At the end of the infamous railroad tracks is a city of red brick and barbed wire fencing. To see it is to gaze into the face of death. The human mind can't comprehend what more than 1,000,000 murders looks or feels like. Nevertheless, the same number of living people pay homage to the lost souls at Auschwitz-Birkenau every year. Very few venture into the adjacent Polish town.
O?wi?cim's history has enormous proportions compared to its physical size. It's been overrun by invading armies for centuries, it's had times of peace and prosperity, it was home to the worst incidence of genocide that humanity has ever known, and it is a former industrial center now struggling with Poland's 21st century economy. Most people settled after WWII, when the communist government attracted thousands of families by expanding the Nazi I.G. Farben factory (Auschwitz III - Monowitz) into an enormous complex. The number of residents jumped from about 15,000 before the war to about 50,000 afterward.
The word Os in Polish means axis. It titles the Auschwitz Museum's monthly publication to represent cooperation among local institutions for Holocaust-related dialogue. But residents of Oswiecim live within a paradoxical axis. The psychological scars on the land can be as difficult to look past as those on a burn victim's face. Getting to know the town reveals a more complex reality, but there is a constant reminder of its traumatic past. Is the town's identity forever intertwined with the Nazi's xenophobic monstrosity, or will there ever be two separate entities?