Trip Start Dec 11, 2012
70Trip End Oct 17, 2013
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We stepped into Auschwitz I, through the gate with the wavy motto frozen in iron "Arbeit macht frei". Our guide showed us the spot where the camps orchestra had played every morning and evening for the prisoners to march along to, in order to make counting them easier. The evening's headcount had to match that of the morning's - the corpses of those that had perished during the day were dragged back to the camp.
The museum is divided into the various Bezirke, each one a square brick building. One room was piled high with hair, tons, literally tons, of hair neatly braided, representing every imaginable shade and hue. There are traces of Zyklone-B in every one of those braids, as they were shaved off of the heads of the gas chamber victims before the bodies were shoved into the adjoining crematorium. The hair was later sold and used to make socks, jackets and blankets for soldiers.
We walked past a giant tangle of wire-rimmed spectacles. "Remember," our guide told us," each one of those spectacles belonged to someone. Each pair represents a person." Even upon close examination, it was impossible to mentally untangle the wire mass and guess how many spectacles there were.
A room filled with shoes. One pair of faded purple slippers stands atop the pile, almost shocked to have found its partner in such odds. The tiniest lone baby shoe.
And so it goes on. A room with suitcases packed and slung all the way up to the ceiling. Leather suitcases with their owner's names painted on them with thick paintbrushes. One of them has "Raphaela Sara" printed on it in neat block letters. I wonder what that Raphaela would have packed in her suitcase. Was she old enough to have been one of the hopefulls who had brought pots and pans with them to the camp? I wonder whether she ever owned another suitcase again.
Another building was used as a sleeping quarters. Hundreds of photographs line the walls. Shaven heads in striped uniforms stare down at us defiantly, women from the left, men from the right. I find myself whipping my head from side to side as we walk down the corridors, trying to see if one my family names is attached at the bottom of one these photos.
No one is permitted to speak inside the gas chamber of Auschwitz I. Sunlight peaks through the holes in the ceiling the SS used to drop pellets of gas through. The pellets dissolved into gas through heat - body heat in this case. The walls are covered in clawed fingernail marks.
A house a little further off is pointed out to us. It is nestled behind a grove of tress, still in view of the gas chambers. An SS general, his wife and children used to live there. They had a swimming pool. On weekends they threw dinner parties. He called it his "paradise".
We drive to Auschwitz II - Birkenau. The brick buildings have been replaced with long wooden stable-like constructions. We're shown the sleeping quarters, where prisoners slept in bunk beds consisting of three levels. As they suffered from chronic diarrhea, the bottom bunk was considered to be the worst position and left to those to weak to fight for the upper bunks that were also closer to oxygen.
Being part of the "Scheisskommando" was considered to be one of the best jobs - the SS avoided the latrines because of its stench - even though most died of dysentery after only a few weeks of shoveling sewage.
We weren't allowed to view the gas chambers here, because the temperature had risen to over 40°C. I couldn't help but feeling somewhat relieved.
They say "remember" and remember we must.