Infamous History

Trip Start Nov 24, 2009
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Trip End Dec 09, 2009


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Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Over the past year I've found myself with a voracious appetite for WWII history and have gained a new appreciation for that era and those who lived through it. Knowing that I would be in Poland, ground zero for the greatest atrocities of the war it, the Auschwitz/Birkenau concentration camps were at the top of my list of places to see. I realize some find the idea of visiting a concentration camp overly depressing, but I personally feel I needed to see the camp first hand in order to gain an even deeper understanding of what that experience may have been like. Yes, it was a very solemn day, but in the end I felt a great sense of both hope and faith in humanity, for as long as memorials such as this stand we will be reminded of the past so that we may not repeat it.

The camps are about 70 minutes outside of Krakow in what was once a railroad hub, making it convenient to relocate prisoners there. I made the trip by bus which the station was only minutes away from my hostel. The ride took me through the Polish countryside eventually leading to the town of Oświęcim, which in German is Auschwitz. This was a chance to get a glance at regular Polish life outside of the big city....quite quaint as you may expect. I was dropped off just outside of Auschwitz I, the first of the three camps that make up the Auschwitz system (The other two are Auschwitz II/Birkenau, which I did see, and Auschwitz III/Monowitz, which I did not.) Here is the main visitor center where you can figure out exactly what type of tour experience you would like to have. I decided to  pony up the $12 for a guided tour, complete with a wireless headphone monitor system set to the frequency of our guide's microphone. As it turned out having a guided tour got me to exactly all the places I needed to be and kept me on pace to finish my visit in a timely manor.

For those of you who do not know exactly (or may even have Holocaust denial?!?!?!) the Nazi regimen in their attempts to eradicate the Jewish race killed 6,000,000 Jews from all across Europe. Between 1940 and 1945 approximately 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed by the Nazis in the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers alone. That makes this place the sight of the largest mass murder in history.

The site is mostly in tact, except for the gas chambers in the Birkenau camp where the Nazis attempted to destroy the evidence of their existence, as well as the vast majority of the wooden dormitories there which were taken down due to dilapidation over the years in fear that tourists of the sight may get hurt. In some of the buildings are displays of the piles of possessions of those killed such as suitcases, spectacles, Jewish prayer shawls and a very large mountain of hair that was shaved off the women in order to be used in textiles. Gruesome to say the least. Everywhere there are electrified (formally at least) barbed wire fences and random flowers and candles placed as memorials every day.

I don't really think I need to go into too many details here about what I saw so I will let the photos speak for themselves. I can only hope that they too serve as a reminder that humanity, although it is overwhelmingly good, can have a dark side that must be kept in check in order to prevent such tragedies from ever rising up again.
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Comments

Kevin on

Brandon, this is really well done. I used to teach Night, by Elie Wiesel, and much of the story took place at this camp. Back then, I was always on the computer looking for sites that would be a helpful learning tool . . . this is as good as anything I found back then.

Keep up the good work and have fun.

KG

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