I had no idea of what to expect as the Middlesex County Cricket Club party travelled from our comfortable hotel in Krakow to the former concentration and extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. I was not alone. There was a nervous silence on the coach as the group made its way through the stark Polish countryside.
Before our departure, previous visitors had attempted to give me an idea of what to expect. “Harrowing” seemed the most common description.
Yet despite the horror and inhumanity recounted to us, the visit did not emotionally take me where I expected. I thought I would be continually fighting back tears as the horrors were explained to me. But I wasn’t.
The scale, organisation and systematic inhumane way in which these places were created and run took me away from that place. Everything seemed so cold, so matter of fact, so thought out. The strongest emotions I felt were sadness and total bewilderment. All I kept doing was listening, reading and looking while shaking my head.
In the rare moments of conversation among the group, the topic was how could something like this have ever happened? How could those who carried out these truly evil acts have believed what they were doing was right?
That I wasn’t as traumatised as I thought I would be concerned me and I kept wondering whether I was missing something. We had been shown the wall between barracks 10 and 11 at Auschwitz where so many innocent people were shot. We had seen the hair of 40,000 murdered women and visited the cells where supposedly guilty people were imprisoned. Even now contemplating being held in a tiny standing cell with three other people for two days makes me squirm with horror.
We had walked past the public gallows, stood in the gas chamber, seen the scratch marks on the walls and walked through to an adjacent room where dead bodies were tossed into ovens. The list of atrocities was endless and you could only imagine the fear that existed as families were torn apart.
I don’t know whether it was because of the time of year but there was no sign of life around the camps. It was as though wildlife had sensed these were evil places and did not want to be there.
We took the squad to Auschwitz to educate them and to give them a greater appreciation of what is important in life.
I wanted them to realise how fortunate they were to be professional cricketers and to be aware of the wonderful opportunities that are open to them.
I believe each of those goals were achieved.