On my travels by bus and train, I generally wish I could alight at the pleasant and nondescript small towns and villages through which I pass. The small city of Osweicim in western Poland is one such place I would have liked to visit. It has many points of interest: a castle, many old churches, what looks to be a very attractive market place and a new shopping centre. I wanted to go because I did not want to go to the century old army barracks on the edge of town. Engaged as I am in the agreeable task of uploading my holiday snaps onto facebook, yet I wanted to write more of a commentary on Auschwitz for it is not a place of pretty pictures. I could have taken many more than I did yet I felt I simply couldn't bring myself to perform my usual touristic voyeurism. Weeks after going it haunts me. I would not have gone but my parents, with whom I was meeting in Krakow, suggested it so I agreed out of interest rather than desire. So we (my parents and I along with a Polish American family) drove in a comfy tour bus with our guide, a nice man who chatted with me about his upcoming trip to Scotland, watching a video about the place. The entrance was reassuringly bland, a car park, a visitor's centre with a few snack machines and even the gate to hell didn't look too threatening, my mother remarked how small it was in the flesh. The interior of the barracks was actually quite warm because of course they had been built to house soldiers, though certainly the bunks were narrow and the canvas sacking bedding looking none too comfy. In all the rooms the usual pictures of the descrimination against the Jews, the rounding up of the Roma, and a quite horrifying map showing how far the ghastly cattle trucks travelled. In this room was an urn of ashes, all that was preserved of 1.1 million souls. A man with a yarmulke was rapt, he caressed it, touched with with his forehead, gazed longingly at it, he would have climbed in if he could. A whole room of mugshots, the earliest prisoners. The mother of the American family saw a photograph of a woman who shared a surname with her mother. For a moment I wondered if her ghost walked by. Upstairs were personal effects. Hundreds of suitcases, glasses, fashionable ladies' shoes. I found it almost unbearably poignant that someone had thought to pack a cheese grater. Most awful of all were the broken dolls and other toys, the sight of which caused me almost physical anguish and which make me shudder just thinking of it. In another room, a whole wall full of women's hair, all braided in the manner I usually do my own. The hair was sold for 50 pfennigs a kilo. 50 pfennigs for however many murders make up a kilo of hair. 50 Pfennigs. The hair was used to make cloth. Analysis of said cloth shows traces of Zyklon B. We moved on to block 11. This was where torture and executions were carried out. It felt chilly in there, the decor remains unchanged from the 40s. I was glad that the place was so full we couldn't linger. Next door, block 10, was Mengele's lair. The windows are blocked off completely. It is closed to all, for which I am glad. Nothing would induce me to go in there. Nothing. And so we made our way round, I began feeling more ghosts at my back. Perhaps it was my fancy, I am unconvinced at the existence of the supernatural but I am certain that suffering permeates the ground and bricks. I could hear lorries driving by and began to want to run back outside. Our last stop was the one remaining gas chamber - converted to be a bomb shelter just before liberation. Hoess was hanged right by it. As we walked in I allowed myself to pause and think of the gloomy atmosphere, and then in the chamber itself I looked up and felt a wave of utter, utter terror, a kind of sympathetic revelation of what the souls must have realised when they became aware that it wasn't water coming from the shower heads. I literally couldn't stay in there and I ran outside sobbing. Later at Birkenau I found I couldn't stand too close to the demolished crematoria there. mother meanwhile found it difficult to walk down the railway line My parents both have difficulty walking. Throughout the whole tour I had a vision of us arriving. Mum, Dad, sister and my 2 nieces would have been taken immediately for the 'shower', if my brother and I had been 'lucky' we would have been put to work, but probably only to die more slowly. Dad didn't join mum and me at Birkenau as he had found the walking too much and I wished with my heart I could have joined him. Birkenau is an evil place. The chimney stacks make it seem doubly frightening And the interior of each barrack was oppressive And so the tour ended. Dad was exchanging some pleasantries with the guide, who shed his serious face and became quite genial and we drove back to merciful normality. The following day we went home. in the evening I went for a walk and realised something. In the fields close to home there were some wild flowers and lots of bees, Birkenau is covered with clover, vetch and other tempting bee food yet I did not see or hear a single insect. Mother noted there were no birds nesting in the long grass.