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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Poland-Auschwitz

While we were in Krakow, we took a day trip to Auschwitz--the Nazi extermination camp.  The feelings that we experienced in Auschwitz touched us deeply.  I will not try to expand on the personal reflections and perspective but will instead, try to present a representation of the camp and the people so that you can through the pictures and narrative, have a better understanding of what it looked like and what happened there.  Some of the facts and numbers related to prisoners, deaths, etc. are estimates because many of the records were destroyed to hide the atrocities.  I used some books that were purchased for facts and information on Auschwitz.

Throughout the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust.  The German forces occupying Poland during WWII established a concentration camp on the outskirts of the town of Oswiecim, in 1940.  The Germans called the town Auschwitz and that is the name by which the camp was known.  Over the following years, it was expanded into three main camps:  Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz.  There were also more than 40 sub-camps.  The first people to be brought to Auschwitz as prisoners and murdered here were Poles.  They were followed by Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies and deportees from other nations.  Beginning in 1942, Auschwitz became the setting for the most massive murder campaign in history, when the Nazis put into operation their plan to destroy the entire Jewish population of Europe.  The majority of Jews that were deported to Auschwitz-men, women, and children-were sent immediately upon arrival to death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz Birkenau.

Auschwitz was not the first Nazi concentration camp but it was the most infamous.  It opened on 14 June 1940 and has come to symbolize the atrocities of the Nazi regime.  Estimates are that more than 1.1 million were murdered here.  They were brought in trains from all parts of occupied Europe, from as far away as Norway and Greece.  Of the prisoners that were not executed upon arrival, most died slowly from starvation and the rigors and exhaustion of slave labor.  The overwhelming majority of the victims (90%) were Jews, but others were murdered also: Poles, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, Yugoslavs, homosexuals and others.  When the camp was liberated, only about 7,000 people were found alive.  Auschwitz was liberated by the Russian Army on 27 January 1945.

The camp had several functions.  It was the largest center for the mass extermination of the European Jews and at the same time, the largest concentration camp for prisoners of other nationalities.  It was a place of slave labor, of executions and criminal medical experiments, and of plunder on a gigantic scale.



 The entrance at the gate of Auschwitz.  The infamous words, "Albeit Macht Frei" (Work will make you free) still stand over the entrance.  The prisoners went through this gate each morning and night as they went to and from their work assignments in the factories located near the camp.

Double fencing with barbed wire and electricity
Auschwitz I--the buildings here are all made of brick
Guard house
 Registration of a prisoner.  Early in the war, prisoners were recorded as they were imprisoned.  Later on, the practice was stopped.  Very few Jewish prisoners were registered.
Pictures were taken of the prisoners as they were registered during the beginning of the war.  This practice was stopped later on.
 These were real people that suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis.  This man was a 32 year old Jew from Poland.  He was a stone worker.  He died after only 6 weeks in Auschwitz.
 This women was from Poland and was only 19 when she was sent to Auschwitz.  She died after 4 months in the camp.
 Glasses taken from prisoners at Auschwitz
 The Jews were often told that they were being relocated to a new area.  This lie was for two important purposes.  First, the Jews were allowed to bring 25 kgs. in their luggage.  Thinking that they were leaving their homes for good, they brought what they considered to be valuable--incluing money and gold sewed into their clothing.  Second, they were easier to handle when they arrived in Auschwitz and were told to enter the showers (gas chambers).  Upon arrival at Auschwitz, they were told to put their names on their luggage so that it could be returned to them. 
 Anything of value was taken from the Jews--gold, money, hair, gold teeth, clothes, shoes--anything that could be used by the Germans in the war effort.
 Cooking pans taken from victims
 Clothing taken from the victims of Auschwitz

 Each morning, the prisoners were marched out of the camp to work in factories and other labor projects in the vicinity of Auschwitz.
 Each evening, the prisoners returned to the camp after 11-12 hour work days.  A careful count was made to insure that everyone who left in the morning, returned in the evening.  If not, the entire group was severely punished.  If a person died, his fellow prisoners would be required to carry him back to insure that he could be counted.
 Wall between Building Blocks 10 and 11
Block 10 (building on the left) housed several hundred women prisoners, mainly Jewish.  These women were used as human guinea pigs for sterilization experiments.  Some of them died from the treatment they received, others were murdered so that autopsies could be performed on them.  Block 11 (on right) was known as the "Death Block" at Auschwitz I.  It served several functions including its role as the central camp jail.  It was used as a punishment and torture facility.  Prisoners sentenced to die by starvation were housed in the basement while they literally starved to death.  In September 1941, the SS carried out an experiment in the basement with Zyklon B to determine the effectiveness of the gas in killing large numbers of prisoners.  850 Soviet POWs and Polish political prisoners were murdered in the basement during the experiment.
 The yard between Blocks 10 and 11 was used for executions by firing squad.  Notice that the windows of Block 10 (the women being used for medical experiments) were boarded over so that they could not witness the executions.  Several thousand people were executed here.
 Most of those executed here were Polish political prisoners, generally leaders and members of clandestine organizations and people who helped escapees or facilitated contacts with the outside world.  Poles who had been sentenced to death in nearby towns were also brought here to be shot, including men, women, and children who had been taken hostage in revenge for operations of the Polish resistance  against the German occupation.

 Gallows for the execution of prisoners
 Booth where the SS man responsible for conducting roll-call and collecting reports on the number of prisoners took shelter during inclement weather.  Gallows in the background.


 Double barbed wire fencing which was also electrified
 Air Raid shelter located outside of the electric fences which was used by the guards.  There were no shelters for the prisoners inside the fences.
 The first commandant of Auschwitz, Rudold Hoss, who was tried and sentenced to death after the war by the Polish Supreme Tribunal, was hanged here on 16 April 1947.  The gallows for Hoss were built next to the gas chamber at Auschwitz I.
 Gas Chamber at Auschwitz I.
 Room where the victims were gassed at Auschwitz I
 Cans which contained Zyklon B--used for killing in the Gas Chambers.  The Zyklon B pellets were activated by temperature.  To allow for the pellets to create the gas, the rooms were packed with people and the body heat was enough to raise the temperature and turn the pellets into gas.
 One of the holes in the ceiling where the Zyklon B was dropped into the gas chamber
 Furnace in the crematorium at Auschwitz
 Furnaces at Auschwitz I used to burn the bodies after they were gassed
 The railroad entry into Auschwitz II-Birkenau

After the solution to the Jewish problem was determined (extermination at death camps), it was evident that Auschwitz I did not have the capacity to handle the volume required to exterminate millions of Jew.  Auschwitz II-Birkenau was built to accommodate the increase in people.  Auschwitz II is 25 times the size of Auschwitz I.  It is huge.  This really was murder on a grand scale.  Auschwitz II could handle up to 40-50,000 executions in a single day.

 Most of the barracks at Auschwitz II-Birkenau were made of wood and have not survived the years since the war.  The chimneys of the buildings are still standing.
Rail lines on the inside of Auschwitz Birkenau
The camp was so large that it required sectioning off different parts of the camp.
 Constant starvation was a problem for the prisoners.  This was by design.  Hungry and weak prisoners were not as likely to rebel.  Although the prisoners would die after a period of weeks or months, they could be replaced easily with new prisoners.  Daily rations of food contained 1500-1700 KCal.  Prisoners had to work approx. 11 hours every day.  Prisoners that could not find additional sources of food generally died after a short time in the camp.
 The prisoners of Auschwitz were brought by railcar.  They were packed into the cars without heat in the winter, cooling in the summer, food or water.  Sometimes they were in the railcars for several days before arriving at Auschwitz.
 Transports with Jews deported to Auschwitz arrived at the special railway ramp at Auschwitz II-Birkenau.  At this unloading ramp, women and children were separated from men.  The SS doctors carried out a selection.  Those who were considered fit for work were directed to the camp.  This amounted to about 25% of the new arrivals.  The remainder were led to the gas chambers.  In order to avoid panic, the people condemned to death were assured that they were going to take a shower and be disinfected.  Some trains were directed straight to the gas chambers without carrying out any selections.
 The people were selected on the railway platform.  Each person was told to go to the left or to the right--to the concentration camp (to be worked/starved to death) or to the gas chambers for immediate execution.
Women and children waiting for the selection process after arrival at Auschwitz.  Almost all of the women and children were immediately executed.
 Dividing the men from the women and children.
 The selection--the men being processed.  The stronger men would be placed into the concentration camp, the older and weaker would be sent to the gas chambers.  Notice the older man at the front of the line with a cane.  No question that he would be sent to the gas chamber.
Children headed to the Gas Chamber
Nazis deported about 232,000 children and youth, including 216,000 Jewish children, 11,000 Gypsy children and 3,000 Polish children to Auschwitz.  The majority of the Jewish children perished in the gas chambers immediately upon arrival.
 Crematorium and Gas Chamber number 3
Auschwitz II had 4 Crematoriums with gas chambers
Up to 2000 victims were crammed into the gas chamber.  The chamber door was locked and Zyklon B was poured in.  After 15-20 minutes, the chamber was opened.  Corpses were stripped of gold teeth, hair, earrings, rings, etc. and then transported to a crematory.

 When the SS realized that the end of the war was near, they attempted to remove the evidence of the atrocities committed at Auschwitz.  They dismantled the gas chambers, crematoria, and other buildings, burned documents, and evacuated all of the prisoners that could walk to the interior of Germany.  The Crematoriums and Gas Chambers at Auschwitz II were blown up by the Nazis before they evacuated the camp.
 The end of the rail line--at the gas chambers


 The crematoriums could not keep up with the volume of bodies that needed to be burned.  Some of the bodies were burned in open pits.  The need to remove the ashes was a problem.  Ashes were dumped in streams, along roads, in fields--anywhere to dispose of them.

 If the capacity of the gas chambers couldn't handle the volume of the people waiting to be killed, the people were put into a special barracks where they were locked up without food or water until they could be executed.  Sometimes it took a few days before they were taken to the gas chambers.
 Inside of one of the brick buildings used to hold the prisoners.
 The prisoners slept 6 to a bed.  They often had to sleep on their sides and could not roll over unless all of them turned at the same time.
 The lucky prisoners got the upper bunks.  The lower bunks were often wet causing sickness.
 The bathroom--prisoners were allowed to go to the bathroom only twice a day.  They were given 10 seconds to take care of their business before heading back to their barracks.  If a prisoner had an accident, he/she would be severely beaten.
The washroom
 On this site stood a wooden barrack where in 1944, more than 200 Jewish children between the ages of 2 and 16 were kept as prisoners.  These children, the majority of them twins, were used for criminal medical experiments by the SS doctor Josef Mengele.

Some of Josef Mengele's children that were used for medical experiments.

4 comments:

Keri said...

So horrific. I feel very solemn even looking at these pictures.

Vanessa said...

Have you ever read the book "Night"...by Elie Weisel? If not you should read it. Wow! It was amazing. This book changed my perspective on life so much. These pictures brought this book to life for me...thank you for sharing.

Dixie said...

Thank you for sharing these. My sister in law lost some of her family here. It's beyond comprehension.

Camille said...

I feel so sick! Thanks for posting this though. I've seen Schindler's List, and I've read a few other books, but this really puts things into perspective...thanks for writing so much detail to all the pics too.
Maybe I should have read it all at night instead of the beginning of my day.....