For as long as i've known about it i've been interested and intrigued by the occurrences in Poland throughout the Second World War. That part of history has, in general, given me reason to pick up a number of history books and personal accounts, in the hope I might glean some morsel of information and feeling from it; some semblance of understanding and empathy.
It's a period of time that my generation are able to touch with only our finger tips, it is at the fringes of our living family tree (certainly when we were in our teenage years) and a page in history that not only illustrates flickering sepia heroes in our grandparents, but the worst of villains humanity could wish to create as their enemies.
Visiting Auschwitz is something different from visiting a typical war cemetery or memorial, museum if you want to call it that. The sinister nature of the atrocities that occurred within Auschwitz I (the converted Polish Barracks, moulded into a camp by the Nazi's, initially intended for lawbreakers and Jews) and Berkenau (A purpose built concentration camp housing 100,000+ inmates... and killing 4,500 each day, 2 Kilometres away) - are palpable, moving and ultimately gutting.
There were moments when, upon walking into a room, you felt a depth of sadness usually reserved for the loss of family or friends. To know that their suffering was ultimate, binding to their fate and agonising, caused genuine heartache.
Visiting it was something i gave serious thought to. I was even a little bit nervous to tell you the truth. Scared that i was dishonouring the memory of the lost and stolen lives extinguished so callously some 75+ years ago; or selfishly that the haunting echoes of that time might cause me disabling anger at mankind.
However, if it can have some positive outcome, some moving force that encourages visitors to Love and share compassion more freely with their fellow humans, that has got to be better than letting the memory fade altogether. Right?
Taking photos is allowed everywhere, excluding two blocks, but even then i felt a nagging sense that this was no place for photos. Each picture i took with a gurning knot in my stomach and watering eyes - i hoped they would share their story further. A reminder of what mankind is capable of being persuaded to do. I've spared you the most horrific images, part of me wants to share them to help you understand... and part of me doesn't.
If any of the photos upset you, consider it a nudge to think. To reconcile the happiness in your life, to 'pass it on' as they say. To do good, for goodness sake.
Our trip wasn't only to visit Auschwitz, it was a chance for my wife and i to get away for a few days together, time we would otherwise have throughout the summer when i'm shooting weddings. It was a gift from her - to stay in Krakow, go where we needed to go and take some time out. It was fantastic. The city is remarkably beautiful, a plethora of colours and textures of designs and date stones. It has a marbled history. As one man said to me, "Poland is the meeting place of Europe's troubles. People come to our country to fight each other".
And so, over several hundred years, it has been a chess-board, an area in which oppositions would meet - with the Polish in the middle.
We also paid a visit to Oskar Schinlder's Factory, an inspirational man who saved the lives of 1,200 jews by offering them work and being sure they saw out the war without persecution. In fact, more Jews are descended from those saved by Oskar Schindler than there are Jews in Poland today. If you ever visit Krakow, go there, it is inspiring, moving and grounding in equal measure. A man who made a fortune from the war, but offered a wealth of compassion in the hardest times.
I could write more, but i hope the photos show you what its like. A journey worth every minute. Thank you so much to my darling wife for planning a trip that personally meant so much and that had me in tears upon opening the envelope on my birthday in September - to see the empty words 'Albeit Macht Frei'... 'Work will set you free'. To know i was going where the Devil had been, with the hope of finding light in the pit of darkness he so cruelly left behind.
Darren Lovell - November 2016