I spent some time thinking about how to post about our trip to Auschwitz. It is not an easy thing to write about, but I think it’s important to try to express our feelings about things that affect us, as seeing Auschwitz did.
Of all the names of all the camps where so many died, this is the one that most people would name first, the largest Nazi concentration camp of World War II. The camp is located 50 kilometers west of Kraków and took its name from the nearby town of Oświęcim, or Auschwitz in German. It’s more an island inside Poland than part of Poland.
There were actually three different camps located here:
- Auschwitz I – the original concentration camp which served as the administrative center for the whole complex.
- Auschwitz II (Birkenau) – an extermination camp, where at least 960,000 Jews, 75,000 Poles, and some 19,000 Roma (Gypsies) were killed. Birkenau was the largest of all the Nazi extermination camps.
- Auschwitz III (Monowitz) – which served as a labor camp.
It’s not possible to know the exact number of people who died here, but the official estimation is 1.1 million. That number is not really fathomable to me.
Around 10 a.m. our group arrived at Auschwitz I, where all tours begin. Here, several of the prisoner barracks (orginally Polish Army barracks before the war) now serve as a museum for visitors. It hits you hard, the photographs of prisoners taken from three angles. Photos were taken in the early years, before the numbers were too big for record keeping. There were also rooms of shoes, suitcases, piles of glasses. It’s surreal how these things look, how wrong it all was and still is because something like this happened.
We walked in the rain and wind to the end of the the train tracks; from here you can see Auschwitz camp II & III. It was the only day of our trip that was cold, windy, wet and miserable. My corduroy jacket was soaked. Our minor discomfort was nothing compared to what we heard, saw and imagined. At the end of these tracks are the caved in remains of two large gas chambers. The Nazis destroyed these chambers when they heard the Soviets were on their way. Now there is a memorial there and this plaque:
For ever let this place be
a cry of despair
and a warning to humanity,
where the Nazis murdered
about one and a half
men, women, and children,
from various countries
Auschwitz – Birkenau
I feel emotional about this but also feel inept to capture it properly in words. It’s good that there are tours of this dreadful place because it is so important that we not forget.