Friday, April 3, 2020

Eastern Europe 1990: An Encounter with Evil

The entrance to the Auschwitz death camp. The sign says
"Arbeit Macht Frei" which means "Work Makes Free."

We passed quickly through customs and security in Warsaw with no questions asked. The taxi to the Noveltel cost 80,000 zlotys, which fortunately turned out to be $8 U.S. The Noveltel was new and nice, and (at last!) a double bed.

Friday, March 23: We arose to find that the water was off all over Warsaw. So no shave and no bath. We cleaned up as best we could with our portable pack of Wet Ones. At the airport, the security people didn't want to let me through with my little two-wheeled cart loaded with equipment bags. They couldn't understand that I was hauling the carry-ons for three people. Louise and Paul had already gone through, but I was able to get them to come back and take some of the items. And we were off to Katowici.

I have often wondered what it was like when the water came back on and all the toilets in Warsaw flushed at the same time. I'm glad we were gone.

We were met in Katowici by Ferdinand Karel, founder and pastor of the Bethany Church of God, and two of his associates. After checking into the University Hotel we made a brief stop at the church for the first good coffee since. . .I can't remember. West Berlin, maybe? And it wasn't just good -- it was great coffee. As it turned out, we needed something to fortify us.

The church at Katowici is hidden away behind gates and
other buildings in a courtyard in an industrial section of town.

After the coffee, we drove about 25 miles to Auschwitz.

I would not have missed it, but I'm not sure I would go again. It is a monument to all the evil in the depths of our fallen human nature. How anyone could see what one of the most civilized nations on earth did to fellow human beings in an organized and systematic fashion and still believe in the perfectibility of man apart from God is beyond all sense and reason. 

Barracks blocks at Auschwitz. The electric fence wires
carried sufficient voltage to kill anyone who touched them.

Prisoners were crowded into these bunks with
only lice-ridden straw for a mattress.
The crematorium, where bodies were
burned by the hundreds of thousands.

Other photographers have done a far better job than I of showing the horror of Auschwitz, but I've included a few photos to give you a sense of the place.

After Auschwitz, we went back to the church, where we were fed a good Polish dinner by the pastor's wife Lydia, an absolute tyrant of the kitchen.
Ferdinand and Lydia Karel

Later, we photographed a home Bible study group in a suburban high-rise. They served cake and tea afterwards, so we took some to be polite. Then it was back to the church, where Lydia had another meal prepared.

This brings up a subject I haven't mentioned before: I call it "the Hospitality Trap." Everywhere we went, we found gracious, hospitable people who wanted to share with us the best of their food. We couldn't eat it all, but neither did we want to disappoint them. It's difficult. Fortunately, as is normal in the kind of traveling we were doing, we missed enough meals that we didn't come home 20 pounds heavier.

(Photographs made with Olympus OM and Leica M cameras and lenses, Fujichrome 100D and 400D films.) 

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