This post comes with a warning, contains harsh reality.
I always had in the back of my mind visiting Auschwitz, its one of those must do things even if it’s confronting and believe you me – its confronting.
The tour – and you have to take a tour – otherwise it’s just a few rows of bricks with some barbed wire running around them, is totally worthy of the 50 zloty.
We chose the English speaking tour that started at 11am. I believe getting in to see Donald Trump would have less security clearance. Still afterwards it all seemed pretty trivial.
It’s something we all know about – the Nazis, The Holocaust, The Concentration Camps and I have watched Schindler’s List enough to know about the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Yet nothing can prepare you for the stark reality of coming face to face with it all.
Have you ever seen rooms full of hair, human hair shaved from the scalps of women that had been gassed in the gas chambers just hours after arriving by train? Hair kept to sell to make fabric from. Rooms of hairbrushes, shoes and suitcases, all belongings that the prisoners had been allowed to pack under false pretenses. All a ruse to lure people peacefully to their deaths without a struggle. Bring your precious possessions for safekeeping they said and then afterwards all the belongings were left on the train tracks for the Nazis to sell back in Germany.
The photos on the walls of the barracks showing carriage after carriage of unsuspecting woman holding their children’s hands, the elderly and the sick arriving before being sent straight to the gas chambers under the illusion of “taking a shower” while the younger, fitter men are led away from their families in the other direction as labour in the prison camps.
It’s all horrific stuff, learning about the gas chambers with the hooks and numbers on the wall to remember where your clothes are, another ruse, the false shower heads that are actually what the gas came out of. The crematoriums that were destroyed by the Nazi’s just before the war ended where the bodies were burned, gone into piles of ashes that were scattered in the lakes and rivers to hide the evidence.
Coming face to face with the railway tracks that lead nowhere, where over 4000 unsuspecting Jews were transported through the gates everyday.
Seeing the carriages where some of these people travelled over 7 days in to Auschwitz under the guise of being protected by the Germans. Oh the relief it must have been to be going to the showers to cleanse yourselves after such a long, cramped journey.
Over 1.3 million Jews, gypsies and prisoners of war arrived on the trains to Auschwitz, 1.1 million perished with 75% led to their deaths on arrival.
There are photos on the walls, documentation by the Nazis just incase any escaped, of the prisoners that were spared for hard labour, with dates on when they arrived in and when they died. Most lasted less than 2 months due to poor sanitary conditions, hard labour, beatings and lack of food.
There were barracks for women who had given birth and were used to experiment sterilisation on. Afterwards they were given lethal injections to the heart so that their bodies could be used for scientific purposes.
Auschwitz was chosen for 3 reasons. Firstly Poland had the largest population of Jews in Europe, secondly because it was the centre of Europe so ideally located to transport everyone in, and thirdly because of the existence of the railway.
Over 6 million Jews perished in The Holocaust and the sad thing for me is that it wasn’t that long ago in history. The barracks that held the prisoner’s aren’t crumbling ruins from a bygone era where you can accept it was a different period of time ie back in medieval times. It was from 1941 to 1945, just over 70 years ago.
For me going to Auschwitz represents a reminder to people to learn from history, to see it and to never repeat it and I sincerely hope it never is. After our tour we headed to Krakow and spent time in The Jewish Quarter where most of the first victims of Auschwitz came from. I saw a sign outside a house. It said the family had lived in the house since 1633 to 1941. Then they were no more. It was a very sad moment.