A Visit to Auschwitz: Reflections on Biology and the Psychiatric Sequelae of Political Violence
July 03, 2009
If I closed my eyes, it would have been easy to imagine that I was visiting a peaceful city park. The sounds of birdsong and children’s laughter rang in the air, and the odor of freshly cut grass filled my nostrils. But the sweet smells and soothing sounds belied the horror of the place where I actually stood-inside the wrought iron gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Holocaust’s most infamous concentration camp. Today the camp is a museum, and there is an eerie dissonance between the tranquility of its sprawling grounds and the mass murders that were carried out here almost 70 years ago. Like many visitors to Auschwitz, I experienced powerful emotions-a mixture of revulsion, anger, and a deep empathy for the millions of souls who suffered and perished there. I also felt a discomfiting sense of doubt about the goodness of humanity, including my own.