It has been a really long day.
After stopping at a couple of sites around Lublin this morning, we set off for Majdanek.
This was a strange place.
One of the earliest concentration camps to be liberated by the Soviets, the exhibits and memorials at Majdanek hardly reference the tens of thousands of Jews who were imprisoned or murdered here, and the numbers and facts they display are questionable and constantly being disproved.
It was strange and sterile. Like a film set. A tourist attraction.
People clicked away, photographing glass cases full of toothbrushes, watches and children’s toys. Queues of visitors waited to take snaps of the ovens inside the crematorium. I stood inside the experimental gas chamber, the ceiling of which is stained with the fumes from early trial uses of Zyklon.
Beside the now grassy pits where hundreds of bodies are piled in mass graves, stands a huge round stone memorial. Inside is a giant mound of human ash.
The wind blew some into my eye.
It is covered in cigarette butts and broken beer bottles.
Pieces of steel from all over this and similar sites are being stolen and sold as scrap.
It was just a place. I felt nothing.
I touched barbed wire boundary fences and watch towers. I spoke with a survivor beside rows of tightly packed bunks.
It didn’t move me. Yesterday, at Treblinka where no barracks or watchtowers or barbed wire remains, I sobbed in the rain as I walked or spoke to people. Then today, in this place faced with everything right in front of me – I struggled to know what it meant.
Renée said: “what does it matter if the ashes are on this pile or under the ground? It makes no difference to the dead people.”
With most of the Majdanek camp still as in tact as it was in the 1940s, it could be fully operational again within twenty four hours.
“If we work hard to make sure there is no prejudice – that people are all just good to one another, this wont happen again.”
Tomorrow I’m leaving Renée to join a group of university students to go to Auschwitz.