Auschwitz. Just one word that conveys so much and evokes so many feelings. When planning my trip to Krakow, I knew that I coming here was something I had to do. Just before my trip, I was talking to a friend who'd been recently and she'd been telling me how horrific she'd found it. This helped me to try to mentally prepare for the trip. I was picked up pretty early and taken to a bigger bus to go to Auschwitz. The journey wasn't too long and we reached the town of Oświęcim, which is where Auschwitz is located. Seeing the train tracks as we drove towards the concentration camp was heartbreaking. To think of those that made the journey never to return. I had heard/read that Auschwitz is really busy with people coming to visit. There were quite a few tour groups there, but everyone was pretty sombre and respectful. We had some free time before our tour started to use the bathrooms and grab a coffee. I had wanted to visit Auschwitz alone so that I could take my time, not feel rushed, and have plenty of time for thinking and reflecting. However, it seemed quite difficult to achieve
this and included an extremely early start, so I went for the tour instead.
We were given a headset so that we could hear the local guide, I like these as it makes everything much quieter, and you can always turn it off if you don't want to listen. We passed through the entrance to the first camp, Auschwitz I. I didn't know until fairly recently that Auschwitz is made up of three camps; Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz. It was the largest Nazi concentration and extermination camp. We would be visiting the first two. Auschwitz I was a former World War I camp for transient workers and had also been a barracks for Polish Army soldiers. I had always thought that the camp had been purpose built by the Nazis. We came to the gate with the infamous sign 'Arbeit macht frei' (work sets you free). We walked along the small streets between the brick buildings. It felt a bit like a small housing estate. It was rather chilling to think of all the evil that occurred here behind the innocent looking facade. The only things that made it look more sinister were the guard towers,
halt signs, and barb wire fences. We entered some of the different blocks to see the exhibitions inside. These were soul destroying. To see all the people's belongings piled up, such as their shoes and glasses, and to think that these objects belonged to people, who had lives, loves, families, hopes and aspirations really made me think how the Nazis could be so evil and so dehumanising to people they deemed inferior. We also took a walk through Block 11, which had been the punishment block. This was reserved for inmates suspected of resistance activities. From here, we headed out to the Death Wall, which is located between Blocks 10 and 11. This was an extremely harrowing place and I had to fight hard to hold back the tears. All those people that died there, that didn't deserve to die.
We walked through the camp and up to where the guards lived. This was slightly nicer looking and there were two large barb wires fences separating the walkway between the guards' quarters and those of the prisoners. Just beyond this, hidden behind wall, was the Camp Commander's house. This is where Rudolph Höss lived during his time in charge
of the camp. Off to the side in front of the gate, the gallows that Höss was hanged on for the atrocities he committed during the war in 1947. It is rather fitting that he was brought brought back to Auschwitz, the scene of his many crimes, and breathed his last breath in the place where he took the same from so many others. A few steps away were the gas chambers where so many had lost their lives. I have never felt so cold in all my life as I have as we stepped into gas chamber. It was like all the evil just chilled the air. We didn't linger there for obvious reasons and I was happy to leave such a horrible place. After this we had a little free time to look around the camp, I just wanted to reflect on all that I had seen and experienced.
It was a short drive to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. We didn't have an official tour guide on this part of the tour, just the tour guide that we had on the general trip. He was really nice and very informative. I really don't know how he can do his
job each day, there would just be too much sadness for me. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was built after Himmler (chief of the SS) visited Auschwitz I in March 1941 and ordered the camp to be extended so that it could hold 30,000 prisoners. However, it ended up housing a lot, lot more with each barrack holding 744 prisoners. We walked through the main gates of the camp and along the train track that ran through the middle of the camp, directly to the gas chamber. There were lots of small guard huts lining the road with the train tracks and on each side beyond the tracks were buildings and ruins of former buildings. We passed a replica of a train car, that the prisoners were crammed into to bring them to Auschwitz.
We walked to the back of the camp. There was some kind of memorial there, with flags made from material in the style of the prisoners' uniforms. I wished that we'd had more time to look around the memorial, but there were other parts of the camp that we had to see. Near the memorial, there were some ruins of what had been Crematorium IV. This was destroyed
by the Sonderkommando Revolt of October 1944. The Sonderkommando were work units that were made up of the camp's prisoners. Jewish women had smuggled gunpowder out of a munitions factory that had been between located Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The plan for the revolt was to destroy the gas chamber and the crematoria before launching an uprising. However, the Sonderkommando found out that they were due to be killed so they attacked the SS and kapos. Some managed to escape, but most of these were recaptured. Those that did not die in the uprising were shot in the head afterwards. The final place we visited in Auschwitz II-Birkenau was the barracks. These were horrific, you couldn't call them a place to live and showed just what the Nazis thought of the people they sent there. The barracks were not fit for humans to live in. It looked more like a place for keeping animals. Auschwitz is not an easy place to visit, but personally I think it is important so that we never forget the atrocities that have been committed.
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