Friday, September 4, 2015

Auschwitz and Birkenau

I was looking forward to visiting these two camps in Poland and I'm glad I went. Both have been established as memorials to the millions of Jews and others who were killed by the Nazis in World War II. Walking through the narrow corridors of Auschwitz and seeing the grim reminders of the dead were memorable.

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


Medical devices

Household goods


One of my distant relatives?

Shoes of adults

Personal sundries

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.

Birkenau layout

Memorial plaque

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.


Barb said...

I also refuse to take pictures of the crematoriums or the ovens either at auschwitz and Dachau. In fact, I refused to go in those rooms, so I appreciate your husbands response. I agree there have been many other mass killings, however none so concentrated, well planned, and state run-part of the status quo if you will. Which is why to my mind this differs from Vietnam or even Bosnia.

DJan said...

My heart is heavy from reading this. Many years ago when I was a young mother, I became obsessed with the Holocaust and read anything I could find about it. I had forgotten I did that until I read this post and saw Art's pictures. I also saw Schlinder's List once and could hardly stop crying for days. I am not interested in visiting those places, but I am glad you did and reported on it. Thank you.

janet C said...

I shook for hours after I saw where the pile of ashes was at Birkenau. I still weep thinking of it. That is where my relatives, whom I never met, were murdered.

Sasha + Saku said...

Very touching and hard to imagine. Thanks for sharing.

Linda Reeder said...

It's good to have these places preserved and memorialized. People forget, disbelieve and deny. Evidence is proof.

Olga said...

That made my stomach drop--such horror. But it is good to preserve--lest we forget.

Deb Shucka said...

What an amazing trip you're having. I can hardly wait to hear and see more in a few weeks! Safe travels home.

Cynthia, Amsterdamned. said...

Linda I have been enjoying the heck out of your Europe blogs. I read them all. The pictures and your wonderful clear descriptions add such verve to the personal narrative. You really have a master recipe for the subjective + the objective in these accounts.
that may have made no sense. I am doing homework at present and my thoughts are shortened to note-taking, lol. See why I NEED your delicious mind-candy blogs?

Happy stomping my friend :-)

Sally Wessely said...

Devastating. I'm not sure I could handle going there.

Dave Brown said...

It was for me a very powerful visit when we went. We were not allowed to photograph inside buildings then. We had a group of jewish young people wearing Star of David flags who sang chants as they went into the gas chambers/ crematorium. Spine tingling stuff.