Birkenenau in German means a “meadow of birch trees,” just as Weidenau, the name of my home town, means a “meadow of willows.” Both conjure a beautiful, peaceful scene. But Birkenau, the bigger one of two Auschwitz camps created by the Nazis, is the most gruesome opposite of peace and serenity one could imagine.
A German by birth, I always dreaded being confronted with the physical reality of the Holocaust even though I was just 5 years old when the war was over. Now, as a 76-year old, a one-day 62-mile “bicycle ride for the living” from Auschwitz to Krakow finally brought me to the murderous place.
I took what I saw in silence, as many of the visitors around me. Just as Adorno noted, “Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben ist barbarisch” — to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric — words failed me, or they seemed so petty in the face of the remnants of crime of such magnitude.