GWO in Europe, Day 5, The Road to Auschwitz

Posted on January 27th, 2010 by


The sun is out but there appears to be no sunshine in this place. The fresh dusting of new snow and the hoarfrost coating the trees in the woods does not brighten the day as we approach the camp. A book that is a collection of poems and paintings written and illustrated by school-aged children in the Warsaw Ghetto is titled I DON’T SEE ANY BUTTERFLIES AROUND HERE. Auschwitz is such a place. It seems to discourage even the hope of natural beauty.

Until today, the expectation and anticipation that is so prevalent in the membership of the Gustavus Wind Orchestra gives way to a sense of sadness and disbelief. As we enter the main gate, the first drawing we see if of the camp’s “orchestra” playing as laborers returned to the camp at the end of a day of work in one of the many factories that benefited from the free labor the camp supplied for the war effort. As musicians, it is difficult to imagine the duty of those musicians to bring any beauty to this place. As musicians it is difficult to imagine performing that duty.

One of the Gusties noted that she was very quickly numbed by the numbers, the pain and the suffering that she saw and felt. The estimate of 1.1 million deaths is impossible to imagine. Another mentions the sensation of darkness that she felt permeating the camp. Some recite lines from favorite songs. “I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining and I believe in God even when he is silent.” “Let our darkness turn to light and our hopelessness to hope. Let our tears be our prayer.” It is easy to imagine similar songs and passages from Scripture sung and spoken by the prisoners. There are tears but there is also new understanding that we must continue to watch for oppression and remember this it is our duty to take a stand against it in our daily lives.

On the road to Auschwitz we cross rail lines, we see footpaths and wonder if they were used for someone’s final journey 70 years ago. Some wonder if we would recognize those paths in our lives today.

George Santana wrote “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.” One of the signs at the entrance to the camp reads, in Polish, “Droga Smierci.” It is “The Road of Death.” We must continue to watch for it and, as many visitors to Auschwitz have said in the past, we must never forget.



  1. Anne & Nick Legeros says:

    Hi Al,

    It has been great to read your blog. Although Alex is also writing, it is most interesting to have another perspective on the trip and your experiences.

    Travel well,

    Anne & Nick Legeros

  2. Lynette Johnson says:

    Hi Abbie

    I am at Shirley’s and we are fascinated by the beautiful places that you and the Orchestra have been visiting and playing at. I hope that they enjoy the music as much as you are enjoying them and their country.
    I am looking forward to reading more about your trip. We all miss you and wish you and the other other orchestra memebers safe travel and many more exciting experiences.
    Oh yeah, I leave for Boca on Saturday. Sorry, but I think it’s going to be in the 80’s!

    Love from Oronoco, MN
    Lynette Johnson and family