The ground beneath my feet was frozen and the frigid wind whipped my hair ruthlessly against my face. Snowflakes stuck to my coat on their descent from the sky as conversations in unfamiliar languages filled the air. The owners of those voices would push their way past me but unable to take another step, I just stood there and trembled.
Arbeit Macht Frei the massive iron sign above the entrance to Auschwitz read. The German words translate to, “Work sets you free” but, in reality, the only way one was truly set free from Auschwitz was by death. My eyes were locked on the sign, I couldn’t look away, and in that moment I was unsure if my trembling was from Poland’s brutal winter weather or my irrational fear. Irrational because I, unlike more than a million others, would walk back out of those gates alive.
Eighteen hours prior I arrived in Kraków, Poland by way of Los Angeles, California. Since I was a young girl I’ve been fascinated with all aspects of World War Two. Initially my interest was due to my Grandfathers involvement in the Pacific theatre but my curiosity proved insatiable which resulted in a lifetime spent immersing myself in one history book after another. As an adult my world travels were based on actually laying eyes on the history I’d read so much about. Now, jet lagged and shaking to my core, I was literally one step away from entering the Nazi death camp that had both intrigued and horrified me for most of my life.
So, gathering what courage I could muster, I pulled my coat tighter around me and took the final step that would lead me straight through the gates of hell. Little did I know though, that it would be here where I’d discover a man who would have a great impact on my life.
To be continued…
All photographs taken by Jennifer-Lynne Brack unless otherwise noted.