One of the very few benefits of my hubby no longer commuting with me comes from the fact that I have had to change my own commute. I now get a train closer to home as hubby can drop me off and pick me up, which avoids the £9.00 daily parking charge. It costs me more each month in train tickets, but overall is better than the petrol I would have had to pay from having to drive myself each day to the other station, which hubby and I used to share.
So, what is the benefit? Well it is twofold! I now get a seat each day, rather than standing cheek to cheek with other passengers! As the journey time is longer, I have time to relax and read a book. This has completely changed my daily 3-hour commute. What used to be a stressful time, is now quick relaxing.
Having the opportunity to sit and read has also awakened a passion I had almost forgotten. A book I have been trying to read for over 6 months was finally finished. It allowed me to move onto another book with I can only describe as a truly moving piece of literature.
I overheard a couple of colleagues at work one day talking about his book. Both were saying how good it was. It was the word Auschwitz that sparked my interest. I had been to Auschwitz and Birkenau twice. Both trips were very different in some ways, but similar in others.
On my first trip in around 2006/2007 I remember there was an exhibition in Birkenau of photos taken by a prisoner. Knowing what I knew about the camps, I couldn’t understand how a prisoner could smuggle a camera in. It had troubled me for years.
The first visit was more of a relaxed tour. We had our own private guide who had been our driver for the whole week while we were in Poland. He took us around at our own pace, telling us all the stories and history of the two camps.
I remember the silence that fell over them both. It was like the world had stood still in remembrance of those that had lost their lives there.
I returned to the camps in 2018 with my hubby. This time, it was an organised tour. My memory may be playing tricks on me, but I felt that there was less huts open to us to visit. Or maybe they were missed on the tour, I really don’t know.
The emotions I felt on the first trip returned. The pain and suffering that had gone on was felt deeply. I couldn’t imagine what these people could have gone through.
When I returned, I posted some photos of my trip on my Youtube channel and Facebook page. Someone on Facebook criticised me for posting my pictures. They felt I was dramatizing the camps. I absolutely wasn’t. My photos, I felt told the story of my visit, of how I felt, the conditions the prisoners lived in, and the life they may have lived. They were not photos of people having fun. I don’t think on either visit I could have found the emotion of being happy whilst walking around the camps. I don’t know anyone who could.
With my visits brought back to the forefront of my memory, I needed to know more about the book my colleagues were talking about. It was called ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris. It was based on the life of a survivor – Lale Sokolov. The author had the pleasure of meeting Lale in his later years and was given the privilege of telling his story. I quickly ordered my own copy from Amazon.
I was captivated from the very first page. The story she told was like an emotional roller coaster. Of determination to survive against all odds. The sadness of losing loved ones, newfound friendships, of loyalty, trust and so much more. I finally understood how that camera could have got into the hands of the prisoner. How he took the photos unseen will always remain a mystery.
I don’t want to go into the story in detail. Firstly, because I couldn’t do it justice, but secondly because it is a story that has to be read. I felt I knew the characters by the end of it. Having been to the camps, I could picture them, I felt their pain and willed them on to survive. I cried when they died or were tortured.
At the end of the book, Heather sparks your interest in the sequel – Cilka’s Journey. Unlike with Lale, Heather never got to meet Cilka. Her story is from people who did know her and research. Whilst not from Cilka, you still feel that you are with her. I’m so glad as with Lale, her story has been told.
Whether you have been to Auschwitz or not, both books are a must read. What happened in those camps is past anything I can ever begin to understand. How someone can choose who should live or die based on their religion or looks is beyond me. The things they had to do to survive. Their bravery and strength. The bonds they formed. I am completely in ore of them.
So many people lost their lives, their only crime was being different from others. As with my photos, these books keep the memories of those that died or survived alive. I don’t think we should ever forget what happened in these and many other camps. By knowing what we know, it should make us better people. To not judge people by their race or religion. To be kinder and not judge.
If you only ever read 2 books this year, these are the ones you should choose.
God bless all those that suffered in the camps. May they rest in peace.