Grappling with the Birdsong: A Visit to the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland

Zamosc, Poland Rotunda with a cross to memorialze those who were killed here during World War II. 

The birds are singing.

This strikes me as somehow unsettling.

I can’t fathom the quiet of this place.  The peace is baffling.  The calm feels like a betrayal to the scope of what happened here.

An inscription in the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland that describes the killings during World War II. 
Doors that were added to the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland during World War II
Broken walls in the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland

There is something deeply disconcerting about walking into an arena of death on a beautiful day with a gentle breeze playing on my cheek.  I am surrounded by the remains of some 45,000 people.  8,000 of their lives ended right here.  In this tiny circle of ground.  Their ashes mingle with the dirt where I stand.

This is not the industrial sized death machinery of Auschwitz.  You’d be hard pressed to find a stranger who’d even heard of this place outside of this small town.  And still, 40,000 people passed through these walls.  Most as a weigh station to their deaths.

Flowers and candles surround the plaque commemorating those whose bodies were burned in the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland during World War II. 
One of the cell doors in the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland

I am standing at an epicenter of evil.  And, yet, this very ground was made holy by the innocent blood spilt here.  I do not know how to hold these two truths at once.

I stagger at the weight of just how deep and how broad this evil was.  It is a rip in the very fabric of humanity.  It is a breaking apart of who we are.

Crosses mark graves outside of the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland
Grave marker for a Soviet soldier at the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland

So very many were killed in those days.  On every street.  In every town.  But, this was the site of a particular kind of extermination.  This is where intellectuals were brought.  Killed, simply because they may have had the vision to see the danger of this ideology and the wisdom to lead the people out of it.  There is a twisted irony that all of this happened in the Rotunda, a fortification built to extend the sight of the city.  And, here, they tried to extinguish the sight of a people.

Looking through the cells in the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland
View from inside the cells, now turned memorials in the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland
Inside the cells of the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland

We walk through a line of cells.  We peer through the bars, now emblazoned with symbols of the lost.  There are names here.  Pictures, too.  I stare at their eyes.  Their cheeks.  I wonder what was happening when this picture was taken.  What they were celebrating, or commemorating.

I would like to celebrate these people, not at their place of death, but at their place of life.  If only I could capture something of who they were.  The black and grey of the image is unrelenting in its silence.

Lookout positions in the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland
Ivy growing on the walls on the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland

Weeds and ivy creep along crumbling walls.  For all they know, this could be any piece of forgotten masonry.  I press my thumb gently against a remnant of rusty barbed wire.

There is no recompense.  My presence can’t erase any of what happened here.  It can’t ease any ache.  But, perhaps there is some value in saying, “I am here and I see.  I see what was done.  I recognize this as evil.  I will try to understand.  I will do what I can to stand as witness.”

But, I do not know how to listen to the birdsong.

Two children pay their respects at the Rotunda in Zamosc, Poland