We heard about the overloaded trains arriving at Birkenau. The healthy men were selected to live a little longer than the women, children and old men who walked immediately to the gas chambers they were led to believe were showers after their long and crowded journey from all over Europe. We stood in the very spot at Birkenau where the selection process took place. We walked through the gas chamber and the crematorium.
My husband Art took these photos at Auschwitz. Those Jews killed thought they were simply being relocated when they got on the trains. They brought their most essential items from home. When the camp was liberated at the end of the war, the soldiers found the items.
Shoes of children
One of my distant relatives?
Shoes of adults
The "black wall". Prisoners considered enemies faced this wall and were shot in the head. The smaller wall was erected so the brick wall behind it would not be damaged by bullet holes. The shooting was done by SS officers and the bodies were removed by Jewish prisoners.
Auschwitz had been a military barracks prior to being a camp for prisoners. Birkenau, however, was built specifically as a death camp as the number of prisoners exceeded the capacity of Auschwitz.
The long walk to the crematorium, alongside prisoners' housing
Remnants of housing
Sleeping structures for female prisoners -four to a pallet
I have some thoughts.
- The number of people killed - Jews and otherwise - was enormous. But human beings have done terrible things to each other throughout history; the massacres during the Holocaust are not unique. I especially remember My Lai, in Vietnam. Art and I visited there in 2005. The number of people massacred by American soldiers is much smaller, but the memorial there is powerful and unforgettable. Here are three photos of that place.
- The memorials at both Auschwitz and Birkenau are clean. Was that the case when they were full of death?
- Visitors to the camps yesterday toured in groups of about 30. Everyone wore a headset to listen to their guide. So the memorials were quiet places except for the voices of the guides. Were they quiet when they were full of prisoners and the dying?
- Art took many photos, but none of the gas chamber and crematorium ovens. I wanted to ask why but I didn't.
- The prisoners arrived at Auschwitz and Birkenau by railroad car. People undoubtedly knew what was going on. How many said anything? If I know of a wrong that's happening and I don't say anything - out of fear or disinterest - am I participating in some way?
- As we were walking to the bus, we were surrounded by teenagers wearing white shirts. They were visiting from Israel. One of our travel companions, Tom, commented that they are an "f*** you" to the Nazis - two generations later, the Jews survive.