Auschwitz. There isn’t a word that conjures up more horror than this one does. I will never forget the day I walked here. There were 1.3 million men, women and children murdered here.
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial & Museum
I learned about the Holocaust in school. I do not remember what grade I was in or how old I was, it’s just something I always knew about it seems. Maybe some of my teachers can shed some light on when I would have learned this. I know what happened, but after being there, I learned more. Any mistakes in the re-telling here are mine.
There are those that believe the Holocaust didn’t happen and it’s all a big lie. I’m not interested in those people or their opinions.
War is ugly. Human history is full of it and we continually fight over religion, land, money and different beliefs. Humanity has not learned a damn thing over many thousands of years about getting along. We do learn new ways to kill each other more violently and in greater numbers.
I am fascinated by history and Auschwitz has been a place that I have always wanted to visit. I have googled and looked at their website many times. It’s not a place where many will go or want to go. For me, it was to witness the history and not let it be relegated to the history books and forgotten.
I bought my ticket online a few days before and I found it stressful. The thought of going and seeing upset me. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to emotionally get through the day. I went and I’m glad that I did. It was a rainy day when I took a bus from Krakow to Oswiecim. I learned that the Polish town of Oswiecim is for the most part unknown. I learned that it is known by it’s German name of Auschwitz.
I learned that “Auschwitz” consisted of many different concentration and extermination camps. The two that I saw were Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp and Auschwitz II – Birkenau, a concentration and extermination camp.
There were many different tours in many languages. My English tour was for 1:15 and the guide was amazing. She knew the history, the numbers and was respectful of where we were. I wasn’t planning on taking any pictures, but we were encouraged to. Visitors need to go away and tell the story so that it isn’t forgotten. There were a few places where pictures weren’t allowed and the guide informed us of this when we got to those places.
Auschwitz I held about 16,000 prisoners and consisted of brick barracks. It was a concentration camp and also exterminated Jewish people in the gas chamber. Stepping through the gate shook me up. The barbed wire is still there.
The story is told in some of these barracks where there are many displays set up as part of the museum.
This particular picture made me cry. This woman is talking to a prisoner. He knew her fate. Did they know each other? Were they related? Maybe husband and wife and he ended up in the camp before her? Did he love her? What is the story? We’ll never know. Would it have been better to make a run for it and die with a bullet in the back or go for a shower not knowing that you’re going to die in a few minutes? I can’t fathom the magnitude of the horror inflicted upon these people.
There were a number of displays of items that were taken from the people. There was human hair, glasses, prosthetics, shoes and luggage. I did not take any pictures of these items.
The hair was shaved from the bodies and I have no words for the sight of all the hair in the exhibit. It has decomposed slightly and is not as close to the glass now as it once was. It was used to make fabric. You can still see the buns and the braids and the different colours. There was another display for all the shoes – baby shoes, children shoes, mens shoes and ladies shoes. Another for eye glasses. Another for crutches and prosthetics. The Nazi’s kept all these items in warehouses called Canada I and Canada II. I asked the guide why oh why were they named Canada. She said because Canada was considered a place of great riches. Another display was for suitcases. Some people had written their names and the train number on their bag. For some people, this is the only documentation remaining that they ever existed. A name on a suitcase.
In the gas chambers, people were killed by Zyklon B contained in these canisters.
Prisoners were tattooed and categorized.
Prisoners were hung here.
The SS Guard would do the roll call from this structure.
The Gas Chamber: Thousands of people died in here. The guide took us through both the gas chamber and the crematorium. I think my heart skipped a few beats when I stepped into the gas chamber. My legs were shaking. I think I whimpered. I made a sound because I heard it and I knew that it came from within me.
Auschwitz II – Birkenau
This camp is about 3 kilometres from Auschwitz I and the goal was the extermination of all Jewish people in Europe. Approximately 90% (one million) of the people were murdered at Auschwitz II.
People arrived on the trains, their possessions were left beside the trains and the selection took place immediately. People deemed unfit ~ children under 14, infants, elderly, disabled, most women ~ were sent in one direction. People deemed able to work were sent in the other direction. Families were split up. People deemed unfit made their way to the gas chamber and crematoriums after being told they were going to have a shower. They died and never set foot in the actual camp.
Prisoners were housed in appalling conditions.
The gas chambers and crematoriums at Auschwitz II – Birkenau have been torn down and a memorial erected.
There were 4 large gas chambers and about 2 thousand people could be murdered in each one at the same time.
Witness accounts indicate that you could smell burning flesh in the air and the ashes would be coming out of the chimneys. The guide said we were walking on the ashes of the largest graveyard in the world. It’s something you can’t really wrap your head around. It was raining and muddy and with each step I knew that there was still human ashes there and I was stepping on someone. You can feel the horror of the place in the air.
Was it worth going? Yes.
I will never forget the day I walked here.
Jackie is “Mom” to one amazing son, an IT professional, and an obsessed traveller. She spends her time reading, golfing at Ladies League, and implementing software projects. Jackie has travelled to 7 continents and 90 countries and is always planning the next destination and adventure!
11 Replies to “Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration and Extermination Camp”
Incredibly moving! Never thought I’d want to see it but now feel it would be important to do so.
If you’re ever close to Poland, yes go see it. Tough but important.
I’ve been there twice Jackie, the first time I don’t really think I took in the scale, the second was to bring it home to me what evil people can be capable of and understand it a little bit better. Maybe understand is the wrong word, perhaps contemplate would be better, Both times were grey and rainy, I’m sure that maybe the sun does occasionally shine there but I just can’t picture it somehow.
I can’t imagine the sun shining. I would go back. I know I missed a lot of what the guide was saying because I was thinking about what I was looking at.
Beautifully wrtten Jackie, it is a place I don’t think I could go.
Thank you Barb. It was hard to find the appropriate words. Xo
Jackie, this is one place I intend to travel to. These atrocities must be shared, so as to not be repeated. Thank you for sharing this. It was incredibly moving.
Lisa, Poland is a beautiful country. Seeing Auschwitz is tough but necessary. Thank you for reading.
Reading your text and the feelings you’ve had while visiting this place of horror made me sad and so uncomfortable in my humanity. Unfortunately, this place witnesses of the dark side of human beings, of the non humanity in humans. Man did not learn from History. And nowadays one should exercise great caution and vigilance in order to counter hatred, racism, and extremist idéologies which are unfortunately still present within our societies. The seed is there waiting to be watered, let’s not let it grow.
There’s too much hatred in this world. Visiting there was tough, but I’m glad I saw and could share.