Oświęcim - Auschwitz


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Europe » Poland » Lesser Poland » Auschwitz
September 18th 2018
Published: May 14th 2022
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Arbeit Macht Frei SignArbeit Macht Frei SignArbeit Macht Frei Sign

Auschwitz I concentration camp. The Arbeit Macht Frei sign at the entrance to the camp. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0776bw2
Today was our visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp. A somber day, but a must. The name Auschwitz itself conjures up the Holocaust and its horrific images.

Oświęcim is about an hour and a half drive from Krakow. It is and was a railway center, with connections east to Krakow, west to Wrocław (once Breslau) and Berlin and south to Vienna. Thus the town was selected as a central place to which to transport people which was removed from heavily populated areas. A Polish army barracks had been established at Oświęcim before the war. These brick buildings became Auschwitz I.

Nearing Oświęcim, the tour bus again crossed the Vistula, the river that ties Polish history together. Off to the right was the railway bridge and at that moment a passenger train was on it. A reminder of how straightforward it was to reach the town by rail. Once in town, the route to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum took us by the modern passenger station and railway yard.

The museum at the Auschwitz I camp site is a large modern building, though some of the original camp receiving structures have been incorporated into it. Along the parking lot
Auschwitz GuardhouseAuschwitz GuardhouseAuschwitz Guardhouse

Wooden guardhouse at the entrance gate to the Auschwitz I concentration camp. It is adjacent to the Arbeit Macht Frei sign. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979.DSC_0776p1
are reflective markers commemorating the countries and organizations that have contributed to the preservation of the camp site. The queue to enter the Auschwitz I site forms directly across from the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign. You try to get a sense of the place just waiting to view it. Then you walk under the sign and through the gate to enter the camp. Beyond the gate, the brick buildings give the surprising initial appearance of ordinariness. They do look like barracks. Then one begins to learn the story. The first building passed is Bock 24. This was the "Dollhouse", the camp brothel where selected women were forced to prostitute themselves. Some of the blocks remain set up as cells. They were vastly overcrowded, and some had ceilings so low prisoners could not stand. Prisoners were starved to death in isolation cells. Other blocks are set up as testimonial exhibits. One shows the methodical nature of Nazi record keeping. Records were kept of prisoners' names and arrival dates. Records were kept of supplies received, like counts of incoming Zyklon B containers. There is an exhibit on the Kapos, the trustees. There are maps showing were prisoners came from. The camp
Auschwitz I EntranceAuschwitz I EntranceAuschwitz I Entrance

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Entrance gate and Block 24 (the "Dollhouse"). The Auschwitz I camp began in June 1940 with the use of a former Polish army barracks. Prisoners built additions to the existing barracks buildings and new brick cellblocks. The building immediately at the entrance is Camp Block 24, known as the "Dollhouse". It was used as the camp brothel. Guards and selected non-Jewish trustees were allowed to visit it. The greatest camp population was 18,000 prisoners in 1944. One must think of this number of people held in a relatively small space of 24 adjacent cellblocks. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979.DSC_0777p1
was used at first for Polish political prisoners, but soon expanded to include Jewish people, Roma, homosexuals and Soviet prisoners of war. Jews were by far the largest population imprisoned. Large display cases show the luggage, shoes, hats, clothing, and personal items all taken from prisoners. The displays are filled with such items--the Nazis had taken away possessions and warehoused them all. Hair shorn from prisoners occupies an entire wall. Then comes the display of children's belongings--clothes, stuffed animals and toys. This is where I really felt the horrific impact. Extraordinarily, a few visitors did not seem to grasp the implications. One individual asked why family members had not claimed the luggage after the war.

Blocks 20 and 21 were the medical blocks. There was an infirmary of sorts, but this is where the medical experiments were carried out on prisoners. In the center is the Roll-call Square, where prisoners were assembled three times a day. At one side is a strange wooden kiosk where a guard called out names. On the other side is the gallows. Behind it is the Wall of Death where prisoners were shot. A memorial and flowers are there now. We did see the
Entering Auschwitz IEntering Auschwitz IEntering Auschwitz I

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Entrance gate. To enter the camp, visitors pass under the Arbeit Macht Frei sign. IMG_5556p1
gas chamber and crematoria at the end of the tour.

Reboarding the motorcoach, our destination was Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The coach left us off at the parking lot a distance from the camp. It was hot for a September day as we walked towards the gatehouse. It is another iconic image of Auschwitz and inspires dread by looking at it. Visitors do not pass through the "Gate of Death" but enter by a side door. Birkenau opened in 1942 on the other side of the railway from Auschwitz I. It was a purpose-built camp. Birkenau was a death camp where 90 percent of those who perished at the Auschwitz camps died. The barracks at Birkenau were wooden and held in excess of 400 prisoners each. Windowless, they had limited sanitary and washing facilities. Prisoners generally had to remain without the ability to wash, hence disease spread. After the war, the local population took the wood for fuel and building material. Much of the camp is represented only by foundations. The display barracks have been reconstructed. The railway spur into the camp, another iconic image of the Holocaust, was added in 1944. (Subsequently removed, you can make out the outline of
Electrified Fence and Prisoner ReceptionElectrified Fence and Prisoner ReceptionElectrified Fence and Prisoner Reception

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Barbed wire electrified camp fence. The camp was surrounded by 11 miles (17 km) of such fencing. Outside the boundary fence is the Aufnahmegebäude (Building to Receive Newcomers). It is now a part of the visitor centre. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0779p1
the spur on Google Maps.) It is where the separations took place when most arriving prisoners were sent directly to gas chambers, those reaming to the barracks. Before 1944 prisoners were unloaded a few hundred yards away at a siding called the Judenrampe and then marched to the camp.

We did have lunch at a restaurant in Oświęcim. Suffice to say it was a quiet one. The restaurant was decorated with shattered colored glass in the windows, a fitting symbolism.

Sometime later, I found the book Why?; Explaining the Holocaust, by Peter Hayes, to be a concise and informative history of the Holocaust. It is difficult to grasp the enormity of it.


Additional photos below
Photos: 31, Displayed: 25


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Camp Block 3Camp Block 3
Camp Block 3

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Camp Block 3. The guard tower indicates the block commander' quarters. The Auschwitz I camp began with the use of a former army barracks. Prisoners built additions to the existing barracks buildings and new brick cellblocks. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0781
Auschwitz I Block 14Auschwitz I Block 14
Auschwitz I Block 14

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Block 14. Intended to contain 700 prisoners per block, each cellblock eventually held 1,200. Auschwitz I was established in 1940, initially as a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners. The site had been a Polish military barracks before the war. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. IMG_5562
Camp TreesCamp Trees
Camp Trees

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Camp Blocks. The trees appear incongruous, but prisoners were directed to plant the poplar trees around the camp.These are the very same trees. The Auschwitz concentration camp is quiet and still now. But the exhibits inside the cellblocks give testimony to the unspeakable horrors that occurred here. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0782
Camp Blocks 18, 19 and 25Camp Blocks 18, 19 and 25
Camp Blocks 18, 19 and 25

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Camp Blocks 18, 19 and 25. Intended to contain 700 prisoners per block, each cellblock eventually held 1,200. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0783p1
Roll-Call SquareRoll-Call Square
Roll-Call Square

Auschwitz I. Roll-call Square. There were three roll-calls a day, often lasting hours, will all prisoners standing at attention. The wooden kiosk was for the camp guard conducting the roll-call. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0783p2
Guard TowerGuard Tower
Guard Tower

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Guard tower and "Halt! Stój!" sign.The towers were rebuilt in 1943. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0787p1
Wall of DeathWall of Death
Wall of Death

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Memorials at the Wall of Death. The Black Wall. Prisoners were stood against this wall and shot. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0788
Auschwitz I Block 23Auschwitz I Block 23
Auschwitz I Block 23

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Electrified fence and Block 23. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0789
Electrified FenceElectrified Fence
Electrified Fence

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Barbed wire electrified camp fence. The camp was surrounded by 11 miles (17 km) of such fencing. Camp Block 12 is to the right. The guard's infirmary and camp commandant's administration building are at left, outside of the camp perimeter. A guard tower at the East edge of the camp is in the background. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0790p1
Auschwitz Medical BocksAuschwitz Medical Bocks
Auschwitz Medical Bocks

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Camp Blocks 20 and 21. The so-called hospital blocks. Block 20 was the contagious diseases ward. "The contagious diseases ward housed prisoners suffering from typhus, starvation diarrhea, tuberculosis, meningitis, erysipelas or from general weakness". Many were simply killed in the ward. Block 21 was the surgical ward. Both of these block were fenced off. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. IMG_5567
Auschwitz I Medical BlockAuschwitz I Medical Block
Auschwitz I Medical Block

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Camp Block 21. Surgical block. (Häftlingskrankenbau - HKB). General and experimental operations were carried out here, often with makeshift equipment. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. IMG_5568
Auschwitz I Guard TowerAuschwitz I Guard Tower
Auschwitz I Guard Tower

Auschwitz I concentration camp. Guard tower. The towers were rebuilt in 1943. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. IMG_5569p1
Oświęcim Railway YardOświęcim Railway Yard
Oświęcim Railway Yard

PKP railway yard at Oświęcim. DSC_0791p1
Auschwitz II-BirkenauAuschwitz II-Birkenau
Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. Main Gatehouse. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was 10 times the size ofAuschwitz I, and held 100,000 prisoners by August 1944. Birkenau was built beginning in Autumn 1941 3 km to the west of Auschwitz I, in the village of Brzezinka Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0795p1
Gate of DeathGate of Death
Gate of Death

Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. Main Gate, the Gate of Death.The gate appears as if it is a mouth prepared to consume those who pass through it. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0806bw
Auschwitz II-Birkenau Main GateAuschwitz II-Birkenau Main Gate
Auschwitz II-Birkenau Main Gate

Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. Main Gate, the Gate of Death. Auschwitz Birkenau: German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed in 1979. DSC_0797p1


15th May 2022

Somber
History shows mans inhumanity to man. The history of this location is sad beyond belief.

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