Trip Start Sep 08, 2009
35Trip End Nov 24, 2009
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Auschwitz… It’s hard to think of the rights words to describe this place. Everyone has heard of it and knows it used to be the main Nazi-run concentration camp for Jews during the Holocaust. It had so many more functions than that though. I thought I knew quite a bit about it and what went on there, before visiting it; but I instantly found out that I only knew a small fraction of what actually happened there. It was hardly a concentration camp- it was a death camp. And there were two main ones- Auschwitz is the central camp that is most commonly known. But just 2 miles away there is Birkenau- the 140 acre concentration camp built when Auschwitz wasn’t capable of killing as many Jews as the Nazis wanted
We got to go into the actual gas chamber used in Auschwitz- a place where the prisoners were told they would be taking a shower. They then were put in a large room (fake shower heads were placed on the ceiling to fool them before the doors were locked) and a special deadly gas called Zyklon B was released through the ceiling. After about 15 minutes everyone would be dead. Then some of the prisoners who were lucky (or unlucky) to be alive and still being worked to death would be responsible for dragging the dead bodies to the next room to the crematorium. The Jewish prisoners would occasionally come across a family member and have to drag their body and would still have to keep working, putting their loved one in the crematorium and waiting as the body would take about 45 minutes to burn
There were standing cells for prisoners being punished. They would be forced to stand in a small area surrounded in brick for days at a time, then shoved out into the freezing cold snow to continue working. These people would commonly die of exhaustion, starvation, or other causes. There were tiny, dark cells prisoners were kept in till death of starvation also. There would be one tiny window and if the snow ever completely covered the window from the outside in the winter then the prisoners would suffocate to death. There were so many other forms of punishment and/or death we saw when we were on our tour of the camps. We were told that the longest people usually survived there was 3 months. But many died quicker than that.
The living conditions were horrendous too. People would have to pile into rooms, sleep on the floor and freeze with no blankets. We walked on the original floors prisoners called home. We saw photos taken of prisoners when they were first taken to the camp. Later the Nazis found it was too expensive to take photos of everyone because there were far too many Jews being taken prisoner; so they ended up tattooing numbers on everyone’s arms or legs to identify and keep track of people. Our tour guide said something that really stuck with me: women died much quicker in Auschwitz than men. He didn’t explain why until we were looking at the photos of the first few hundred Jews taken to the camp: you could see it in their eyes- the men (for the most part) had a determined look in their eyes. The women (for the most part) had fear in their eyes. It was amazing to look at these pictures and actually see their emotions. It was so real feeling to me at that moment.
We also saw rooms where there were tons and tons (literally) of women’s hair in huge glass cases. The Nazis would immediately shave everyone’s heads and use their hair for various purposes. We saw hundreds of suitcases with family names written on them. We saw thousands of eye glasses and shoes too. The Nazis would loot anything of worth- even gold teeth. We saw a video of removed jaws- after the Nazis would kill the Jews, their teeth would be taken.
I could go on and on about what we saw during our four hours or so at Auschwitz and Birkenau but I guess I just don’t want to. It was really haunting to be in a place like that; a place where millions of Jews were so quickly exterminated. And it wasn’t only Jews- thousands of Polish people, Soviets, gypsies, gays, and political prisoners were killed too. It is said 4.5 million people were murdered in Poland. Many were Jews taken there from other places in Europe. I still can’t fathom the fact that we walked over grounds and saw rooms where so many innocent lives were taken- and in so many inhumane ways. I guess everything is still sinking in so I don’t have a good way to end this blog entry. Maybe I can just say that this should be our one and only entry that is hard to read- the rest should be happy and fun to read.