This BBC drone footage is the first glimpse I ever had of Auschwitz.
I recommend if you are going to be in Krakow and intend to visit Auschwitz that you wait until the last day of your trip, because of the somber attitude you will feel during and after the tour.
Auschwitz is a hard place to visit without feeling intense emotion. I was already rocked just by reading some of the posters outside the main gate, while I was waiting for the English guided tour.
This was my favorite picture to read. The American soldier on the left helped break down the gate to a Concentration camp while the guy in blue on the right has waited all these years to simply say, “Thank-you for freeing us”.
In 1933, the Jewish population was about 9.5 million and during WWII & the holocaust 6 million of those people were killed off by the Nazis and in concentration camps similar to Aushwitz. Over 1,100,000 Jews were transported to Auschwitz from around Europe and 1 million of them were killed there in gas chambers. Auschwitz is a cemetery. They would burn the bodies in the crematoriums and throw them in the woods behind Auschwitz II.
The air around the camp used to be filled with the thick stench of burning bodies especially when the winds would change direction. Can you even imagine something like that in today’s world? Here’s the catch, it has happened since, and we must stop it. We must look back, remember, and stop something like this from happening again.
What about ISIS and their call for one Islamic State for all Muslims (except the fact they don’t consider Shia Muslims as Muslims, only Sunnis) (and what about the rest of the world of nonmuslims?) (or what about when they are so extreme they kill Sunnis and consider that Collateral Damage as Martys?), What about Donald Trump trying to establish a Muslim database and ban Muslims immigrants to the U.S.? Are those the principles the United States was founded on, that we start banning people based on race, faith or religion?, What about genocide in Rawanda? With over 1 million deaths which began in 1994, will we never learn our lesson?
Well it starts by visiting our past.
Which is why I want to take you back to Auschwitz today.
This is the entrance to Auschwitz I and a famous part of the camp, which you may have already seen before. That’s because the world has come to associate Nazi German concentration camp Auschwitz as the symbol of the Holocaust. Set up in the suburbs of the town Oswiecim, it’s about an hour and a half ride from Krakow, and where the most prisoner’s were killed during WWII.
When the bus arrived, I walked into the museum entrance and signed up for an English guided tour. You don’t have to have a guide when you walk around but I would recommend it. I was visiting alone and wanted to learn as much as possible. There are buses that leave from the main bus station connected to the mall and it is very easy to figure out and buy a ticket. All you have to say is that you are going to Auschwitz and they will get you your ticket.
During the tour there are 2 separate camps that you will go to. If you are serious about seeing the entire camp and don’t leave early in the morning to get there, I’d suggest setting aside the whole day to tour. I caught the bus at 0900, wasn’t able to get scheduled for a tour till 1300 because the others were sold out, and I didn’t get back to Krakow until 19:00, which ended up taking the whole day for me.
Going in you can see the double barrier barbed wire surrounding the complex. It would have been an incredible feat to escape this camp.
All contact with prisoners and the outside world was strictly forbidden.
In the late 1940’s forms of camp resistance began. Organized primarily by Poles since they were the majority of the population, they would do everything they could to stop someone from getting killed.
Block 4 was for registration, where they kept the registrar of everyone listed at the camp, including females even after block 23 was made specifically for them.
An urn of ashes, taken from the crematory.
Confiscated paperwork from people as they arrived.
An actual photo of the camp at Auschwitz II, once the camp was built, the railroad tracks led the train straight into the middle of the camp.
Containers which held the poison discs (Zyklon B) which would be dropped into the gas chambers.
When people would arrive by train they would be told to line up in the center at which point they would be told to head left or right depending. The problem was there was a gas chamber both to the left and the right. Most of the time, the only people they would allow to live were men strong enough to help do the labor for the camp. Women and children were written off immediately as well as the elderly.
Everyone was allowed to bring one suitcase with them which would then be confiscated, searched, dumped out, and sorted.
When Auschwitz was liberated by the allies, the store house that held most of the items was destroyed but they did retrieve some items. The German’s pilfered much of the jewelry or any valuables that were brought in.
As I stood in one building, someone was standing across from me in the other and I couldn’t help but think of the Girl in the Red Coat by Roma Ligocka. If you are interested in some history, then I recommend it.
Piles of shoes, still the same as when they were left.
Outside the window, other tour groups are walking around.
In one of the buildings the walls are lined with photos of prisoners from the camp. The rooms would be piled with people, sparse bedding, and no room to move. They were only allowed to use the bathroom once a day.
The floors would be lined with mats and every inch would be covered by prisoners.
The firing squad wall at Auschwitz I is located between blocks 10 and 11. In the next photo you would see that all of the windows were blocked off in the 2 buildings that surround it.
If sentenced to execution you would have to strip naked and be taken out in pairs to stand before the concrete wall.
Guards were located around the camp so if there was an attempt to escape, you would be shot down immediately.
Everyone was fearful of being sent to medical, especially if you were a worker in Auschwitz I. If you were deemed too sick to continue working, then you would never be seen again.
This photo shows all. The rough life trapped within the barbed wire. Once inside there was little to no chance of escape.
After touring through Auschwitz I, we walked out the entrance gate and to the road where we waited for a bus to take us to Auschwitz II Birkenau, the worse of 2 evils.
A much larger complex, by 1944 the camp had over 90,000 prisoners in it. This was also where the crematories were located.
We walked inside one of them. This is actually where they filmed scenes for the movie Schindler’s List with Liam Nisson. When I toured Auschwitz I had not yet seen the movie.
Convincing everyone they were headed to a shower room before being taken to their barracks, guards would lead prisoners who had just gotten off the train inside here. Given bits of soap they would strip down and walk into this room, where there were false shower heads and a hole in the ceiling.
Once everyone was inside the room, the doors were shut and locked, and the poison gas would be lit and dropped down through the hole in the ceiling. Everyone inside would be killed within a few minutes.
The worst job of it all was given to other prisoners at the camp. They were forced to go into the chambers after the gas had done the work, pile the bodies up, and take them to the oven furnaces where they would be cremated. Our tour guide told us that they would change these workers out every couple of months and when they were relieved of their duties they would find themselves inside the gas chambers with new arrivals.
The railroad tracks that come into Auschwitz-Birkenau and stop right in the middle of the camp.
Also an iconic landmark, this is the gate for the railroad and the entrance to the camp at Birkenau.
The Germans got word that the allies were coming and attempted to burn the entire camp to the ground before fleeing. They were forced to leave in such haste, they weren’t able to burn everything down or take all of the prisoner’s with them. So they left the fragile and weak behind to freeze to death or starve while fleeing with the able, hoping to take all the memories of this God forsaken place with them.
It wasn’t long after the Germans left that the allies arrived and not many prisoner’s who were left behind died, and so the stories started to be told.
In one of the wooden structures you see the bathroom. They were only allowed in here once a day, but en mass. There was no privacy here.
You can see this section^ which had been burned by the Germans as they were fleeing. Only the stone chimnies still stand today.
Walking down he rows of barracks inside of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
As we toured, it started getting dark outside as it was late November and the days are much shorter then in the summertime. The chill which surrounds the place reaches soul deep. Once I was cold, I couldn’t get warm, mentally or physically. Walking around here is foreboding. I did not want to stay too long after dark. I can only imagine the kind of ghosts who still lurk around here.
Another shot of the section which the Germans had just enough time to set aflame before fleeing.
There were 5 cremators at Auschwitz-Birkenau and this one which sat closest to the woods, is all that remains. A collapsed roof and a small offering to all that lost their lives here.
One section was made of stone because they did realize that the poor conditions did not allow many prisoners to survive the harsh winters, and they had an agenda to keep. They needed to maintain the able-bodied laborer’s, so that they could continue to do all the work.
One last look as I walked back towards the exit. It was time to catch the bus back to Krakow.
One lone train car sits on the tracks here as a symbol to the forebodingness of stopping on these tracks and what was to come. We all must do everything in our power, to prevent something like this from ever happening again.
***All of the facts and statistics came from the 2015 Auschwitz-Birkenau handout they were selling inside the museum.
This article appeared first on The Cassey Excursion.
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