Every year the Italian government organizes a commemorative train journey to Auschwitz in honor of the Italian Jews who were transported from the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence to Auschwitz for extermination, leaving from the same platform from which they left over 70 years ago, with special meetings with survivors of the concentration camp and visits to various camps and monuments. This year I’ve been chosen along with other young Italian students to participate in this trip.
Stazione di Santa Maria Novella- 70 years ago the were piled on to the platforms to leave, terrified. Now we pile ourselves on, crushing, eager to leave.
Stopped at the border- dead of night, the mechanical beast rests on the border of two lands. The army in their mountaineering feathered hats patrol the snow covered platforms, then disappear into the night. It’s all quiet on this front, except for the echoes of words over cigarettes. The sensation of movement, dull thudding. We’re off again.
Buzzing yellow lights, strong non-Italian coffee and we are awake in Poland.
The scramble off the train and scramble onto the bus. A few minutes later we’re there. Complete silence along a small concrete path. Fields of snow surround us, and the camp lies ahead.
As soon as we entered, the sun showed itself. We were lead through snow, sun and wind to the barracks: no more than shacks with shelves.
A moment of delirium, and then recognition of where we are. Underwhelmed is not the word, but realization that these gates are not evil made real, but made by man, human hands, with an upside down ‘B’, a personal rebellion, looked at by all, seen by few.
In every photo the expression was the same. Man, woman or child; dead or alive. A look of ‘why’ and ‘when does it end.’
Their personal items now fill rooms, to remind us that they aren’t just faces, names or videos.
Just outside the gates, snow spinning through the letters of ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, two ‘gonfalonieri’ stand, not wearing the best outfit for a concentration camp in winter, holding the Tuscan flag, wary of the cameras, enjoying the moment but aware of the gravity of where they are. It doesn’t matter what event Tuscany organises, the ‘gonfalonier’i are there.
The flow of students comes to a stop just outside a small gate, waiting to enter the small courtyard where an innumerable quantity of people were killed by firing squad.
A moment to remember.
The wavy and worn edges of a book: a list holding the name of every person who died at Auschwitz.
Gas chambers- claw marks on the walls. our shadows and theirs. No light, despair.
Arrested and imprisoned in Mauthausen at 14, Marcello Martini watches a fellow survivor of the nazi death camps tell his story of survival in Auschwitz.
Other survivors watch from the audience (Antonio Ciseri, Tatiana and Andra Bucci, Vera Michelin Salomon.)
Antonio Ceseri and Marcello Martini tell their stories in front of hundreds of Italian students in a cinema in Krakow, all there to hear their stories.