Our train journey from Krakow to Oświęcim had started with food, stories, and even some laughter – shared tales of adventures travelling around Europe by train. The conversations helped us break the ice, as Ed and Kevin, our presenters, got to know each other for the first time.
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Our battered carriage was one of twenty heading south to Budapest. A distant and exotic destination for such a worn and aged train. But our stop was only two hours away, dark, cold, and obscure.
As we got closer, the mood changed. The train clanked along, passing through the forests, trees weighted down by the quiet snow, lit only by the passing light of the train. We too had fallen silent, suddenly aware of our destination. The carriage was thick with thoughts.
The name had now changed in my mind from the Polish, Oświęcim, to the German name that the world remembers this place by – Auschwitz.
The station, deserted. Only two other people alighted with us, and they had immediately disappeared. There was no platform, just a descent into the snow and ice, and the train pulling away from us, icicles rimming its edge, so close that I could reach out and pluck one as it went by.
We’d come to record a programme for Radio 4’s Sunday Worship programme, to be broadcast just after the anniversary of the liberation of the camps. The 27th of January, Holocaust Memorial Day.
Neither Ed, nor Kevin, nor Mo, the producer, had been there before, and my own memory of the place was distant, that of a teenager. None of us really knew what to expect, or what the impact of this strange place would be; part memorial, part graveyard, part museum, part tourist attraction. And that, really, was the point. To come, to face the place and its history, and to reflect upon the terrible events of the Shoa, together.
The programme will be broadcast at 8:10am on the 31st of January on BBC Radio 4.