A few years ago I had an opportunity to visit Auschwitz while I was in Poland.  I can’t say it was on the list of things I wanted to do, but it needed to be done.

Walking around the compound was beyond depressing. Not necessarily because of the immediate appearance of evil either. When you first walk up to the gate it looks like an elementary school, just the taunting words over the gate remind you this isn’t a school. There is an atmosphere that sets your teeth on edge, and worries your gut. And as you walk further and further in, layer upon layer of the camp is exposed, and you realize that your body can sense evil that happened over 50 years ago. The further into the buildings you go, you find yourself going farther and farther down into the darkness of the Nazi mind. The camp stops looking like an elementary school, and more like a horror film. Then you come to death row, the starvation bunker.

Eventually, when I was so completely sick of the place I thought I was going to vomit, I came to a different cell. It wasn’t different in appearance, it was dark and damp, and horrible. But the peace that emanated from that cell was palpable. It was shrouded in a calmness and tranquillity that did not exist anywhere else in that horrible camp. And it was light. Not a visible light, but a brightness that shone through the evil that saturated that place. It cut through time. 

It was here, in this cell, that St. Maximilian Kolbe laid down his life in exchanged for the life of another. As I stood there, in the very room where this saint died I was not sad, but triumpant. Even the horribleness of Auschwitz could not make love disappear, vanish or go away. It could not even diminish love in the tiniest bit; no greater love exists than to lay one’s life down for another.

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