Birkenau extermination camp

Trip Start Jan 07, 2004
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Trip End Jan 27, 2004


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Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Monday, January 12, 2004

Hello again,

Just a few kilometers away from Auschwitz is Birkenau.  Remember the famous guard tower and dividing platform from Schindler's List?  The Nazis deported hundreds of thousands of prisoners by train to Birkenau.  I wasn't aware of it, but this is the actual location where many of those were gassed and cremated.  One of the more famous residents of Birkenau is Anne Frank, though she was eventually transferred to another camp.

The size of Birkenau is staggering - 175 hectares.  I could barely see across it.  The compound was designed to hold up to 200,000 prisoners.  At it's peak, up to 4,000 people were 'exterminated' daily.

The barracks were formerly used as horse stables.  German inscriptions can still be read on the beams overhead.  Latrines were added but without any disposal system.  It's easy to see how dysentery and other hygienic diseases became so pervasive and lethal.

It's a long walk across the camp but worth it.  Past the barracks is another set of barbed wire and electrocuted fences.  Again, another eerie feeling to walk freely where many others could not.  Just past the fences are four of the five crematoriums.  I was visiting in January - the same month in which the camp was liberated.

At the far corner of the camp are located two fields and an empty pool.  Easy to overlook.  Some pictures were secretly taken here during the war and later smuggled out.  They tell a dramatic story.  The Nazis were gassing people faster than they could cremate the bodies.  By the end of the war, they were simply burning the corpses in open fields and dumping the ashes in the pool.

At one point I saw a deer crossing between the barracks and the crematoriums.  Kind of ironic to see a young life where so many had disappeared.  Late in the afternoon, a thick fog rolled into the camp.  I think time to go before getting lost.

A tour through significant and unaltered historical places is an incredible experience.  For some, a trip here is too horrifying for a pleasant vacation.  But for me, a walk through such dramatic history was really powerful. Not to be missed.

Eric
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