Poland - Oswiecim (Auschwitz)

Trip Start May 30, 2013
Trip End Dec 09, 2014

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Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Monday, July 15, 2013

We woke up quite early because we had to be in front of the office of the respective travelling agency (which was the meeting point of our tour) at 8.15. We had breakfast and departed at about 7.50. Fortunately the hostel was really close to the meeting point so we didn´t need more than 7 minutes to reach the agency. When we arrived we could see that it was a really big bus full of foreigners including Spaniards, Italians, Germans, Frenchmen, Polish and last but not at least there was also one Chilean-Czech couple :)

In the bus there were two guides that made us a general introduction to the tour in 3 different languages: English, Spanish and Italian. Then they offered us 50-minute movie about Auschwitz, mentioning some of the awful things that happened over there. The movie was made during the liberation of the camp at the end of WW II. It was actually based on the pictures and evidences collected by the soldiers of the Red Army. One of them was even talking about his incredible experience once liberating the camp. It was a very shocking movie but it wasn't even close to what we were about to see. We were getting ready for a really strong experience and definitely inexpressible mixture of feelings we will be bringing back home.

After arriving we joined the English tour and started visiting the Auschwitz I Complex. It was a seat of brick buildings surrounded by heavy wired nets. In the entrance you could read the German sign "Arbeit Macht Frei". It can be translated as “Work Makes You Free”. Each of the numerous buildings was now converted in a sort of museum but during the Nazis´ occupation this was the first part where the concentration camp was located, where all the people lived and were forced to work till death. WE believe it´s necessary to mention a few facts about Auschwitz in order to understand the magnitude of the actions that the Nazis took over there:
  • It was the biggest concentration and extermination camp of the Nazi era.
  • Between 1.1 -1.3 million people were killed there, 90% of this were Jews.
  • Besides the mass murders, they conducted medical experiments, new killing methods and tortures to inmates.
  • The chief of Auchwitz, Rudolf Höss, was found 1 year later working like a farmer and sentenced to death by hanging in Auschwitz.
When we entered one of the 16 blocks of the first camp we could see that they were reconstructed like museums. In the first one they show a little bit of the history behind Auschwitz as well as the origin of people who died there. Most of the people were from Hungary and Poland.

In the second one it was even more shocking. When the Soviets entered the camp, many of the evidences about the mass murders were already destroyed because one of the head leaders of the Nazis, Himmler, ordered to destroy most of the evidences a few weeks before the end of WW II and the liberation of the camp since they knew they couldn’t have held the actual situation for a longer time. Despite of this not all the evidences were gone so when the Red Army came to liberate the camp they found the warehouses full of different things (belongings of the murdered people). Among these things there were shoes, suitcases, personal items and also human hair. Since the Nazis didn´t succeed to destroy these evidences nowadays they may be seen in the second block. It was really shocking to see thousands of shoes and suitcases but we believe that the most shocking evidence was to see all the hair. It was a huge room full of human hair…

Then we went to one of the worst blocks, block number 11. This block was meant for torturing, medical experiments and the first executions. This was the block where they first tried the gas that was finally used for the mass murders.

After visiting the block number 11 we were walking towards the first crematorium, passing by the place where Rudolf Höss (the Nazi commander of Auschwitz) was sentenced to death by hanging. When we just entered the crematorium we got goose bumps. It was not a good place to be since we knew that so many people had passed away here.

This was the end of the visit to Auschwitz I so we had a little break and then went back the bus that took us to the second camp complex - Auschwitz II - Birkenau.

Auschwitz II - Birkenau is quite different from Auchwitz I because in the first camp, you could see, that even if the conditions were bad they weren’t so bad as in the second camp. For example, in the first one all the blocks were made out of the bricks, however, in the second one the barracks were just wooden, and as the winter in this area is very unpleasant this must have made a huge difference. You could really notice that the second camp wasn´t built to keep people alive, it was just to put animals in a certain place until they could kill them or let them die either because of starvation, diseases or injuries. In this second camp they were no bathrooms so typhus was quickly spread there.

After entering some of the blocks we went to the crematoriums where most of the mass murders were held. This part of the camp was completely destroyed by the Nazis so we could only see the ruins and in front of this there was a memorial place with many plaques in many languages, the English one said the following: “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe” Auschwitz – Birkenau 1940-1945.

By this point we weren’t in the best mood, it was a really disturbing picture announcing the end of the tour. Then we went back to the bus and began our way back to Krakow.

We believe Auschwitz is a really impressive site like no other that we have been before, mainly because it reminds us how an idea of one very charismatic person can construct so many things and affect so many lives. The bad thing in here was that this idea and all the efforts were to destroy another group of people in its totality. The visit of the concentration and extermination camp complex Auschwitz made us think again of the impacts that our ideas could have on the rest of the world.
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