Emil Slusarczyk - 12108

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Oct 17, 2008

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Who Emil Slusarczyk, Auschwitz prisoner #12108, was in his life before the Nazis took it I will never know, but his picture is one I will never forget the rest of my life.  The Nazis photographed most of the people they sentenced to die at Auschwitz and neighboring Birkenau and hundreds of these black and white pictures lined a hallway in one of the barracks.  This man had a shaved head, an emaciated face, a tilted back head, and eyes that were wide open and that still over 60 years later show absolute fear.  His eyes were haunting and just stood out from the other pictures where the eyes just looked lifeless and sapped of any feeling.

Mr. Slusarczyk looked to be about my age and that made me stop and take pause that could have been any of us back then.  Just to think that I was standing in a place where he and over 1.1 million others were killed actually leaves me without words to describe it.  If his case is similar to that of the other Jews that arrived here, he was probably promised a better life there by the Nazis and he believed it, too before his arrival.  One day he was living his life like any of us do and the next he was forced from it. 

Immediately after being pushed off a crowded train, Mr. Slusarczyk would have been stripped of all his belongings, beaten savagely on the railroad platform, then housed with 600 to 1000 people in a tiny red brick barrack at Auschwitz or in a wood horse stable at nearby Birkenau.  Life would just be a forced march back and forth to a distant factory until his death a few months later.  This was the "better" life he had been promised by the Nazis.  He would even be marched into the camp under a sign stating Arbeit macht Frei or Freedom through Work but eventual death would be Mr. Slusarczyk's only freedom from this hell on earth.

Just walking around Auschwitz on the outside it is hard to comprehend that anything so ruthless could have actually happened there because it's now just lifeless brick buildings, some watch towers, and electric fencing with no real indication that they once separated innocent people like Mr. Slusarczyk from freedom.  But once inside these individual buildings, the human element is very apparent with actual pictures, suitcases, mounds of hair shaved from everyone's heads, and whatever other last possessions these people had.  It was the large stacks of shoes that really drove home the human side of this place for me.  If those shoes could only talk and tell me where they had been and what their owners had seen.

Imagine Mr. Slusarczyk living in primitive overcrowded conditions without any sanitation, and the toilet area was just a huge room with holes in a concrete chamber.  Tens of thousands of people had to share these tiny areas at once so you can imagine the mess, rats, bugs and horror inside these rooms.  Most people were too sick to get out of bed to relieve themselves properly, and the people and barracks were absolutely fetid.  

If Mr. Slusarczyk had survived long enough to maybe have his uniform santized after a few months, he would have stood naked outside in the bitter Polish snow waiting hours for his clothes to be returned.  Most people actually didn't survive the wait and succumbed to the elements. 

Some people were promised showers and were forced to strip outside and walk into a large room that turned out to be a gas chamber.  Others, especially children, were burned alive in crematoriums.  Those that tried to rebel were lined up against a wall and shot on the spot. Unbelievable.

Auschwitz was mainly a work camp and everyone was forced to walk up to 20 km roundtrip to the factories without proper shoes, clothes, nourishment or any other basic necessities of life.  Most people perished within months of their arrival just from poor health and many didn't even survive the walk to the factories.  Even small children were forced to make these death marches.  When Auschwitz would become too populated, the sickest and weakest were shipped next door to Birkenau for what the Nazis deemed die Endlösung, or the final solution.

Birkenau is about 1.5 km away and was the actual death camp though thousands upon thousands were murdered at Auschwitz, too.  A railroad line leads right into a platform there where people arrived from the ghettos of Europe actually believing the Nazis when they were promised a better life in Poland.  Off to the sides are the horse stables I already described and the gas chambers that would have stood in the distant forest were demolished by the Nazis in an attempt to hide any evidence. 

An archway under a watchtower leads into Birkenau and as I walked through it I got a strange chill up my spine and it was not from the windy, 45 degree day.  It was a feeling as if the place was still alive and was talking to anyone who walked under that archway, and it was hard to believe this was but one of many Nazi concentration camps.  This archway under which I was standing was the same place that over a million people including Mr. Slusarczyk had passed through on their way to their eventual deaths by execution, gas chamber or poor health.  I left back through that archway a different person.
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