This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.
This Saturday, January 27, will mark the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps in the south of Poland, where the Nazis murdered approximately 1 million Jewish people between 1940 and 1945.
Today, the town Oświęcim, which is the Polish name for Auschwitz, has a population of 40,000 people and attracts more than 2 million tourists a year. In 2016, the German photographer Felix Adler spent six weeks in Oświęcim, where he talked to locals to hear their thoughts on what it's like to live right next to the former death camps.
"When you think about it, it does sound a little strange to say, 'I live in Auschwitz.' But life here is actually fairly normal. For example, this new shopping center that I’m really excited about just opened."
"I didn’t choose to live in Auschwitz. It’s just where I was born. I have to make a living, too," Leszek explains. His coal plant stands on the grounds of a former Krupp munitions factory, where people in forced labor produced ammunition for Nazi Germany.
"As a Jehovah’s Witness, it's my job to spread the word of God in places like this, too," Krzysztof says, standing outside the local Kingdom Hall. "Aside from the fact that so many people were killed here—which was of course really bad—Auschwitz is just like any other town. The people here must always work to make themselves better, and God can help them with that."
"I like it a lot here, especially in the summer. I was actually born in eastern Poland, near Lviv, which is now part of western Ukraine. Then I came here to Auschwitz."
"Ah, it’s not so bad here—the city is very beautiful, and the tourists who come to see the camp always give me money."
Martin and Piotr
"It's weird having to tell people that you’re from Auschwitz," Martin says. "One time, when we were on vacation in Poznan [in western Poland], and we told some people where we were from, they asked us which barracks we lived in."
"Everyone here calls me King!"
"My nephew is James A. Pawelczyk, the first Polish astronaut to go into space," this fisherman, Jan, keeps repeating with pride.
Tomasz comes to the banks of the Sola river every day to sunbathe. The SS used to dispose of the ashes from the camp's crematoria in this river, while Rudolf Höß, the commandant of Auschwitz, would bring his children here to play.
“I’m not from Auschwitz; I’m from Krakow, Poland. We’re just visiting my boyfriend’s grandmother. I’d definitely find living here very strange."
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