Oświęcim, or Auschwitz, is a town. Hundreds, if not thousands of people live with Hitler’s “Factory of Death” in their backyard. They have erased the infamous camp from local signage and carry on almost as if the Holocaust never happened. Some explain the phenomenon as apathetic, a result of indifference, but I think there is something else at play.
Pain comes in many forms. Victims of the Holocaust, namely Jews, suffered most; constant torture defined their existence from 1941 until mid-1945. Yet they were not alone in suffering. Those who lived around Auschwitz smelled death every day. The SS exposed them, against their will, to sustained psychological trauma: they saw beatings, killings, and abject misery all the time. While many aided the Nazis, few did so voluntarily. Is it surprising, then, that Poles wish to forget what happened, push it out of their minds and move on?
While I cannot fully understand why people live near Auschwitz, my last visit gave me a different perspective. Perhaps it is restoration, rather than indifference, that brings people back, a desire to make the region Oświęcim again—to help Poland face, deal with, and overcome the collective trauma of the Holocaust.