What humans are capable of....

Trip Start Aug 24, 2009
Trip End Mar 28, 2010

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Flag of Poland  , Silesian Voivodeship,
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It is hard to describe exactly how Auschwitz makes you feel because you know just talking about it will never do the justice of seeing it in person. Just the sight of it is fear-provoking and can leave you a little breathless. We drove the hour from Krakow to Oswiecim. Auschwitz was the name give to the city by the Nazis. Although the weather remained dull it was fortunately a nicer day and the sun peaked out of the clouds, slightly decreasing the bleakness of the concentration camp.

We first visited the Birkenau (Auschwitz II) site. This was built after the Auschwitz camp and was used mainly as a death camp. The efficiency of the process of murder was almost maddening. The train tracks go right into the camp and stop at the gas chambers. Which allowed the Nazis to sort the people to one side (the barracks) or the other (The gas chambers) Birkenau has been kept almost completely intact and it was very easy to picture the living conditions of the prisoners. We walked in the mud to the barracks where up to 8 people would sleep on one wooden bunk level. There were flowers and candles scattered throughout the camp and along the railway tracks, places there by tourists come to pay their respects. There were large groups of Israeli high schoolers with flowers and flags who all seemed shook up by the images around them. Although the gas chambers were partially destroyed by the retreating Germans, trying to cover their tracks at the end of the war, it was easy to see how they functioned and what they looked like when in use. Behind the gas chambers, the ash ponds still remain where they would dump the human ashes after incineration. The camp is huge and although it was filled with people walking about, the silence and stillness of the air was incredibly powerful and it seemed that no one could talk above a whisper. Over 1 million people were murdered here.

If Birkenau wasn't discouraging enough and if you aren’t too depressed to continue reading, we decided to visit the original Auschwitz camp which was just a few kms away. The placement of these camps appears very odd since they are almost directly in town and there are many buildings and houses around the camps. During the war many of these places were owned by Polish people who were thrown out of their houses for use of the Military Generals and men who worked and ran the camps. Auschwitz has been modified into museums so it does not appear as eerie as Birkenau did. It is much smaller and the buildings are closer together. The gas chambers here are still intact and we were able to walk through the gas chamber into the incinerator room. Once again the efficiency of the process is frightening. Over 60,000 people died in this camp. We toured the barracks and discovered that each Barrack had been converted into museums representing various countries and their participation and loss caused by the Nazis during the war. The countries included were Poland, Britain, France, Italy and so many others. We decided to visit the Polish museum, which was probably the most extensive and informative. After reading about the ups and downs of the Polish people throughout World War II we had almost had too much. Although most of the writing was in Polish, the images were disturbing and the more important quotes and statements were translated.

Although we were starting to feel that we had enough for the day, we decided to visit Block 11, which was later named the Death Block. This was the prison inside the prison. People who tried to escape or broke the prison rules were placed here for punishment. There were standing cells, starvation cells and suffocation cells. Between block 10 and block 11 here was the execution wall were people would be brought out a shot. This wall was reconstructed after the war and during our visit was surrounded by flowers and candles. Block 11 was also the site of medical experiments performed on ill prisoners. This is where the gas used to kill hundreds of thousands of people at Birkenau was discovered and first used. It is very hard to describe the way this place looked and felt but after that it was time for us to leave. We made one last stop at the exhibit of stuff. For me this was the most frightening and the biggest slap in the face of reality. We walked into a room filled from top to bottom with shoes. And then a room with brushes and combs as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take pictures but Chris did snap one of all the artificial limbs found after the closing of Auschwitz. The belongings of all these people piled all together…speechless.

Well that was the end of our visit even though there was much more to see and learn. We stopped for supper at a local restaurant and ate some delicious food then drove back in the rain to Krakow for as last nights sleep before our trip to Prague.

"Our greatest strength as a human race is our ability to acknowledge our differences, our greatest weakness is our failure to embrace them." Judith Henderson

We must come to the point where we realize the concept of race is a false one. There is only one race, the human race.” Dan Akroyd
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