I’m going to start this post off by a comment I had made on Facebook the night after we finished our tour there. There really are no words to express what this place does to you after you’ve been here and witnessed it first hand.
The same holds true today as I sit and go through our pictures as I prepare to share them with you. I have only shared a certain few of these photos with a handful of people, but I honestly believe that each and every person should at least have the knowledge of this place and it’s role in the history of our world.
Our journey begins as we walk up to the entrance to buy our ticket and pick which tour we were going to take.
The outside differs much than what it looked like back during the days of its occupancy as there were no trees around, or very few scattered here and there.
We got in line to purchase our tickets inside this building right here.
There were masses of people speaking many languages. We chose the English tour group and there were approximately 40-50 of us at the very beginning. I wish I would have written down our tour guilds name, as she was absolutely amazing and was a wonderful guild. As we stood outside and waited for our tour to start, we just looked around and wondered what was in store for us the rest of our stay.
As our group was on its way in, we go through the very same way as those who were brought here during the war. The sign reads: “Arbeit macht frei” or appropriately, “work brings freedom”.
Now Auschwitz was a network of German Concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish area’s that were annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. Consisting of Auschwitz I (the original camp) and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which was a combination concentration / extermination camp.
Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners who began to arrive in May of 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941. Auschwitz II & Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazi Final Solution to the Jewish Question. This was a Nazi plan for the extermination of the Jews during WWII. They had drawn up plans to murder all Jews within reach, and this was not limited to the European continent. As a result, the Holocaust saw the killing of 90% of Jewish Poles, and two-thirds of the Jewish population in all of Europe.
During the course of the war, the camp was staffed by some 7000 members of the German SS. Of those, only about 12% were ever convicted of war crimes.
An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, of whom at least 1.1 million died.
Our tour started off in Block #24…
In this block stood the first of many memorials we would see this day…
It is filled with ashes and crushed bones of those left behind…
Here is a map showing the far reach of the Nazi hands… Those taken would be transported to Auschwitz.
People were often promised a much better life and were told to bring their most valued possessions with them. They were not aware of what they were walking into.
Here are some of the registration papers. Nobody knows the exact total of those killed as not everyone was registered.
Upon arrival and after selection, SS officers told the victims they were to take a shower to undergo delousing. The victims undressed in an outer chamber and walked into the gas chambers, which were disguised as a shower facility with shower heads and all.
Some were issued soap and a towel even. Once the pellets of Zyklon (a highly lethal cyanide based pesticide) were dropped in the holes in the chamber, those inside would die within 20 minutes.
Selections were conducted on the incoming Jews and were immediately separated. Those fit enough to work, and those who were not were sent to the left and immediately gassed.
Another selection you could have been chosen for were for medical experiments. One such experiment was to inject women’s uteruses in an effort to glue them shut. One doctor there had an interest in twins, as he would induce diseases in one twin and then killing the other when the first one died to perform comparative autopsies.
These next images shows a model of what it looked like during the camps existence.
And now we go into the next building.
The following image has always and will always stick with me…
Clara Nadelmann. From Berlin.
Here is a look at the room where this was held.
And then the shoes…
And then onto the next…
Prisoners were given their clothes to wear which had a triangle sewn on that symbolized what they were there for. The triangles were called Winkle. Political prisoners had a red triangle, Jehovah’s Witnesses had purple, criminals had green and so on. The nationality of the inmate was indicated by a letter stitched onto the Winkle. Uniquely at Auschwitz, prisoners were tattooed with their prison number. Soviet’s were tattooed on their chests and civilians on their left arm. (Pictured above)
This was another place which haunts the soul… This was called the Wall of Death. Tens of thousands were shot here… This was located right outside Block 11, which was a prison within a prison. The basement held standing cells which were about 16 sq feet each. They would hold 4 men at a time. Other cells in the basement were called dark cells. These had only a tiny window with a solid door. Prisoners placed here would gradually suffocate as they used up all the oxygen in the cell. Sometimes the SS would even burn a candle in the cell to use up the oxygen more quickly.
From the wall looking back.
As you can see the boarded up windows. Those on the inside couldn’t see what was going on, just the firing of the guns. On the left, you can see the holes to the dark cells I mentioned above.
This was in the building right off of the Death Wall…
And another room.
These are some of the original writing of those who were kept here.
And this was just down the hall…
And this is inside.
After everyone had died, they would take out the bodies and take what they could that had any value.
Sometimes they would have mass burning’s, others would be sent to the cremation rooms. In the picture below, you can see the chimney’s, which sat on top of the cremation rooms.
And the inside.
In the crematorium pictured above, some 60,000 people were exterminated.
This was the end of our time at Auschwitz, next it was time to go to Birkenau. Now remember when I told you there were about 40-50 people in our English group, at this point in our tour that number had dwindled down to Paul and myself, our tour guild and one other couple. The others couldn’t see any more. So we loaded onto an awaiting nearby bus and left for Birkenau.
Birkenau was built about mile away and was made to house around 150-200 thousand people. By 1943, the Nazi’s decided to greatly increase the gassing capacity of Birkenau. The Crematorium was designed as a mortuary with a morgue in the basement and ground level incinerators. All total, there were four crematoria what were in use by June 1943.
This was a massive piece of land which now sits almost completely empty. In the photo below, you can see nothing but chimneys. All of the wood that was used to build the housings at the camp were later used to rebuild Warsaw. (We will get into that when we arrive there.)
This was what daily life looked like for the inmates here.
These beds had a handful of straw thrown on them with up to 20 men per bed. This was the bathroom, which in fact were not installed until the later part of the war.
And a few more of the sleeping quarters.
By the summer of 1944, the crematorium at Berkinau had the capacity to incinerate some 20,000 per day. Prisoners were transported from all over German occupied Europe by rail, arriving in daily convoys.
The train tracks ended here, right at the entrance to the gas chambers.
When the liberation arrived, the SS soldiers destroyed what they could of the camp leaving only this behind of the gas chambers and crematorium.
Anne Frank and her sister Margot were inmates of the camp. They were later transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died a few months later.
On one of the last stops, was this sign. Our tour guild gave us a minute to read this before telling us to look down at our feet. She then told us that what we were standing on was not all sand and stone, but ash and bone. Those whose bodies did not burn fast enough in the crematorium were laid out on these paths, where other inmates had to use weighted rollers to crush what was left. There were left here until this day.
And finally the last memorial. An image and words that will forever stay with us.
The exact number of lives lost here like I stated above is difficult to say for certain. Starting in 1942, General Himmler ordered that all mass graves were to be opened and the corpses burned. The ashes were disposed of in such a way that it is impossible to calculate the number of those burned.
In the end, the greatest number of Jewish victims were from Hungary, accounting for 438,000 deaths, followed by Polish Jews (300,000), French (69,000), Dutch (60,000), and Greek (55,000). Approximately 1 in 6 Jews that were killed in the Holocaust died at this camp.
Non Jewish Poles, Roma, Sinti, Soviet POW’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses and gay men were among the largest groups killed, along with 10-15,000 people from other nations.
Of those sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, 80 percent died.
I leave you with nothing more to say, other than this is truly a place that takes a piece of your soul when you visit, as it should.
Let us never forget such a place and time.