the shocking crimes against humanity, and hearing the gruesome details of the tortures while standing in those same spaces, numbed me as I tried to process it in my mind.
There was a guide who pointed out key buildings and locations - she was Polish and her own Grandparents had been arrested and deported to Auschwitz.
I wondered how she could cope with going there every day (her job for almost 17 years), but then I realised I already knew the answer: everyone must know; we must never forget.
I didn't cry while I was there despite the deep sadness I felt. It is only with the luxury of time and distance (which the people who were killed there were so cruelly denied), that I can reflect back on my experience. It's haunted me ever since.
The trees outside the camp were stark and barren and I wondered if they were old enough to have been there when the camp was occupied? Perhaps some of them.
I love trees and the language of branches. They were beautiful despite their barren state and the location. I saw birds though I didn't hear their call.
A broken bough, twisted in pain
weeping cold tears
salty in the cracks
and it hurts, it stings.
Limbs stretched apart, to breaking point
split in two. An irreparable split.
Leaves, branches, twigs, thorns
falling down and
the net cast wide
but it won't catch us side by side -
not now there's a split in the bough
on a battleground of lies.
"Bend not break."
Then, us, now: a different sound
beating from a bitter drum.
Hope is gone
though it leaves a mark, a stain
that could never be washed away.
There is no sound.
I was still reading Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky while I was in Krakow, and although I knew she had died at Auschwitz (in August 1942), I hadn't realised that the book was never finished. It made the whole experience that much more poignant and sad because it was like a personal, intimate link with her having read her evocative words.
The image below is near the Market Square in the Old Town of Krakow; a tree-lined park/walkway on the way to the Wawel Royal Castle.
The dark branches personify the trees giving them an energy that was lacking in the previous images.
The line of the path symbolises journeys and the journey of life, the transience of life.
There is no way to ever lighten the darkness that is the spectre of Auschwitz.