Auschwitz - the German name for Oswiecim
Trip Start Jun 17, 2009
27Trip End Jul 18, 2009
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Where I stayed
Campanile Hotel, Krakow
It is Tuesday evening as I write this about my visit to Auschwitz earlier today. It was a memorable experience from my point of view. Auschwitz-Birkenau is located about an hour bus ride west of Krakow, in south central Poland. We left our hotel at 8:00 a.m. this morning, and arrived at Auschwitz at about 9:45 a.m. There really are no major highways here in Poland, just lots of two lane roads. Arriving at Auschwitz, we saw the rail yards about 1.5 kilometers from the camp, where thousands of Jews, Poles and other nationalities stepped out of their crowded boxcars after days in some of the most inhumane conditions. The stop was used until 1942, when the rail line was extended directly into the camp, beginning in 1943, when the Nazis decided to accelerate the pace at which they exterminated Jews in the death camps.
Auschwitz was actually made up of three separate camps, Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (known more commonly as Auschwitz-Birkenau) and the third camp nearby at an industrial site known as Auschwitz III, or Monowice, a labor camp where the inmates who were healthy enough to work spent their days in the factories owned by IG Farben, a German chemical company. Auschwitz I was a labor camp to some extent, but more than 70,000 people, mainly Jews, perished there in the gas chambers. Auschwitz-Birkenau (Auschwitz II), the largest of the camps, was strictly a death camp. If you got off the trains here, you did not usually have much of a chance to live. Once you left the train, disheveled and suffering the effects of up to 8 or 9 days of being cramped in a boxcar with hundreds of other men, women and children, you walked to the "Ramp" or Rampa (not sure of the spelling) and then your fate was decided in a matter of moments.
As I stood at the Ramp today, walked the railroad tracks, and stood at the spot where the SS doctor decided your fate (you were going to either work or go directly to the gas chambers), it struck me that within a matter of a few minutes upon arriving at Auschwitz, families were split up on the spot, men and young males deemed capable of working for the Third Reich went one way, while most of the elderly, young children, women and others who were sick, were herded at gun point to the gas chambers
Think about that for a minute. You are confused, tired, sick with fear, your family may have just been permanently separated, and within ten minutes, you and your family members whom you love most, are murdered in the gas chambers. Shortly after that, your bodies are cremated in large ovens going full blast 24/7. How did this happen? More than 1.3 million human beings perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau this way: men, women, teenagers, little children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, every category of human being.
My closing thoughts on Auschwitz are as follows:
- When you walk into the Birkenau camp and see the railroad tracks ending in the distance, you realize at once the immense scale and size of the camp. This place was deliberately designed to receive, process and kill a whole lot of people quickly and efficiently.
· The camp is absolutely huge. It takes about 25-30 minutes of brisk walking to go from one end to the other.
· The camp is left much the way it was found by the Soviet Red Army in January 1945. You can walk into barracks inhabited by prisoners, and the primitive and harsh living conditions the prisoners endured are immediately evident
· The people who were murdered here are also present in the form of ashes. The cremation of victims resulted in the ashes of the dead being spread in various locations around the camp. One simply cannot walk anywhere without treading on the same ground where there are ashes of more than 1.4 million murder victims were spread on the ground. Auschwitz is not only a horrific place of death for millions; it is also their burial ground.
· Except for the occasional voices of tourist groups walking by our group, Auschwitz is silent but for the singing of the birds in the trees, and the sound of the wind. I will not forget that, ever.
· My own experience in war pales in comparison to the scale of what happened here at Auschwitz. Evil exists, anyone telling me otherwise needs to come and walk the ground here at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
I said a prayer for the many people who suffered and died here and walked down the railroad tracks, through the gatehouse, and back to the bus. It was hard for me to describe what I observed here today, but I know that it will be my obligation as an educator of children to teach them about tolerance of others. It is really that simple. The Holocaust happened because one group of society went out of their way to go after another group of human beings they didn't like. Have to figure out what my school will do for this goal, but we will do it.