A visit to Auschwitz to pay our respects
Trip Start May 04, 2013
21Trip End Jul 07, 2013
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Before going to Auschwitz we had some other business to attend to - a new rear tyre for our bike. Soon after our arrival in Bielsko-Biala, Greg noticed the tread wear indicator on the Pommie-Ducati had reached its legal limit and set Kerrie the job to google Triumph dealers in Poland so we could get the new tyre, After many frustrating minutes searching she announced there were only two dealers in Poland and neither were nearby. So we set off to wash the bike at the car wash 300 meters from out hotel. Kerrie's eagle eye soon spotted a large sign directing us straight to the local Ducati-Triumph dealer about two kilometres away! So much for the google seach! We soon arranged a new tyre to be fitted first thing in the morning before our visit to Auschwitz. For a break, we hired a car for the day afrom our hotel - one of the best value hotels we have stayed at! After collecting the newly shod bike, we made a bee line to the small town of Oswiecim about 40 kilometres away.
Soon after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, the Nazis declared the area around Oswiecim an "area of special interest" and forceably evacuated the locals for an area of 40 square kilometres around the town which they renamed Auschwitz. It was then reoccupied by the SS and their families and the concentration camp opened in 1940. Initially it was a camp for political prisoners, prisoners of war and dissidents. When the "final solution" came into being in 1942, it became the site of mass extermination of the Jews, Gypsy (Roma), and Soviet prisoners of war. Although records are not precise, it is believed the Nazis murdered about 1.3 million people at Auschwitz and its close by camp of Birkenau.
When the SS left as the Red Army approached, the Nazis attempted to destroy the gas chambers, crematoria and associated buildings by blowing them up but only partially succeeding. When the camp was liberated in January 1940 less than one thousand prisoners remained and most of those died within the next few days. The Nazis forced marched tens of thousands of prisoners into Germany and many died on the way.
In 1947 Poland created the Auschwitz museum and in 1979 the site was entered onto the UNESCO World Heritage List. Entry is free but you can't enter without a guide which you pay for! Figure that one out. To enter the camp you must walk under the famous sign above the main gate "Arbeit Macht Frei" which means "Work makes you Free".
The guided tour was however well worth it. We saw the "death house" where in the basement there were torture cells such as the starvation cell where they starved you to death and the cell that was only one metre square where they placed four prisoners who could only stand side by side. When one fell they usually suffocated. In a court yard next door was the "wall of death" where people were shot by firing squad - if they made it that far because often they were shot after they took off their clothes inside before marching out to the wall of death - to save time.
We then took a bus to the adjacent camp 3 kilometres away called Birkenau where the majority of the exterminations took place. The railway platform is still in existence where new arrivals by train where classified for either the work camp or straight to extermination in one of the five gas chanbers they had. Most women, children and the elderly went straight to the gas chambers.
The best way to end this blog entry is with a quote from the museum brochure which says; "The site of Auschwitz concentration camp is a monument to the martyrdom of the Jewish, Polish, Gypsy and other peoples. It is a memorial and a warning against racism, xenophobia, and war. It is the largest cemetery in human history."
You can't adequately describe your emotions after visiting Auschwitz - you have to experience it for yourselves. We are glad we did and are better for the experience.