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October 15th 2006
Published: October 17th 2006
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Arbeit Macht FreiArbeit Macht FreiArbeit 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.

Additional photos below
Photos: 15, Displayed: 15



European countries from where deportees came from, even as far away as Norway and Greece
Gas Chamber & CrematoriumGas Chamber & Crematorium
Gas Chamber & Crematorium

The first one used in Auschwitz
Death WallDeath Wall
Death Wall

Where executions by firing squad took place
Block 10Block 10
Block 10

Windows were boarded up as they didn't want people to witness the executions taking place at the Death Wall
Assembly SquareAssembly Square
Assembly Square

This is the area that they conducted roll call of the prisoners, and sometimes mass hangings
Electric fenceElectric fence
Electric fence

Many prisoners chose to end their suffering by throwing themselves against these fences

First commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoss, was tried & sentenced to death after the war and was hanged here in 1947
Birkenau memorialBirkenau memorial
Birkenau memorial

Train tracks ended at the unloading platform where SS doctors & officers selected those able to work, and those to be sent straight to the gas chambers (up to 70%-75% died immediately)
Birkenau main towerBirkenau main tower
Birkenau main tower

Trains passed under here

There were over 300 buildings however the Nazi's burnt down or demolished most of them when they left (notice only the hearths remain)

Housed up to 1000 prisoners

Appalling sanitary conditions. Used by up to 200 prisoners at a time

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