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  • Writer's pictureDiann Schindler, Ph.D.


Among all the crushing images I saw at the Auschwitz-Birdenau Memorial and Museum, it was the hair that had the most immediate and lasting effect. Actual hair sheared from the heads of every man, woman, and child prisoner; disinfected; wound in balls; and placed in net bags. I saw a roomful of this hair, discolored by the years, but unmistakably human brown, gray and white hair.

Many years ago, I remember cutting hair. My dad’s and mother’s hair, my sister’s and brother’s hair, and my children’s hair. It fell to the floor in dried red, gray and light blonde tufts. I swept it up and placed it in the waste basket. Today, the hair I saw through the glass window looked just like my family’s hair I threw away.

We were lucky to be born in the United States, thousands of miles from this inexplicable atrocity. If we had lived in a variety of European countries* in those years, those murdered could have been my family, my neighbors, or me. I loved my family. I would have known my neighbors and loved them, too. Now, it is only the sight of mounds and mounds of hair representing untold lives, taunted and tortured to their deaths.

So moved, I crumbled into tears.

The hair collection was pressed into felt for boot-liners for the troops and railway personnel in the cold weather, and spun into yarn to make warm socks. It was also useed to protect the camp guards from lice-carrying typhus.

This is all I can say about my six-hour tour. My words cannot in any way reflect my experience. Any attempt would be impudent. Even the photos fall short.

*“Prisoners in Auschwitz were captured from almost every country in Europe, and even some non-Europeans. They included Albanians, Belgians, Danes, Dutch, Greeks, Hungarians, Italians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Luxembourgers, Norwegians, Romanians, Slovaks, Spaniards, and Swiss, with from several to several score of each nationality. There were also a lone Argentinean, a Chinese, a Bulgarian, and an Estonian.” (Copied from the Auschwita-Birkenan website.)

Click HERE for photos.

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