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Published: October 17th 2006
Arbeit Macht Frei
Bitterly ironic sign on the Auschwitz main gate that means "Work Shall Set You Free"
Took a tour to Auschwitz and Birkenau, the largest extermination camps in WW2 history. I remember studying the Holocaust back in school but nothing prepares you for the reality. Around 90% of the prisoners comprised European Jews. The remaining 10% consisted of Soviet POW's, politicial prisoners, criminals, and those minorities considered by the Nazi's as being 'inferior' or 'anti-social' such as Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses and homosexuals.
Extremely sombre experience. Quite a few people were visibly upset and broke down in tears. While we were visiting there was a large Jewish contingent defiantly waving flags.
The tour took us through various exhibits such as prison blocks, and a gas chamber and crematorium (including the Zyklon B gas pellets used). Also notorious Block 11 where the Gestapo Police held trials and sentenced prisoners to death either by execution (shot at the Death Wall) or starvation or suffocation (held in downstairs cells). Others were punished by being held in tiny standing cells, up to 4 at a time standing all night for up to a dozen days, and also made to work during the day.
But the most confronting of all was the exhibit showing hair shorn from gassed female prisoners
which had not yet been shipped to the Third Reich to be made into stockings and socks. Also the countless items of the deportees such as suitcases with people's names and addresses on the outside, shoes, glasses, Jewish prayer shawls, cooking and eating utensils, crutches and artificial limbs, childrens' clothes and toys, and personal toiletry items and brushes.
Some people complained that the tour was a bit rushed and they wished they could have had more time to explore. But it was more than enough for me. I was mentally drained by day's end and in dire need of a stiff Polish vodka.
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