Being at Auschwitz was unbelievably sad. It was overwhelming. The first thing that struck me was the size of the place. It was huge. Building after building after building. The site is well-preserved as it wasn't destroyed by the Nazis before they left. They have a lot of numbers posted about the different people that were killed, but it was the different displays of things that really hit me
. They had one long corridor that was filled with hair. Thousands of pounds of human hair. The Nazis shaved the heads of everyone not only so they would be recognized if they escaped, but also so they could sell the hair back to factories in Germany where they made fabric. They also kept everything that was brought to Auschwitz. The Jews were told extensive lies about where they were going. They thought they were starting a new life and they were allowed to bring some personal items with them, like clothes, pots and pans, brushes, etc. The Nazis kept all of it. They sorted it all and had huge stashes of brushes, shoes, eye glasses, and everything else you would bring with you to start a new life. The museum had displays for all of it - rooms with piles of shoes, mounds of glasses. To see these things that belonged to so many people who were murdered was gut-wrenching. We then went to see one of the first crematoriums. We walked through in silence and all I could think about was how many people had become victims here. I just can't comprehend it. We also saw part of the Death Wall where many people had been shot to death after being found guilty of some sort of offense, like helping prisoners escape. There was a large number of memorials there, and most groups of school children bring a special candle there and light it as a memorial. We saw one group of children do this and it was very hard not to cry.
Next we were driven to Birkenau. This was a second location that was fully constructed by the Auschwitz prisoners. This site was truly overwhelming to see just because of the size. I thought Auschwitz was big, and it was dwarfed by Birkenau. It was so big that it held 90,000 prisoners at one time. The conditions were bad at Auschwitz, but the conditions at Birkenau were deplorable. The buildings at Birkenau we basically wood shacks filled with row after row of three-high bunkbeds
. The best ones to get were at the top because the people on the lower rows ended up sleeping in excrement.
There were 4 crematoriums on this site so they could keep up with the numbers of people being murdered. The prisoners also built the railway that came into Birkenau. They had one of the train cars on the track at the museum. It had no windows, no way to get air inside. Some people didn't survive the journey - they were probably the lucky ones.
After about 3 hours we got back into our vans and continued to Krakow.
Once we had checked into our hotel we went out for an orientation walk with Vicky. Our hotel was very close to the main square which is huge - one of the biggest in Europe. It was all lit up with restaurants and cafes all around. After our walk we went for dinner which ended with some Jaeger shots! We then went back to the square for some coffee and dessert and called it a night.
We were picked up in private vans at 8am from our pension in Teplice to make the long journey to Krakow. After a short while we crossed the border into Poland - another new country! While driving we passed around menus to order lunch. We had to pick what we wanted and then write it in a book in Polish - not an easy task when you are driving on bumpy roads, and you don't understand Polish! We were somehow successful and had a delicious lunch part way through our journey. This was probably my worst day with my cold and I was feeling pretty miserable. But we were heading to Auschwitz and I didn't want to miss it.