Keri

Keri

Co-Editor at Ladies What Travel
A freelance copywriter and journalist by trade, Keri is also a complete travel fanatic. She adores warm climates, luxury experiences, animals and cake – hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!
Keri

The overcast sky and cold wind seemed fitting as I walked along the Black Road: a shingle pathway that leads to the entrance of Majdanek.

I’d already passed through the massive, oppressive stone memorial that greets you when you arrive, and was now making my way towards a place that had played a horrific role in the Holocaust.

The State Museum of Majdanek

Now known as the State Museum of Majdanek, behind the rusting barbed wire still stands many of the barracks, warehouses, workshops and guard towers from its time as a Nazi concentration and extermination camp. Today, alongside the gargantuan monument and mausoleum, these are used to tell the stories of the 150,000 people, from over 25 countries, who passed through its gates – 80,000 of whom never left.

As I walked through these gates, I found the site eerily quiet. From time to time a few people would appear from one of the buildings, but everyone was quietly pensive, and the loudest noises came from the gusts of wind rushing across the barren fields and the caws of ominous crows perched atop the towers. I expected tumbleweed to appear at any moment.

Majdanek concentration camp | Ladies What Travel

Dark tourism

I’ve partaken in ‘dark tourism’ experiences before, for example visiting the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and walking the Killing Fields of Cambodia, but this was the first time I’d stepped inside a Second World War concentration camp.

Many might find this ghoulish, but I feel strongly that it’s important to pay my respects to the fallen at such sites, and that their stories should live on. How else will humanity ever learn if our past mistakes are not remembered?

Celebrating lives as well as mourning deaths

The State Museum of Majdanek covers the original site of the camp; 90 hectares of land, with many of the original buildings left as they were, while others have been turned into permanent exhibitions housing items and documents found on-site or donated by survivors.

An interesting thing about Majdanek is that rather than being solely about the deaths and horrors of the site, the museum also celebrates the lives of the prisoners; sharing stories of their day-to-day experiences living in the camp, of relationships and bonds built within its walls and also the tales of survivors and what they went on to achieve.

Majdanek concentration camp | Ladies What Travel

Learning about the ‘people of Majdanek’

What I found both the most heart warming and heart breaking were the books and personal items of the prisoners, including secret letters written by inmates to each other. Here you discover the people behind the haunting images on the walls, how they found strength from each other, would work together to survive and found tiny ways to ‘rebel’ and keep their dignity. They would even make each other little gifts; such as the simple bracelet I saw which a prisoner had carved the receivers ID number into.

Videos played sharing stories from survivors, with displays on the walls showing the photos of some of those who didn’t live to see freedom again. These stayed with me more than anything else, as they told their stories; where they came from, what they did etc, becoming real people rather than just victims.

Majdanek concentration camp | Ladies What Travel

Majdanek concentration camp | Ladies What Travel

Following in the victims’ footsteps

Getting to ‘know’ these people was amazing, but it did make it all the harder to walk around the site, taking the same path as many of them did, into the showers, then onto the gas chambers. Signs in each of the rooms you visit tell you in detail about what happened within their walls, often joined by physical reminders, such as stains made by the gas, or empty gas canisters piled up in a cupboard. I ran through a whole gamut of emotions; from numb to furious, from frustrated to devastated, as I learnt more and more about how they both lived and died.

The history of Majdanek

With each building I explored I discovered more about the site, seeing plans for its original expansion and learning all about the horrors of Operation Reinhardt and the ‘Harvest Festival’, in addition to visiting a beautiful artistic memorial requested by the survivors, and even the god-awful crematoria.

Majdanek concentration camp | Ladies What Travel

The sky darkened with every barrack I visited and it just felt so right when the heavens finally opened – I cannot imagine being here on a day full of sunshine and fluffy little clouds.

I became lost for words when I walked inside one of the barracks to come face to face with 430,000 shoes piled from floor to ceiling, or saw the tiny cramped bunks that the prisoners would try to find rest in – those lucky enough to have a bed that is. However, the most chilling experience was the coming to the end of the long walk up to the mausoleum, where I discovered a vast umbrella of concrete that covers a literal hill of human ashes.

Majdanek concentration camp | Ladies What Travel

Majdanek concentration camp | Ladies What Travel

Majdanek concentration camp | Ladies What Travel

Visiting Majdanek

A trip to Majdanek is not for the faint of heart. It is a tough experience, but in my personal opinion, an important one. What’s particularly hard to face is that some of the first buildings you come to are the showers and gas chambers, so I do recommend being mentally prepared.

I still get goose bumps when I think back to my visit – just writing this piece brings back all the emotions. Even so, I am glad I visited and that I got to share so many stories of hope and better understand the strength of the amazing people that lived and died here. I hope their stories will continue to live on, and that the horrors they experienced – many of which are still happening somewhere in the world even today – will eventually be relegated to the dark pages of history for good.

 

Majdanek concentration camp | Ladies What Travel

 

 

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36 thoughts on “Majdanek – Visiting A Nazi Concentration Camp

  1. I had never heard of this camp but I can imagine how awful it must have been to visit. I was in Terezin once, which was a working camp, and the atmosphere there was just very dark!

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. I too think it’s important to visit places such as these to learn both about the people who had to undergo such dark times, and also to learn from history.

  3. What a good post about German concentration camp, which was created by Germans on Poland`s occupied territory. I was there twice and I was touched by the tragic history.

  4. I’ve not heard of this camp before. I visited Dachau on a school trip when I was 13 and the horror of it all was shocking. I think it is important that such places are open and their story told so we are all on our guard to never let it happen again. #FarawayFiles

  5. I agree that it’s so important to visit places like this, horrific though the experiences were, to remember these terrible events from the past and to keep that memory alive to prevent it happening again. For so many places, it’s a real insight into what has shaped the country’s present too. I went to Auschwitz years ago, on a summer’s day and it felt as if the sun ought never to shine there – I like the fact that they highlight the individuals and the positive stories, the strength so many displayed as well. #farawayfiles

    1. Yes I think it was really important to show the prisoners as real people rather than just ‘numbers Cathy. Some truly amazing people passed through those gates. So sad so that so few of them got to leave again.

  6. I have found this really interesting. I have never heard of dark tourism before, but I quite like understanding the tragedies of history. Maybe if I get to understand it better it doesn’t seem as likely to happen again, I’m not sure. Very absorbing post. #FarawayFiles

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this experience. Like you, I believe its important to keep the memories of these people alive however difficult that might be. I had many similar feelings when I visited Dachau and again when I visited Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. I’m so grateful that we live in a wold where we have the freedom to visit and share our thoughts and feelings and hope that we will continue to be able to do so. #farawayfiles

  8. Living in Germany, I understand the importance of visiting a concentration camp and highly agree that everyone should visit at least one! I visited Dachau also on an incredibly freezing cold day, gloomy and rainy day which somehow made it more real. #FarawayFiles

  9. I haven’t visited a concentration camp yet but I agree with you it is important to do it. I can definitely understand why you got goosebumps. I like that they are also telling the stories of the people there. Thanks for sharing your experience on #TheWeeklyPostcard

  10. Fantastic post! This reminds me of the day I spent in Auschwitz in May. I still haven’t finished sorting through all my photos. I don’t know how to present it all, but you did a great job. #Farawayfiles

  11. Thank you for sharing your experience. I share your opinion we have to keep the memory of those horrible episodes of human history alive. Not only as a reminder for us not to repeat the mistakes of the past, but also for the sake of the victims who lost their lives in such establishments. #FarawayFiles

  12. I’m with you, I feel like we must visit these sites and acknowledge the people that suffered there. I visited Auschwitz last year and went through many of the same emotions (and it was a bright sunny day, which was of course surreal). It’s nice to hear about the ways that Majdanek is celebrating the lives of the prisoners. I had not heard of this camp before and wonder if there would be less crowds there compared to the better known camps? The crowds made my visit to Auschwitz almost unbearable – people taking selfies, etc. – and if I chose to visit another camp I’d certainly visit a smaller, lesser known one. #FarawayFiles

    1. I find it odd – and offensive, that people want to take selfies at places like this! Yes I would say that the crowds make the experience really different, it was very quiet when we came, a lot of the time we had each building to ourselves!

  13. I got chills just reading your story! It’s so, so sad what happened at concentration camps like these. And even more frustrating to think that some people today have still apparently not learned anything from this awful episode in history, in which so many gave their lives. Ugh.

  14. This is a really moving piece, Keri. And an important one. I’m so impressed at the way they have curated the visitor’s experience of visiting this camp. How important to read more about the lives of the inmates, read some of their letters and see some of the things they left behind, before then walking around the site of such atrocities. Thanks for sharing this on #FarawayFiles

    1. Thank you Clare, I’m glad you like how I wrote the piece – it was so tough trying to put the experience into words.

  15. Goosebumps reading this Keri. I too think it is important to keep places like this available for a remembrance of the atrocities that occurred at that time. I appreciate the human quotient presented here and think I would need some face of humanity to process the horror, even though it would definitely compound the emotional element. Thank you for sharing this with #FarawayFiles. Best, Erin

    1. Definitely compounds it Erin, feels so real when you look into their eyes in the photos. But it also makes them three dimensional, you don’t just see the horror, you hear little stories about what day to day life was like in a camp, something I’d not given a lot of thought to before. Sad, but interesting all at the same time.

  16. I’ve never heard of this camp and I’m not quite sure where Majdanek is. But I have visited Dachau Camp outside Munich and was eerie and interesting. It has been over 20 years since my visit but the memories of the camp are still strong.
    I think it is so important these camps remain to ensure we never allow such things to happen again.

    1. I can imagine memories of visiting places like this stay with you forever Sally. 🙁

      Majdanek is on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland.

  17. I came to comment on your latest post but this one caught my eye. I have wanted to visit Majdanek and hope to get there someday. Visiting Dachau was so moving and I felt like you — that we are paying respect to those who lost their lives or endured and survived. Never forget.

    1. THanks for your comment Sharon, lovely to hear that my views are shared by others. They’re tough places to visit but agree its just so important to continue sharing the stories.

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