Auschwitz

Trip Start Apr 25, 2013
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95
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Trip End Nov 02, 2013


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Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Sunday, August 11, 2013

1,100,000 people died here. They were murdered; shot, starved, tortured, beaten, experimented on, hung or gassed. These were innocent people. Farmers, electricians, bakers, friends, fathers, women and children. Its really hard to get your head around it. The evidence is there, despite desperate attempts by the Nazis to remove it. Its just incomprehensible to understand how such depraved cruelty could be implemented and enforced on such a tremendous scale. It wasn't just the extermination of people, human beings, based on a flawed racist ideology. It was how so many were involved, so many enforced it with such vigor, enthusiasm and evil. 
We booked a guided tour today, which was really well organized. They picked us up, dropped us off, and guided a group of around 20 through both Auschwitz (I) and Auschwitz-Birkenau (II). Considering over 8,000 people a day come through the complex, they organized and timed things really well, so crowds of people was no hindrance.
The guide was good, informative and thorough, giving a clear insight into the atrocities that occured here. The Auschwitz Camp itself, I found surprisingly well ordered and maintained. The buildings were well constructed, and amid wide streets, and mowed grass, could reflect normal residential homes. This was far from the case, as thousands of prisoners were confined in them, often four people to a bunk, sometimes sleeping all together on straw, on the floor, like animals.
In the buildings were, were several chilling exhibits. There were photos, people arriving, being separated and marched to gas chambers, of thin, starved faces, of piled lifeless corpses. There were rooms, piled with the loot, the possessions and even parts of the murdered; suitcases, combs, glasses, shoes, prosthetic limbs and even human hair. No photos were permitted of the latter, but the sheer quantity (and that being only a small fraction of the total), it weighed 2 tonnes, and would fill several large dump trucks. There was even a net made of human hair.
On to confinement and punishment cells, often a place prisoners would be stored, tortured and tormented whilst awaiting execution. There were solitary confinement cells, standing cells (too small to sit), dark cells and suffocation cells which didn't allow enough air to survive. Between this building, a courtyard to the left where thousands were lined up and executed by firing squad. Outside the camp, we also walked through a make shift gas chamber, formerly an ammunition bunker. Here, thousands were murdered in mass, their bodies burned thereafter in furnaces.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was more the layout I expected, and perhaps what we see on movies and documentaries. Still, the sheer size of it is amazing. It stretches as far as you can see over the fields, some two kilometres. We are told that up to half a million could have been crammed here at once. The amount of dorm buildings seems impossible to count, or at least the ones that remain. 75% of these buildings, only a chimney remains, most were burnt by the Nazis before they left. In the centre of the camp, stood the train station. Here many would arrive daily. They would be stripped of their belongings, divided between men women and children, and awaited selection. This process consisted of a Nazi doctor giving each person a quick look over to determine their suitability for work. If deemed fit enough, they would be taken to dorms for work assignments. If not, they would be marched straight to their death, at gas chambers at the rear of the camp. Only 25% of people were selected for work, that is three of four were selected for instant death. Women and children had almost no chance.
The gas chambers themselves were demolished by the Nazis, blown up in a desperate attempt to destroy evidence. The remains of these buildings still tell plenty. You can identify stairs going down, a room where people would have been stripped, told they had to shower, and forced into another large room, for death by gas. Nearby, bodies were piled and burned, as often furnaces couldn't keep up. 
On the way out, we passed through dorm buildings. What a squallid hell hole. Dark, rustic, crammed. Wooden bunks, three levels high, two metres wide, each space occupying three to four people. The bottom bunk was on the floor, where most froze to death. The neighboring toilet and washing conditions were inhumane, wooden, filthy and unmaintained. Hygiene was non existant and disease inevitable.
The tour lasted around 5 hours in total over both camps, and it was enough. It was an amazing but sombering experience.
Back around 3, we made use of the gym at the hotel. It was privately owned, and a little awkward, but we relished the chance at a workout, it had been so long!
For dinner we walked into town. It was a perfect evening, warm and clear. There was music, markets, stalls and many people out enjoying the summer. Dinner was goulash on a potato pancake, with a side of delicious meat dumplings. I think Nat has a taste for these now, we will get some more for lunch tomorrow.
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