Auschwitz concentration camp

Trip Start Jan 07, 2004
Trip End Jan 27, 2004

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Flag of Poland  , Silesian Voivodeship,
Monday, January 12, 2004

Hello everybody,

I almost scratched Auschwitz off my itinerary - too depressing.  Fortunately, I didn't!  A tour here is somber and horrifying to say the least.  But also very powerful emotionally.  I hesitate to call it the highlight of my trip.  Of all the places I've visited, Auschwitz made the strongest impact.

At the start, I walked through the famous "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" gate.  A very strange experience.  At first I thought it was a replica.  Then it dawned on me I was walking freely where so many others couldn't.  Double barbed wire and electrocuted fences reinforce that.

Auschwitz is actually a labor camp.  The prisoners that were considered fit for work were sent here from Birkenau, a few kilometers away.  Most laborers only lasted a few months.  When they became ineffective for whatever reason, they were killed and replaced.

The Nazis were extremely resourceful.  There are several displays of items collected from arriving prisoners.  Some were surprising: eyeglasses, prosthetics and luggage.  But apparently during war, all resources were valuable.  Hair was one of the most important commodities - it's a durable element for the manufacture of garments.

The administrative offices were still intact.  Still visible are rooms where sham two-minute trials were held.  The Nazis were meticulous record keepers.  They kept pictographic records of every laborer at Auschwitz.  Every photo listed the prisoner's name, city of origin, profession, DOB and DOD.  Seeing pictures of the actual people here, I began to cry.

Of all the buildings here, the most notorious is number 11.  It's the so-called 'Death Block' where all prisoners eventually died.  One room, for example, is the starvation room.  If a prisoner escaped, another would be randomly chosen to effect the penalty here.  The room had only one small vent leading outside the building.  If snow covered the opening, everybody suffocated.  This was one of the more humane ways prisoners were punished, tortured or killed.

The first experimental gas chamber is also located at Auschwitz.  How do you describe walking into the 'shower' room.  Solemn?  Surreal?  Gruesome?  Just overhead you can still see the vent where Cyclon-B was dropped.  Right next door is the crematorium where bodies were burned.  Still intact.  A powerful and shocking experience.

By the way, I had a very strange encounter on the way to Auschwitz.  Waiting in Krakow's bus station, I saw a man selling used books.  He had a table between the ticket office and restrooms.  What's the last book you'd expect to see displayed front and center?... Hitler's Mein Kamp.


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