Trip Start Sep 08, 2009
Trip End Nov 24, 2009

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Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Tuesday, October 6, 2009

*Before you read on, I do want to warn you that I wrote about things that are really hard to read. It is graphic and really sad. So don't read this blog entry until you’re ready, if at all.

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. Many Jewish people were taken there thinking they would be starting a new life. They were encouraged to pack suitcases and their whole family would be transported to the camp. But right when they got off the train there was the infamous "dividing platform." This is where a Nazi doctor would give the signal to the SS officer of whether the next person would go left or right. Left was to the concentration camp grounds and right was to the gas chamber. The elderly, the disabled, and the children would be taken to the gas chambers the moment they arrived. Families were torn apart forever, at the notorious dividing platform. Then once the healthier prisoners were taken through the gates, they were told that they only way out was through the chimney. And that’s exactly what happened there.

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. Then the next load from the gas chamber would arrive and they would just have to keep working until either they died from being overworked, starved to death, or it was their turn in the gas chamber. But Auschwitz was more than gas chambers. There was an area that Nazis would have prisoners face a stone wall and shoot them at close range, just to kill more Jews. There were even sadistic experiments performed on people (including twin children so German doctors could learn more about fertility) that would usually end in death or permanent disabilities before their inevitable death in another form.

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.

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mdaa on

That is some of the most interesting and traumatic reading material I've read in a while. I told Jason about everything you wrote, and we decided touring those concentration camps would be beneficial in the long run, but would probably bring us down for a few days. Just reading all of that made me get really contemplative for a while, I cannot even IMAGINE actually being there and seeing all of that with my own eyes. Were you guys allowed to take any pictures?

PS: I'm loving the blog and regularly checking it almost every day at work!

I love you guys and really really really wish I could be there too...seattle servers and your massive tips! :)

esltanns on

Walking through history
What an experience! I can't imagine the atrocities these Jews suffered. It's amazing that you can still sense and feel the emotions of the place. It's the blood of the dead crying out for justice!! We went through the LA Museum of Torrance and I had tears in my eyes. It was so real and so true. How can anyone deny it did not happen? Thanks for sharing with us.

Ellen and Larry

gingerjr on

Sad but true
Hi Michelle,
Thanks for telling us about your personal experience at Auschwitz and Birkenau. The movie Schindler's List is about what happened to the Jews in Poland and it's one of the saddest movies I've ever seen. It's just mind boggling to me that human beings could do that to other human beings. I think there is a great life lesson for all of us in what you experienced there. You were very brave to go to that place and learn about one of the saddest events in human history. I'm sure it will stay with you for a long time, and I know it will make you a more compassionate person.
Love, Ginger

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