Trip Start Dec 29, 2009
91Trip End Mar 02, 2010
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On the bus we met another Australian and talked to him for the hour and half ride out to the concentration camp. When we got there, a tour was just about to start so we decided to take that. It started with a short documentary about the liberation of the camp by the Russians. We then met our guide and the tour started. Auschwitz is the name given to both the first section of the camp, and the camp as a whole which included Birkenau and Monowitz. The tour gave us a lot of information, and though we didn’t have time to visit every building we visited the most important ones
On entering the camp, we passed under the Arbeit Macht Frei sign. This is not the original sign which was recently stolen and recovered, it is still being restored after being cut into pieces. The camp was converted from an army barracks, so the buildings here were solid brick buildings and looked a lot nicer than the ones we had seen at Sachsenhausen, apparently they still would have been just as cold and miserable as the wooden huts in other camps.
Some of the exhibits in the buildings talked about where the prisoners came from and the vast number of people that passed through and died at Auschwitz. The figures are just mind-boggling, 1.1million Jews died here. The most harrowing experience was the rooms containing items taken by the Nazis from the prisoners when they arrived. These included clothes, bags, glasses, pots and pans etc. The most difficult bit to see was the piles of human hair (shaved off to be used for german textiles) and the clothes and shoes of little children. It is difficult to fathom that so many people had their property taken and then they were killed, either in gas chambers or by being worked to death.
The tour also took us through the death block, so named by the prisoners because if you ended up here then death was certain
The final part of this first tour was to the gas chamber and crematory. The larger ones at Birkenau were destroyed by the Nazis before they fled the camp, but the one at Auschwitz was converted into a bomb shelter and so they left it standing. It was very eerie, standing in the place where so many thousands of people were killed.
We had a short break, went to the toilet and had a bite to eat before jumping on the shuttle bus for the second part of the tour at Birkenau. Approaching the camp, we saw the brick gatehouse, and then behind the fences just rows upon rows of chimneys. A few of the original wooden buildings remained, but of most of them only the brick chimneys still remain. Every building at Auschwitz had a heater in it, for propaganda reasons. However the prisoners were rarely given any fuel so, apart from some special occasions, they were never used. We saw inside some of the remaining buildings, including a huge toilet block and a sleeping cell, neither of which looked like places you wanted to be
Further down the train lines, which ran straight into the centre of the camp, was a carriage which would have been used for transporting prisoners to the camp. It was a tiny little thing, with only two small windows, and was designed for moving cattle, not hundred of humans. We saw the sorting ground, where selections were made for those who would go into the camp to work, and those that would go straight to the gas chamber. We then went down and saw the remains of the gas chambers, which were much larger than the one we had actually walked through at the other camp. The two bigger ones here were capable of killing 2000 people in the space of about 20minutes.
Birkenau also had 2 smaller chambers, further out in the woods. It was one of these that were sabotaged and blown up by prisoners who then escaped into the woods. Every single one of them was recaptured however, and summarily executed. The tour concluded at the monument, dedicated to all those who suffered and died at the camp during its time of operation.
After the tour we headed back to the bus, and met another couple. The guy was from Australia, the girl was a German who has been studying in Australia. We all just managed to make it onto the bus back to Krakow, and spent the ride back talking together. Once back in town, we went out for dinner together and a few drinks and spent the night chatting. We visited the oldest pub in Krakow, and the room we sat in was like an old dining room in a house or something. Bit of a late night, but a few more friends who we actually got contacts for so we can stay in touch with them.