The trees of Auschwitz-Birkenau

By Lindsey Anderson

 

Pine trees smell like freedom.

They are cool summer nights roasting marshmallows, slow walks,

relaxing afternoons, lounging at a campground.

They are family and friendship, new adventures

and finding myself in the Great Outdoors.

Pine trees smell like freedom,

but I see no freedom here.

Rusty barbed wire fences outline the cage

and brick chimneys point to the sky:

barracks once stood here, and here and here and here.

Toward the back of the camp stand the trees,

hiding the rubble of murder.

The forest offers a cool spot to stand

while the guide says prisoners gathered here too,

during the Holocaust,

unknowingly awaiting their deaths.

The death chambers were full that day and many others,

so the women and children and men stood and sat and waited below the boughs.

The trees’ scent must’ve mixed with the smoke

billowing out of the crematorium,

a smell one survivor said hinted

of roast chicken.

The chambers were cleared

and mothers and fathers

and sons and daughters

filed in,

undressing,

stepping,

packing into the faux shower.

The doors were closed.

The gas thrown in.

The watch was set,

and thirty minutes later,

the bodies were

lifted

carried

dragged away.

 

How can pine trees smell like freedom,

when there was no freedom here?

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Forest at Birkenau, where prisoners awaited the gas chamber. (Lindsey Anderson/FASPE)

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