While the ladies and I were in Poland, we wanted to visit Auschwitz. It was actually our main reason for visiting Poland. I have always had a special interest in World War II, especially the Holocaust and vising Auschwitz has been something I was hoping to do while spending time in Europe. However, no matter what movies you watch, or books you read, nothing can prepare you for the facts you are told and the things that you see in these camps.
One of the first things you see as you enter the camp is a banner over the gate that reads, “Arbeit Macht Frei” or translated, “Work will set you free”. Everything in the camps was so twisted, it was impossible to wrap my mind around. Right behind this gate, Jewish musicians were forced to play music for the other prisoners to march to so that the Nazis could count them on their way to work.
Each building on the camp was called a “block” and had a different number and purpose. There were hospital blocks, gestapo blocks, torture blocks, experimental blocks and more. The entire camp was surrounded by a double layer of barbed wire fences, which were sometimes also electric. Sometimes, Jewish people would commit suicide by repeatedly running into them. I can not even imagine.
For me, one of the most hair-raising experiences at Auschwitz was walking through the rooms and rooms of possessions. Suitcases, eye glasses, baskets, shoes, hair brushes (seen above) and the worst – human hair. The case of hair was one thing we were unable to take pictures of. The glass case held over 4,000 pounds of human hair. It was blonde, brown, red, black, grey – each representing a person who had their head shaved by the Nazi soldiers. The most sickening part was that this hair was then sold to textile factories. And then, some of these textiles were made to make Nazi uniforms. How backwards is that?
Although Auschwitz I was extremely eye-opening, it was more museum-oriented and touristy than I had originally expected. I found the headsets, groups of tourists and landscaping quite distracting from the camp itself and did not walk away feeling the way I had expected. However, Auschwitz II, or Birkenau was much more open and bare, bringing all the facts from the museum into one place, making it all the more real.
Birkenau is now a skeleton of a camp since the Nazis tried to destroy as much of it as possible as the war was coming to an end. The camp is left relatively untouched, in my opinion, allowing a much more realistic feel for the pain and suffering many groups of individuals went through during World War II. Above, there is a picture of the entrance and the rail road tracks, where families were ripped apart and never saw one another again.
Some of the barracks at Birkenau remained standing and we were able to see them. Bed lines the walls and were angled to fit more into one area. The bunks were generally three or for beds high and had 5-6 grown individuals sleeping in each one. The only way to fit that many people was to lay on your side, stick-straight. Our guide told us that most survivors of the Holocaust had the top-bunk and it was a sign of how long you were at the camp. Often beds broke, and people were crushed under the weight of under individuals. Absolutely impossible to imagine what these individuals went through.
Auschwitz I and II were the most emotionally-tolling places I have ever experienced. Visiting these camps left me with so many unanswered questions and gave me the desire to learn more about this horrific time. I’m glad that these places remain open to the public so that we can learn from our world’s history and pray that something like this will never happen again.