my entire day learning about auschwitz
One and half weeks ago I took the 6 hour tour of the infamous concentration camps, Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. I knew this was going to be a surreal moment for me. I have heard incredibly disturbing stories of the horrors of WWll and Hitler's destruction of the Jewish, Roma and Polish races.
For those of you who don't know the background story to the two concentration camps, I will paint you a picture. For those who do, you can skip to the photos and my reactions.
On January 27, 1945 ally soldiers entered what was left of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camps in SW Poland. The Nazis had torn down and blown up some of the most atrocious buildings days before. On that cold January day, the ending of the largest mass murder in a single location in human history took place.
According to documents at Auschwitz, Nazis killed at least 960,000 of the 1.1-1.3 million Jews deported to the camp. Jews weren't the only prisoners at the Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau camps. The other victims included an estimated 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and at least 10,000 nationalities from around Europe. Auschwitz is known as the most deadly concentration camp in the history of man-kind.
The ally troops found sickening evidence of the true horror of the events at Auschwitz. About 7,000 starving prisoners were found alive in the camp, which is minimalistic compared to the 1.3 million who walked through those gates. Countless amounts of belongings to men, women and children were discovered. More than 110,000 pairs of shoes, 15,000 kitchen utensils, 4,000 suitcases and 400 striped camp garments were discovered along with 13,000lbs of human hair. Everything can be seen at the main Auschwitz concentration camp.
In January 1942, the Nazi party decided to roll out the “Final Solution” or the "Camp of Death." This camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was dedicated to the mass murders of Jews.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, with its sections separated by barbed-wire fencing, had the largest prisoner population of any of the three main camps. In January 1942, the first gas chamber using lethal Zyklon B gas was built. This building didn't house sufficient room to kill enough prisoners at once. Four more buildings were built due to the previous building being too small. All four buildings were used until 1945 when the camps were liberated by foreign allies.
The horror continued with disturbing medical experiments being conducted on Jewish, Roma and POW prisoners. The infamous “Angel of Death,” Nazi doctor Dr. Josef Mengele, was one of the physicians using awful practices at the Auschwitz l. According to the camp information, his particular interest was experimenting on twins.
The Nazis began to evacuate the camp in the middle of January 1945 once Hitler knew the war was being lost to the foreign allies. About 65,000 prisoners were forced to march an astonishing 30 miles west where they would board trains to other concentration camps. It's estimated that 15,000 died during that grueling march. If there were any weakened prisoners, the Nazis would kill them off from the groups.
More than 7,500 Nazi personnel are thought to have worked and witnessed the horror at Auschwitz. But only a small amount of those have been prosecuted for their crimes.
Via Auschwitz-Birkenau History website and the Myths and Facts of the Holocaust website
my reactions and first hand account of the camps
The entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp
The train track that brought in prisoners
As I walked into the entrance of Auschwitz-Birkenau, I felt a chill go down my spine. It was a warm day with the heat reaching 33 Celsius. Even with the heat bearing down at me, I felt uncomfortably cold while standing at the entrance. I walked to the right where the iconic Star of David (flag of Israel) flag hung in the barbed-wire fencing with flowers around it.
The Star of David
The building behind the fence was a quarantine area for prisoners when they first came into the camp.
To the right, a description of the building's purpose.
The inside of the quarantine building
Remaining chimney stacks from numerous housing structures
This road was used to escort the prisoners who would immediately die in the gas chambers. To the right is an actual photo of the assembly line.
Housing dorms for those picked to immediatley die by the Nazis
This part of land was once used to store ashes of murdered prisoners
Two blown up buildings where Nazi documents were held. The Nazis blew up the majority of buildings like these to cover their tracks.
This is the original gas chamber entrance. Here, prisoners would strip down naked. At the end of this building, the gas chamber doors would open.
A Nazi shack that overlooked the operations
An old water tank that's missing its top
More burial areas for the ashes of the victims
The Nazis believed that Jews, Roma, Gypsies and basically every race other than German were disgusting animals. This building was used to disinfect all victims.
This first room was meant for undressing and collecting valuables the victims brought with them
The main bathroom as they stripped down
The items taken
Cleansing stations for items taken
German for "Hair Clipping Space"
The explanation of why the Germans cut off the hair of each victim
The next room after being stripped naked was the shower. Only scorching hot or ice cold water were available.
A chilling photo of prisoners using the shower room
An explanation of the shower room
This was the next room. The drying room.
An explanation of the drying room
Surviving confiscated photos of loved ones from numerous victims
The history of the Kohn family. Eli Aron Kohn was the only surviver of the Kohn family.
Eli Broder, the only surviving member of the Broder family.
Housing units in 1943. And now, in 2015.
Another gas chamber in 1943. And now, in 2015.
Before victims were sent to the gas chambers, they had to wait in this forest with temperatures at or below -20 celsius in the winter.
This train is a commemorative piece for the Jews from Hungary that were victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau
After a 4 hour walk around Auschwitz-Birkenau, I almost had enough. But, I did have to see Auschwitz while I was already here.
I took a shuttle bus from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Auschwitz l. At this point I had seen a great deal of devastating loss... I had no concept of what was in store for me at Auschwitz l.
The entrance to Auschwitz l
The real entrance to the concentration camp. "Arbeit Macht Frei" means "Work Sets You Free" in German. Chilling.
Two layers of barbed-wire fencing surrounds the entire camp
An original sign to warn the prisoners
The many buildings at Auschwitz l
This room was meant for sick prisoners who would be killed by lethal injection to the heart. 121 Polish and Jewish boys were killed in this exact room.
Blankets used by sick prisoners in Block 20
A few rooms from Block 20
After walking around other Block buildings, I went to witness the most disturbing part of the whole experience. The hair, clothes and skeletons of the victims.
Out of the respect for the victims who were murdered, I did not take a photo of the hair or skulls. It was too emotional for me. Twenty tons of hair was collected and compiled. This made me sick to my stomach as I walked through the disturbing gallery.
Side note: As I was researching the uses of the human hair, I came across an article from 2009 that accused car manufacturer Schaeffler of using hair from 40,000 victims for textile purposes. Take a quick glance at it here.
This tour was overwhelming. I find myself unable to truly explain my overall reactions of visiting Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. In fact, trying to find words to sum up this experience is difficult. It's been a week and half since I saw the camps, yet, I still get the sick-to-my-stomach feeling every time I think about it. It's difficult to contemplate that entire day. There have been other horrific genocides since my birth in 1990. But, this is the first time I've ever witnessed the aftermath.
I highly recommend seeing these two museums. However, I would strongly advise those who go to not book anything thrilling afterward. I wasn't in any mood to do go out that night. The thought of having any kind of enjoyable night would have been disrespectful to those lost.
In terms of preserving both sites, I believe everyone needs to see the two camps. It's vital to history to learn from what happened in those 4-5 years in Poland. Others may think the two sites should be closed to protect the existing history. I disagree. I knew about the Holocaust from documents and documentaries. However, once I stepped foot on those two sites, my entire world turned upside down. Experiencing something like Auschwitz can't be explained. It must be seen to be understand.