cat-travel

My Visit to Auschwitz

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

One of the main reasons I decided to go Krakow, Poland this summer is because of Auschwitz. I know for some of you that probably seems like a bizarre, unfathomable choice. But while I knew it would be hard, it was also important to me to visit a place that had such a significant impact on our history. What astounds me is that the unspeakable crimes that happened here were really not that long ago. It’s important for me to remember that.

Below I will share my account of this visit. Please note that some of the photos and content are unsettling. Please proceed with caution.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

This is the main gate to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where every victim entered. The gate reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means “Work will make you free.” The prisoners thought they were going to labor camps, but in reality this was camp designed for mass extermination. Less than 10% who walked through these gates survived.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

All around the camp were gates and barbed wire fences.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Double barbed wire electrified fences with armed guards made escape virtually impossible.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

This is one of the barracks, still standing. Over 1,000 prisoners were held in one single barrack.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

From the barrack windows, all you could see were gates, fences, and the watch towers where the soldiers would sit with machine guns waiting to shoot anyone who stepped out of line.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Fear was everywhere.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

This is a courtyard between two barracks. If you look closely you can see the windows of these barracks are boarded and bricked up. The soldiers did not want the prisoners to see what was going on in this courtyard.

This wall is where mass shooting executions took place.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Also in this courtyard is a torture device. Victims here would have their hands tied behind their backs, then their hands would be tied to this pole. The pole is probably 6 ft high, so they would be dangling there with their hands tied behind their back and pulled over their heads, arms and shoulders popping out of socket.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

You would be shot for even stepping on the dirt near the fence here.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Inside the barracks is a memorial to all the personal items stolen and collected from the victims. There were walls and walls of shoes, suitcases, eyeglasses, hairbrushes, home goods, toys, even human hair that had been shaved and collected. It was disturbing.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Medical equipment like crutches and braces were confiscated from the victims.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Next were the gas chambers.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

The ovens are still there.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

This was the actual room. Prisoners were handed a bar of soap and a towel, and told they were taking a shower.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

But in reality, cyanide was dropped through these windows in the ceiling.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

You can still see the scratches on the walls from those trying to escape.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Over 1.1 million people died at Auschwitz.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Auschwitz wasn’t big enough to hold all the prisoners, so they built a second camp, Birkenau.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

They built a train track that ran directly into the middle of camp for faster deportation of the Jews.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

These are the cars that transported the Jews. They were originally meant for cattle. If you were standing shoulder to shoulder in a cattle car of this size, maybe 20 people could squeeze in. The Nazis packed in a minimum of 80 people in these cars. They were held captive in these cars for sometimes an entire week while they were being transported. They had no access to food, water, or toilets during the trip. Most did not even survive the trip to the camp.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Birkenau was much, much bigger than I thought it would be. Although most of the barracks were destroyed, you can see where they used to be. There were rows upon rows.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

The Nazis destroyed the crematorium here in an attempt to hide their horrible crimes.

After the prisoners were gassed in the crematoriums here, the bodies then had to be transported to the ovens and burned. The Nazis did not want to do such a horrible job, so they made the other prisoners do it. These prisoners were given the name Sonderkommando. The Sonderkommandos were separated from the other prisoners and never lived longer than 6 months because the Nazis didn’t want word spreading about what was actually happening.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

The primitive barracks where the prisoners lived at Birkenau were very sobering.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

I’ve read many memoirs from Auschwitz and Birkenau and the accounts described them in exact detail.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

The prisoners slept on these three layer bunks. The bunks are just hard wooden shelves with no mattresses or even straw for cushioning. The bottom bunk is just dirt and brick. I cannot imagine sleeping on bricks then having to get up the next morning and do hard labor all day.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Each bunk is about the size of a queen size bed. So two people could fit on each level. But no. A minimum of EIGHT people were crammed on each level. Imagine your 7 closest friends and being crammed with them on a queen size bed.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Just quietly walking through the barracks, I kicked up so much dust and dirt. I can’t imagine having to breath this stale, dusty air day in and day out.

Books about Auschwitz

I am always looking for memoirs and survival stories from World War II. If you are looking for more information about Auschwitz, Birkenau, and the war from a first hand account, here are three of my favorite memoirs:

The Hiding Place
Rena’s Promise: Two Sisters in Auschwitz
Unbroken – Not about Auschwitz, but an amazing survival story from WWII.

If you have any other recommendations for me, I would love to hear them.

***

If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading. It know it was hard, but I think it’s also important that we don’t forget.

Until next time.