“ City: Auschwitz / Country: Poland / World Region: Europe „
I've actually been to Auschwitz twice as I went to Krakow with two different sets of friends. The first time we got the public bus there and the second time we joined a coach trip. The coach was easier and wasn't particularly expensive. They show you a video on the way.
You can learn about the Holocaust at school or on TV but nothing really makes it seem real like a trip to Auschwitz does. I really do think it's a place that everyone especially politicians and people in power should visit to learn about the effects of hate and discrimination.
Of course it's not an 'enjoyable' trip as such but it's incredibly moving and thought provoking. When you visit the camps it really does make it seem real. For me the things that really upset me was the piles of human hair that are on display and the piles of shoes - It makes you realise just how many people were killed in concentration camps and brings home the horrendous way people were treated.
As I've already said, I think it's important that people do visit to remember the dead but also to hopefully make people think in the hope that nothing like that ever happens again.
Recently we spent a few days in the city of Krakow, Poland and knowing we were going we booked a trip to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau (Auschwitz II). We have visited a number of places similar to this in Cambodia and Rwanda and it is not through any morbid curiosity but rather as a mark of respect to those who died there. I think it is all too easy to say I couldn't go, it would be too upsetting but those who died had no choice and so I feel it is the least I can do to visit and learn about their plight so that hopefully by talking and writing about these things they may not happen again.
The visit from Krakow is organised as a day trip and we were collected in a mini bus from our hotel. As a bonus we had a mini trip around the city seeing the places we had walked to the previous day and some that we were planning on visiting the day after as we drove around collected others from their hotels.
If you are staying in the area for any length of time then you can get to the site by public transport, I believe the bus or train are both very cheap, less than £5 and as there is no charge for admission to the site. We didn't have many days and wanted to cram in as much as possible so we booked the tour collecting us from the hotel and returning us after the trip. The journey is about an hour and a half each way but on the way there my attention was taken by the film. On the return our journey was broken by a visit to the Salt mine ( I said we were short on time). Our trip was about 52Euros each which included the guide at the three sites and entrance fees at the Salt mine and a packed lunch. We were collected at about 9am and returned to the hotel by 8pm so it was a very long day.
On the way there we were shown a documentary film about Auschwitz and Birkenau which was interesting and certainly filled the time. It did kind of prepare you for the visit in that you had an idea what to look out for. It was not a general educational film about the holocaust but specifically about the site and some of the horrors that happened there. I was quite happy to have the film as it did make the journey go quicker and also sort of emotionally put you in the right frame of mind for the visit, if that is possible. Nothing of course can really prepare you for the horror that is the real thing though.
No amount of TV documentary watching or literature read can really prepare you for the horror of the reality. This is why places like this need to be preserved in all their awfulness so that we can be reminded of what depths human beings can fall if allowed. We owe it to the 1.2 million victims of Auschwitz, and the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, to learn from their experience and work towards maintaining a future without intolerance and injustice. We seem to very slow in learning this lesson as it has happened time and time again since, in Armenia, in Serbia, in Cambodia ,in Rwanda, in the Sudan and I just keep asking why? How can people be so vile and cruel to another human being?
As we arrived we were ushered into a huge bleak brick building and shown where to find the toilets. Essential after driving an hour and a half and knowing we were going out into the freezing cold (-6°C on the day we visited) . They were tiled and bleak and cold and noisy, I am not sure how many but they were clean and you had to pay about 20p to a lady as you went in.
Returning from the toilets while waiting for the rest of our little group I noticed there was a small book shop, a very small snack shop with no seating at all and a vending machine. There is only a very basic cafe but no restaurant on site so you have to bring your own picnic to eat somewhere off site after the visit as it does take a good two and a half hours just to walk around Auschwitz with a guide.
We were introduced to our guide, she shared my name and was very knowledgeable and spoke perfect English. She was not only knowledgeable but also spoke with emotion and sensitivity about the horrors. She allowed us time to take things in in silence at times and moved us on when necessary with quite assertiveness.
We entered Auschwitz I through the original camp gate on which is written the infamous and incredibly cynical message 'Arbeit macht frei' (work brings freedom). From there, we walked down this 'street to the crossroads and as we walked along I noticed that there were several notice boards which gave you information and I was able to read a few as we walked along. As it was snow covered and very cold I was keeping half an eye on where my feet were going as I didn't want to slip over. As I thought about that I then thought 'My God aren't I lucky in that I am wearing big lined boots with thermal socks, a coat and many layers, a scarf and a hat and here i am worrying about slipping over. The people in the camp had no shoes or ill fitting ones if they were lucky, their camp 'pyjamas and it got colder than this.' It really didn't bear thinking about.
Auschwitz 1 is a converted Polish Army barracks so the buildings were large well built and set out like an army camp. It was surrounded by a double layered tall fence and there were lookout towers at strategic points. It was a pretty bleak site, and the buildings have been specifically left structurally much as they were. They have obviously been cleaned up and now the different buildings house different exhibits relating to Auschwitz as concentration and death camp in WWII.
In 1940 Auschwitz was established as a concentration and it was only later as the Nazi machine became more hideously intent upon destroying entire groups of people that it became specifically extended to become a death camp. The first people to be incarcerated here were Polish often intellectuals and politically influential people other political prisoners, homosexuals, gypsies, Russians POWs and of course Jews, in fact anyone the Nazis decided they didn't like really.
This was a work camp, remember 'Work makes you free' and so daily work groups were sent out daily to do the bidding of whichever guard was chosen. The work parties marched past the band playing in lines of five so that they could easily be counted by those in charge. Parade counts took place twice daily and te inmates had to stand there until everyone was accounted for. So if someone had attempted an escape the entire camp had to stand outside in whatever weather until they were found. The longest time recorded was over 40 hours that everyone had to stand waiting. Can you imagine in minus 20 °C standing for that long wearing next to nothing?
I am not going to take you building by building through the site but I will pick out some of the more poignant places for me. This is a museum with exhibits and the fact that these exhibits are in the place where the atrocities occurred makes them all the more shocking. Auschwitz is the start of the Nazi machine of horror and as such very accurate records were kept. It was a place of the utmost cruelty , awful experiments that we wouldn't allow to be done on animals were carried out on twins ( seeing if they were identical inside as well as outside), women ( experiments in reproductive investigation) and just torture for the sake of it, because they could it seemed to me. Records were kept of these and the tortures as well as the names of people coming in and when they died.
In one of the buildings there were photos of the many men and women who came into the camp, many were Polish farmers and people from the local area. In the photos it was hard to tell which were men and which were women as their hair was shaved and they all wore identical clothes. Under the photos was their name, their date of incarceration and the date they died. Sadly these two dates were rarely much more than a couple of months apart. So the irony of 'Arbeit macht frei' comes through loud and clear.
Inside each building the exhibits concentrated on a different group or aspect of the camp and its history. There was a building dedicated to the Romany people, and few people realise that 20,000 Romany people died in Auschwitz, out of a total of 23,000 deported there. Another block told the story of the Polish prisoners, another to the Jews and another to the medical experiments and torture techniques.
Other buildings had exhibits of personal possessions collected from the victims. Now considering this was not initially a death camp this is really shocking and even the most cold hearted emotionless person could not fail to be moved by some of these. One huge case was filled with human hair cut from inmates as they arrived at the camp. It was apparently sold to make into fabric which was done in local factories. The hair in this case was only what was the when the war ended so was actually only a very small percentage of that collected and the contents of that case alone would fill an average room. The sheer volume was too difficult to take in.
Another case was full of prosthetic limbs. Sadly of course anyone that was not fit and strong was first to go. This case was filled and again would have filled a couple of rooms in our house. As people were told they were going to other places to LIVE they brought with them not only all their valuables but also things they would need to start again such as pots and shaving brushes, hair brushes, combs, cooking utensils, shoes, baby clothes. All these had their own display cases. I just looked at one pair of shoes and thought about that being a human being with hopes, fears and how they must have felt them multiplied it by the thousands in the case it made you feel very humble and small. This was a building that we walked through with the guide but she left us to just take it in ourselves and I have to say the display unit with baby clothes brought tears to my eyes. How could anyone kill a baby or young child? Well how could they kill totally innocent unarmed people who had never done anything to them? It defies any human understanding.
I also thought that the exhibit with the cases and bags was very emotive as they were labelled so carefully with their owners' names as they were expecting to be using the contents in their next place
The Nazis were very good at inventing torture techniques and the building where these were carried out has been left much as it was so that people can see just how incredibly cruel these techniques were. One method was There was the standing torture. There were four 'standing cells' that measured less than a square metre each. Four prisoners were made to go into each one of these cells by crawling inside it. They had knocked down one wall so that we could see what it was like inside but in reality it was a walled in dark cell with just enough room for four people to stand as it was too cramped to sit, they spent the night and day in there. They often died from exhaustion or suffocation so they could have been standing next to a dead body for hours.
Outside this building in a walled in area was the 'Executions Wall' where the SS soldiers shot the prisoners and this was somewhere where everyone just falls silent with a combination of sheer shock and also as a sign of respect for the people who had been killed there.
The Nazis found that work and torture alone was not ridding them of their 'vermin' fast enough so the first experiments on gassing began here and one display shows piles of opened cans of Xyklon B, the cyanide-based chemical used for mass extermination when it came. In the building with the torture cells was where the first trials were carried out. The gas chambers in Auschwitz were then built along with the furnaces to burn the bodies. Having found that this was a successful method of killing great numbers of people at one time they then expended the camp and built Birkenau.
We spent probably about two and a half hours here before we headed back and we had only visited about half a dozen of the buildings, maybe more but it is all not heated and so you need to be prepared to walk quite a way and be in outside conditions for that length of time. We re-visited the toilets then got back on the mini bus, we were handed our picnic lunch and were driven over the Birkenau or AuschwitzII.
BIRKENAU OR AUSCHWTZ II
With Auschwitz the Nazis were fine tuning their techniques but in Birkenau they had got this down to almost factory assembly line efficiency. This camp is HUGE and in the snow it really did look bleak. The skies were dark and heavy with snow, the snow lay thick on the ground and it was really cold.
Having only eaten a few bites of our lunch we were told our guide was waiting so off we went. The lookout tower and 'station' is recognisable from so many films. It stands as it was maintained but unchanged in anyway externally. In this building was a small shop but time constraints limited our going in there. I did use the toilets which were in the building to the right as you went through the arch and again you had to pay about 20p to use them. They were clean and well maintained but cold and there were not many so could be interesting if there were crowds of people!
As you walk through the archway that leads to the long railway 'platform' all you can see is a really long 'road' or wide area covered in snow in our case. About half way down on the right hand side is one cattle truck, the sort used to bring people here from as far away as Greece I was amazed to hear but certainly from around the countries the Nazis had invaded, Poland, Holland, France, Russia and many more. On either side of this wide space are many low built brick and wood huts that just went on and on as far as the eye could see on either side for about a mile in front of us. The scale of the place was so much bigger than I ever thought. The camp originally and had around 300 barracks but many were destroyed and few remain today so in my view it looked huge today imagine what it was like when at its busiest. Maybe it just looked bigger in the snow as everything except the huts was white.
The platform was just as you remember it from films like 'Sophie's Choice' and ' Schindler's List'. You could almost hear the crying people and see the dazed confused faces of the people as they fell out of the cattle trucks that they had been squashed into for days on end.
This was where the fit were separated from those who were going straight to the gas chambers. In some ways I feel these were the lucky ones as at least they died relatively quickly. Those chosen to work had to live in squalid freezing or baking hot, depending on the time of year, huts with wooden slatted beds sleeping four or more to a bunk, three bunks high. There was no heating, no blankets, no change of clothes, very little food, no toilets ( this was a separate hut) and they had to work at heavy labouring tasks and not many survived more than a few weeks at most. Diseases like dysentery and cholera were rife in the summer and they froze to death in the winters.
We walked the length of the platform stopping half way and on notice boards there were black and white photos of Birkenau from that position at the time when people were arriving. The buildings were unchanged and you could clearly see where the photo was taken from.
We walked to the end to the Memorial which is on the site of one of the many gas chambers destroyed by the Nazis as the Red Army approached in 1945. This site has plaques in so many different languages. The rubble remains form the basis of the memorial which is plain and simple in dark grey stone. There are no lists of names or even how many victims there were killed here. By this time records were not being kept as the numbers of people passing through were so huge. It is quite haunting standing reading the plaque we brushed off the snow as our guide told us which the one in English was. Behind and not so far away was a wooded area but between that and where we stood was a barbed wire fence which was also electric and lookout towers so the chance of escape was not great.
Some of the oldest buildings here were there before the Nazis took over the camp and they were originally Polish cavalry stables. Each building had stabling for forty two horses but with the Nazi redesign each became 'housing for five hundred prisoners. They really were treated worse than animals.
Original 'toilets' were left as evidence of the humiliation inflicted upon inmates. This was a long concrete seat with holes in it. Interestingly our guide told us that the job of cleaning out the waste from the toilets was quite a desirable job as then they smelled so bad that the Nazis refused to go near them so your chances of survival was better.
My husband asked why more didn't resist. Part of it was that they were totally exhausted from their journey. Also they were told they were going in to 'showers' so many of them honestly believed that. I would hope that most of them believed that as then their suffering would have at least been short. Apparently there were attempts at fighting back and a few Nazi soldiers/guards were killed but of course they the shot so many more in return. They were pretty powerless in reality and I like to think that the majority of those who went into the gas chambers were unaware of what was going to happen until the last minute.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THOSE RESONSIBLE FOR THIS MASS MURDER?
Well Hitler we know took his own life and Goebbels loyal to the end stayed with him and then killed himself and his wife to evade capture.
Rudolf Hoess who was the Commandant at Auschwitz was caught and hung in the grounds of Auschwitz. The gallows are there almost in the garden of the house he lived a happy family life just outside the camp where he was in charge of torturing and killing thousands of innocent people.
Mengele, the SS doctor o f Auschwitz or 'Angel of Death' who carried out some of the vilest acts imaginable such as taking one twin's eyeballs out and attempting to put them in the back of the other twin managed to survive and evade capture somewhere in South America for the rest of his life despite being hunted all these years.
What is staggering is that many of these people believed that they were only carrying out orders. Now for those at the bottom of the ranks maybe but for those in positions of power than I can't see how they can claim they were 'only doing what they was ordered.'
Heinrich Himmler, the architect of the holocaust was captured and killed himself with a cyanide capsule.
Eichmann another architect of the holocaust learned Hebrew to get into the minds of the Jews. He fled after the war to South America but was caught and extradited to Israel where he was executed in 1962.
Odilo Globocnik was responsible for the death of thousands in the Warsaw ghetto. He killed himself after his capture with a cyanide capsule.
Frans Stangl commandant of Sobidor and Treblinka death camps personifies the evil of these people when at his trial he coldly discussed how long it took to clear a train load of 'cargo'. ".....in my estimation a transport of thirty freight cars with three thousand people was liquidated in three hours. When the work lasted for about fourteen hours, twelve thousand to fifteen thousand people were annihilated." He is responsible for the deaths of nine hundred thousand people and was tried and imprisoned dying of heart failure in 1971. He said," My conscience is clear. I was simply doing my duty."
Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Paul Blobel, Josef Kramer were all tried and executed for their part in the holocaust. Goering was tried but committed suicide with cyanide prior to his execution. Ilse Kock known as 'The Bitch of Buchenwald' because of her cruelty was tried and hung herself in her cell.
Many of these evil people have evaded capture over the years although few have been found late in life and tried for their war crimes.
I would never suggest a visit to a place like Auschwitz-Birkenau is a great day out. It is part of your education; it is a way of paying your respects to those who died in these camps. It is a way of hopefully making more people aware of what can happen if cruel humans manage to get into positions of power. It is a reminder of how thin the layer of basic human decency can be and the horrifying result if this is allowed to become exposed. Sadly we don't seem to have learned from these horrors as I have said genocide has taken place since this time more than once in different countries and Western powers have stood by and let it happen.
Please let us learn from these places. I have visited far too many and I am always horrified at the fact that one person can be so openly cruel to another who has caused him no ill at all. I can see maybe killing someone who was attacking your child/husband/wife/friend but just to kill in a horribly cruel way for no reason at all except that they are different is totally incomprehensible to me.
I do think that everyone who can should visit one of these places just to really grasp how hideous it must have been, Not that walking around the place can ever really do that but still I feel it is the least I can do.
The site is very well done and the five stars are for the way the place is set up and remembered rather than what happened there in the holocaust.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
I don't think that this is going to be an easy topic to write about, especially for a 21 year old.. however I feel as I have recently visited Auschwitz I must urge others to do the same.
I honestly did not expect Auschwitz to shock me as much as it did. I thought that I had prepared myself and I also thought that I knew what to expect. I was wrong.
Auschwitz is an hour or so away from Krakow on a bus journey, arriving there it looked very military and 'grey'. We entered the Auschwitz site and the first thing to hit me was the sheer size of the site. I expected it to be big.. knowing how many thousands and thousands of people were there.
The whole camp is signed very well, with information posts on every corner and outside every site. The signs are very informative, giving lots of detail on that particular area and sharing lots of history. You are able to actually enter the huge brick buildings and see how the beds, rooms and offices were set out. One of the rooms still sticks in my head today, the tiny room with beds crammed in. Some of the other buildings have the prisoners things in.. suitcases, shoes. Even a room full of artificial legs. I remember taking a step back looking at the huge pile of legs, and thinking to myself.. that was just the people who had artificial legs..? A tiny tiny percentage of people who were captured there..
You are able to enter some of the gas chambers too, which to be honest, is not a very nice experience. The rooms are very dark and cold, and all you can do is think about what went on in there.
It is free to visit Auschwitz and I would recommened anyone and everyone to visit. It is a massive part of world history and to be able to visit the site is a real honour. We must never forget such an incident and I feel the more people who visit the site - the likelyhood of the memories living on.
Having already done some regular reviews on Dooyoo, I thought I'd offer you my experiences of one of the most harrowing visits I have ever made. For some, it will not make easy reading, but my intention is to urge each and every one of you who reads this to go and see Auschwitz for yourselves. Only then will you really grasp the historical importance of the camp, and understand why remembrance of it is so important even in today's world. If you do decide to visit, I suggest you dedicate an entire trip to this alone, as I had the chance to do, as it gives you the time necessary to truly reflect on the experience.
In November 2008, as part of The Lessons from Auschwitz project, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. The sheer scale and meticulous planning of the camp were the first things to strike me. The sheds created to store animals would be where hundreds of prisoners would sleep. The watchtower by the Birkenau entrance overlooked the rail-line which served as the most cost-effective manner of the transportation of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust directly to their execution, demonstrating the industrial manner of the Holocaust. Yet the railway also signifies that blame for the Holocaust cannot be placed solely upon those who actively participated in the murder of those at the camp. The perpetrators include not only the Nazis who arranged the murders, but those who chose to overlook it and not act. The countries who knew what was occurring but took no action to stop it.
In the countless items of literature which document the Holocaust, the statistical loss is often overemphasised, at the expense of the humanitarian aspect. Visiting the camp restores such an aspect. The countless items of equipment now preserved behind glass viewing cabinets act as inanimate witnesses of the terror which was the Holocaust; the human hair of 45,000 women, cut to dehumanise the prisoners and strip them of their individuality, and then the personal objects: of which one object is pronounced - a set of house keys. The innocence of a Holocaust victim chillingly personified. 1.2 million people perished at the camp, yet such a statistic overshadows the fact that each and every one was an individual, a life needlessly lost.
The showcases of pre-war photos, and the struggle of the prisoners during the war, offered even more of an insight into the individuality of the prisoners. The museum showed the happy lives of Polish Jews before the war, enjoying excursions as we would, or simply having a family portrait, helping put the lives of those killed in the Holocaust into context. Then there are the registration photos, the same faces but reflecting a stark difference to those happy moments: the sadness yet defiance in the face of intolerance, violence and inhumanity. Each and every one pleading that such an atrocity never happens again.
How are we to learn the lessons from Auschwitz? As our own act of respect to those who perished, we placed candles upon the railway for those 1.2 million victims of the camp. At the subsequent memorial service, Rabbi Barry Marcus, from Central Synagogue, London, pleaded that humanity should promote tolerance and recognise the contributions of all races, that we should welcome those who join our communities and not stigmatise them and we should endeavour to challenge acts of prejudice and discrimination in our communities, and society at large.
It is true that "hearing is not like seeing" and this is why the preservation of the camp for future generations is of paramount importance, as a means of preventing such a tragedy from reoccurring. From this experience, I gained a profound insight into how radical ideologies cannot and must not be tolerated. We owe it to the 1.2 million victims of Auschwitz, and the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, to secure a future without intolerance and injustice; only then will humanity have truly learned the lessons from Auschwitz.
On our recent visit to Krakow we decided to visit Auschwitz,you can't really call it an attraction but it is somewhere we were interested in visiting, we had no direct connection with Auschwitz and I haven't studied history since I was 13 but it is somewhere you read so much about and see on films that I felt I wanted to go and see for myself.
Firstly, I have found this review quite difficult to write as it is a very difficult place to review, I hope I have come across respectfully about Auschwitz and people who read it understand that I do not see it as a tourist attraction as such, more somewhere that is an informative and must visit place to understand the awful things that happened there during the war.
We caught a public bus from Krakow bus station, it worked out about £10 return for 2 people which was excellent value for money. I was a little wary that I wouldn't be able to find the right bus but the board a the bus station is fairly self explanatory. You just need to look for Oswiecim, this is the name of the town - you won't see Auschwitz on the boards! The journey took about an hour and a half and dropped us off outside the gates. There were some local people on the bus but it was mostly tourists doing the same journey as us.
Once at Auschwitz you have the option of going on a guided tour which was 33Zlotys or buying a self guided tour book for 4Zlotys. We decided to do the tour ourselves, I had read about the guided tours being herded round and some of the large groups, we felt we would get more out of it going round ourselves and the book was the equivalent of about 80p!
We were pleased we chose this option as the information and the map in the booklet are really useful and tie in with the boards around the sit and give you all the information you need. Some of the groups going round were quite large and couldn't even fit in the room the guide was talking about! We felt we were able to go at our own pace and don't feel we missed out by not going with a guide.
The main Auschwitz site mostly remains in tact and you go into many of the buildings to see exhibits of how people used to live, and what they went through. There are suitcases, glasses, dolls etc that had been taken from people when they arrived, There is also a gas chamber that you can go in, to be honest if you weren't told it was a gas chamber you probably wouldn't realise as it is now quite derelict inside, but with the help of the guidebook to begin to realise just what these people went through. Some of these exhibits can be quite harrowing, I can imagine also very upsetting if you had relatives that were there. Like I said before I had no direct connection with Auschwitz and although I found it very sombre and certainly thought provoking I didn't find it particularly upset me, I think it depends what sort of person you are.
I think how they have preserved Auschwitz is really good, they have not turned it into a 'tourist attraction' as such by having gift shops etc. There are a couple of book shops and a snack bar/café - they do have to cater for the amount of people that are there! It has been preserved as a memorial and as an informative site, it has been done very respectfully and more or less everyone walking round did so with respect. Despite the amount of people walking round it was silent which added to the atmosphere (if that's the right word!). You can take photos but not inside any of the buildings, we took a few just to show people what it was like, not your usual smiling happy holiday snaps - that wouldn't be right. We did take photos in front of the famous gate/sign but did it with respect. We did see some school/college groups going round taking big group pictures in front of the gas chambers - I think this is a bit close to the line. I don't think it was the sort of place for group holiday snaps!
They do say that it is not suitable for children under 14 and I can see why. Even though young children wouldn't understand what they were seeing I don't' think it is right for children to be there as there could be relatives of people who were there, and children running around bored or playing up because they don't understand wouldn't be respectful, there is absolutely nothing for children there and I see no reason why you would want to take a child.
Following our visit to Auschwitz we took the free bus to Birkenau - once an hour in the winter. It is only about 5mins away and is definitely worth the trip. This site is huge! You have to see it to believe it, a lot of the buildings were destroyed but a few remain as well as the chimneys from the buildings. The guide book can also be used for a tour round here. This was the main death camp and you just can't imagine what went on. The main focal point is the train tracks down the middle where people arrived with the promise of a better life, the towers for the guards are still there and you just can't imagine what they went through.
We were at Auschwitz for about 2 and a half hours walking round, and at Birkenau for just over an hour - we could have spent longer in Birkenau but had to get back for the bus. We didn't think we would be there that long but it is not a place that can be rushed and there is so much to take in.
Overall, I would definitely recommend a visit to Auschwitz and am pleased that they keep it open. I think it is somewhere that people need to know about and the way it has been done is very informative yet respectful. I would definitely recommend taking the bus yourself rather than a trip form Krakow, you can then go round at your own pace and it is a lot cheaper!
This place is simply breathtaking in terms of the sadness, the loss and the everlasting Message of "We Will Not Forget".
I went on an Organised Tour from Krakow. It took about an hour and a half to get to Auschwitz where we could get out and stretch for a few minutes before beginning the Tour itself.
To set the scene, I had always been fascinated by 2nd World War History and in particular the Holocaust. I went there in February 2007, so it was cold.
Seeing the sign when you first walked in made me take a deep breath and prepare myself for what was to come and what I would see and feel.
There are other reviews that describe this Place in details - I cannot. But what I CAN do is tell you and ask you to treat it with respect. I found it abhorrant that people were taking photographs as if they were at a nice beach, waving and smiling in front of the camera.
I felt a huge amount of respect on entering what had been the Gas Chambers - You are asked not to take Photo's here as a mark of respect and you will find that the level of conversation is slim to zero at that point.
Auschwitz Two/Birkenau - There is less to see there, however I found it somehow more moving. The Train Tracks that go right inside the Camp so the Prisoners never had a chance. The Huts that made up their "living quarters", desolate and empty but somehow gave me more of an
impression of what living through that was like.
I'm not sure if I will ever go again, but it is so worth going if you have never been - Go to see, go to remember and go to never forget!!
Firstly before you read this this is to be a visitors / travel review rather than a historical essay just to set my stall out.
Oswiecim is a mid sized town around 50 kilometres to the West of Krakow, which was my base for my trip. I got the first train out of Krakow at 6.20 in the morning armed with a bottle of water and a slab of black bread for breakfast. The train ticket cost 11zl (zloty) and the hour or so of the trip took me away from the tourist city of Krakow and gave me a glimpse of rural South Poland.
The railway station in Oswiecim is around 2 kilometres from the camps and about 1 kilometre from the centre of town. Again for me I enjoy walking and walking in the bright blue early morning sun somewhere new was so nice. Having left so early I was just about the only person about and being in a place with such a disturbed modern history this gave me plenty of time to think.
The walk from the station down Wiezniow Oswiecimia leads you to the visitors centre for the smaller of the two camps and most complete, Auschwitz. Access to the site opens from 8am and as the site is a cemetery and not a museum is free.
Whatever you feelings about the war, religion or humanity it is impossible not to feel something as you enter the site. I love photography and did take plenty of photos at the site but please if you do visit please be discrete. This is not Disneyland it is the site of mass Genocide and the largest cemetery in the world.
Quick bit of history then. The camp was established by the Germans in 1940 and was initially only intended to house Polish political prisoners. The larger site of Birkenau or Auschwitz II was established in 1941 and its sole purpose and usage was as a concentration camp. It is estimated that around 1.8 million people of 27 nationalities died at the camp. 1.1 million Jews but also 150,000 Poles. After the fall of the Nazi army the Germans tried to destroy the camps and much of Birkenau was destroyed. Auschwitz remained largely intact with around half of the 30 blocks standing as they were.
From the visitors centre the first thing that hits you is the miles of barded wire and the fence that runs along the camp. You enter under the infamous gate with the words "Arbeit Macht Frei (work Brings Freedom). This is an image I have seen hundreds of times in prep for my tour of Poland and from reading about Polish history but to actually see the gate and the camp is so sad.
Being just about first there the camp was empty. To be walking around the blocks where such horrors took place alone was eerie but somehow to me more special that it felt like a solemn sad place and not a tourist site (hypocritical I know). To have absolute silence to think was a blessing.
The camp has plaques and information signs in Polish, English and German which give excellent detail and information. As you walk past the outdoor gallows, a rusty metal girder crudely suspended you see pictures of some of the victims. The gallows were kept only for those who disobeyed or tried to escape. The bodies often left to decay as a warming to anyone else that felt escape was better.
By the gallows you see a guard watch hut. In here the German troops could stand watching the prisoners of the camp on wet, snowy cold parade days. They were often made to stand for hours in any weather whilst the roll call was done.
The worst acts on the smaller site took place in blocks 10 and 11. The cells include the standing cells no bigger than a broom cupboard in which up to 10 people were locked together made to stand. Most horrific to me the starvation cell, just a bare cell with no washing or toilet facilities where people were just left to starve. What kind of people could do this to other human beings?
In between cells 10 and 11 is the execution wall where as a rule political prisons were shot often having spent time in the starvation cells or standing cells. The wall itself still has signs of the bullets and the scars.
Most of the blocks have museums but what got me most were the simple blocks that just contained black and white photos of people that were held in the camp. At first look they all look the same with shaven hair and the same blue and white uniform but if you look closer they are all different, all people....Men, women and children all of them photographed. More that this some of the photos had flowers woven into them. What must it be like to visit the site knowing a relative / friend was executed there?
Auschwitz also contains pretty much intact the original gas chamber that was so efficiently rolled out across at Birkeneua. Behind this gas chamber are small gallows where in 1947 Rudolf Hess was hung.
Leaving the site I chose to walk to Birkenau. This is a walk of maybe 2 kilometres and there is a bus service between the two sites. For me the walk gave me time to think and reflect.
As you approach Birkenau the first thing you see if the railway line. For me I was able to see one of the starting points of this line in Warsaw "the going away place" so was nice for me to see both ends of this line.
The railway line runs directly into the camp under the watchtower and the gate "death gate". Anyone who has seen Schindlers list will be familiar with the gate. The line runs directly through the camp splitting it in two. At the lines end are the partially destroyed gas chambers and crems. Jews and Roma's from all over Europe were "processed" within 1 hours of getting of the train thousands were dead.
I would recommend that everyone visits this site to remember one of the worst acts of brutality on man kind. It is important that people visit the site and as one of the plaques notes.
"The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again" George Santayana.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is a grim destination and afterwards you will want some time to contemplate what you have seen. The exhibits are designed to provoke a strong emotional response to one of the blackest crimes in European history. In my opinion the museum is not appropriate for children under the age of fourteen.
Auschwitz has become a symbol of the Holocaust and Nazi war crimes as a whole. Contrary to popular opinion, it was not the deadliest of the Nazi death camps. Its fame is in part due to the inmates, including writers like Tadeuz Borowski (1922 - 51) and Elie Weisel (b. 1928), who survived to tell their grisly tale. However, Auschwitz - Birkenau combined all the different functions of the Nazi camps: prisoner-of-war camp, concentration camp, work camp and death camp.
Although the exact numbers are not known, the vast majority of the camp's victims were indubitably there simply because thy were Jews. Auschwitz, however, also held many other inmates: gypsies, communists, homosexuals, Polish intellectuals and political prisoners, as well as Soviet prisoners of war.
Soviet soldiers were the first to be killed with Zyklon B in experimental gas chambers. Later, the gas was mostly used on Jewish victims. Many who survived the gas chambers were shot, starved, worked to death, experimented on or otherwise killed by the harsh conditions in the camp. Most historians believe that 1.1 and 1.5 million prisoners were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Nazi camp operated from 1940 when the first transport of Polish political prisoners arrived. At first Poles were imprisoned and then died there but from 1942 Auschwitz became a site of mass murder committed against the European Jews as part of the Nazi plan to completely destroy them. The site was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945.
The museum includes two sections of the camps: the brick buildings at Auschwitz 1 (mostly for political prisoners and prisoners of war) and the immense concentration and death camp at Auschwitz 11 - Birkenau (mostly for Jews and gypsies). To visit both camps will take several hours and is obviously a day's visit. In the Summer, a bus runs between both sites. I recommend you visit the Auschwitz museum before Birkenau as the former explains the history of the two camps. Also, watch the short documentary film first which can be viewed in a cinema near the main entrance. It gives an insight into events leading up to the culmination of the worst crime ever committed in the twentieth century.
The camp, although it has been sanitised is still is very haunting.The buildings and wooden barracks are as unchanged as possible but are deteriorating as they were built on marshy land and they are actually slowly sinking. The whole site has a very cold, dark, eerie feeling. Every time I have visited it is has always been calm but I am sure those freezing winds did blow. There is a deadly stillness with no bird life yet there are trees close by. You have to remember that this was a camp of death and the people who died here had no dignity. There was no escape for most of those people - but once seen and having paid my respects I can walk away.
Without going into to much detail you are able to view the surviving prison blocks, the gas chambers and the crematorium. As you walk through the death gate at Birkenau you will feel like you are walking into the last place in hell. The fences alone are enough to give you the creeps and what I find really strange is that today, in Warsaw, every new block of flats that is being built has these fenced areas with security guards. It's madness - after their history why on earth would they choose to live like prisoners.
As the Red Army approached in 1945, the Germans blew up the buildings which housed the gas ovens and fled. Protective and renovation work has been going on for quite a while now to restore them back to how they were so that future generations are able to witness the destruction and horrifying examples of man's behaviour.The work should be completed by the end of 2008. The Polish Government feel it is important to restore these chambers as they constitute some of the most important material evidence of the Holocaust.
You can visit the site on your own but it is vast and personally I would say a very sombre experience indeed. I recommend you join a guided group or engage a private guide; most of the exhibits are marked with explanations in several languages but a guide can answer questions and direct you to areas of special interest. Do not miss the black and white film about the liberation of the camp (showings in English, French, German and Japanese) in the reception building also. Encourage your guide to show you the Sauna (pronounced zow-na - the central baths) at Birkenau. It is the last thing on most tours and is sometimes overlooked by visitors. It is an extremely well crafted exhibit.
Some displays, such as the one in Block 13 dedicated to Roma gypsies is very interesting and really depressing. Remember that over 20,000 gypsies perished in Auschwitz, out of a total of 23,000 deported there. Whole families were wiped out. To me, this was an unparalled crime of genocide ever to be committed and should not be forgotten. This block is generally left out of tour guides but I would recommend you go back to see the display after the tour.
You can buy guide books and picture albums in the museum gift shop, as well as flowers and candles if you wish to leave a memorial. There is a canteen which serves heavy Polish food.
The museum is open all year round and admission is free. Opening Times are from 8am until 7pm. Buses can be caught from Krakow. The PKS service leaves the main bus station (corner of ul. Worcella and ul. Pawia) and will drop you off at the museum. They run every hour.
Visiting somewhere like Auschwitz isn't a fun day out. It is depressing and upsetting. If you have no connection with anyone or anything that went on there, then you might ask, 'Is there any need to visit? Yes, there is a need. I would recommend a visit because I see it as the ultimate destination on the road to prejudice. People often say when they have visited, You can't possibly imagine what it must have been like. Perhaps not but everyday living in Warsaw, I walk past the train stop where thousands of Jewish people were loaded on to carts to be taken to Auschwitz. It is now a monument to those people who suffered and every day I can see those horrific images and every day I have the same feelings - feelings of sadness for such a great loss of lives but also feelings of hope that this will never happen again.
The numbers don't tell the story.
You are given numbers all the time, but they soon cease to convey, let alone illuminate, the reality. So many people disgorged daily from the cattle trucks. So many herded straight to the gas chambers. So many crammed into the bare barracks of the camp to be worked until they dropped. So many tens of thousands of gold teeth prised from the jaws of victims, to be melted down for the coffers of the Reich. So many tons of human hair shaved from their heads, to be woven into blankets for the soldiers on the Russian front.
A million dead in this one camp alone; at least. Most estimates put the number nearer a million and a quarter, and even then it was probably not the deadliest of the death camps. Such numbers merely make the mind go numb.
Can you imagine what it was like? I can't. Oh, I can picture easily enough the scene at the camp on a busy day. Even if I hadn't been to Auschwitz, I have, like most people, read books enough and seen films enough to envisage it more than vividly.
Most people seem to find it easiest to envisage on a winter's day, with a bleak wind straight from the Urals scouring the snowy space beside the rail tracks, and bare skin freezing onto the steel struts that bind the splintery timber of the wagons. Or at night, perhaps, with the arc-lights glaring down from the watch-towers and glinting on the barrels of the guards' guns and the barbs of the electricified wire. The frosty air would reverberate to the staccato shouting of commands, the stamp of booted heels, the shuffling of the fresh arrivals' feet. Cruel weather somehow seems to fit so cruel a scene.
But would it really have any better in summer, staggering out from the sweltering stench of the wagons to blink briefly in the sudden sunshine before being torn from one's family and prodded along the short march to oblivion? I don't know.
I can picture the scene all right. It has become the stuff of cliché, almost to the point where it has lost its power to shock. But even having been there I can visualise it only as a spectator from afar, a far cry from imagining oneself among the victims and knowing their suffering, which is unimaginable.
After we had seen the camps, my wife asked me which I had found most horrible. There are two, of the original three, that remain and can be visited.
Auschwitz 1 is a converted Polish Army barracks. As we approach across the railway line and under the metal gateway through the fences that bears the legend "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work makes one free), the brick-built blocks look grim, but barely threatening. Their austere outline is softened by surrounding trees, yellow with October leaves, and a few black crows speckle the green grass.
Auschwitz 1 was established as a concentration camp in 1940 and therefore preceded the decision to embark on the Final Solution. Jews were certainly sent here, but so were gypsies, political dissidents, homosexuals, Russian prisoners of war and others the Nazis deemed to be undesirable. Random hostages, especially children, from the adjacent town of Oswiecim were kept here, to be shot if the locals were suspected of resistance or of aiding escapees.
Life was, of course, cheap in Auschwitz 1. You might be killed at any moment by an irate guard. You might die of cold, disease, exhaustion, malnourishment or maltreatment. You might be selected for medical experiment, from which you would not recover. When the first, prototype gas-chamber and crematorium were built there, you might be one of those sent to test them.
Life was cheap, but it was not unrecognised. Records were kept of inmates, and roll-calls held to check that they were there - cruel roll-calls lasting hours in the open, however bitter the weather. Death sentences were passed and documentation for them signed - cursorily signed by the hundred with scarcely a question asked by the presiding official. There were torture and punishment cells, where four prisoners might be incarcerated standing upright in a square metre of space for days on end, often dying of suffocation before release.
All these things are on display at Auschwitz 1, as are the relics of the victims - the heaps of hair, the discarded shoes, the spectacles, the cases and bags, pathetically marked with their owners' names in the false expectation that they might at some time need to be reclaimed. Here too are the piles of roughly opened cans of Xyklon B, the cyanide-based chemical used for mass extermination when it came.
Auschwitz 1 is a museum, not only an exhibit in itself but a repository of exhibits. It attempts to convey the Auschwitz experience at a human level. It has a visitor centre, which houses a permanent exhibition, as well as a cinema, café, toilets and souvenir shop. There are pictures and diagrams, copies of documents and photographs, display cases, explanatory signs.
My wife found Auschwitz 1 the more horrible, for several reasons. Because death and torment there were still in the developmental phase, not yet a stream-lined process, but something to which a cruel ingenuity was still being applied. Because its exhibits exemplified the personal reality of what went on. But to me, the exhibits were impersonal, and might as well have been unreal. To me, they didn't tell the story, or at least, not enough of it. For that I looked to Auschwitz 2.
Auschwitz 2 has few exhibits. It lies a few kilometres away at Birkenau (a Germanisation of the Polish name Bzezinka, just as Auschwitz is of Oswiecim). It is not so much a museum as a stark memorial, and a sort of shrine.
The gaunt watch-tower over the gateway where the railway enters the camp is instantly recognisable. Behind it, the tracks diverge into three parallel lines. There are no platforms, but to either side is a flat strip, beside which runs a shallow moat. Beyond them, the remnants of the camp stretch away into the distance on an even grassy plain.
Very little is still standing. The wire is in place, rusty but still strung from its ceramic insulators on the cast-concrete posts, curved inward at the top to impede attempts to climb it. Rudimentary machine gun posts on short timber stilts are dotted along the perimeter.
Within the wire, a line of huts remains on display, wooden and windowless. The nearest among them predated the camp and are its last whole relics, though they provided the model for the many others built. They were originally Polish cavalry stables, each designed for 42 horses, and used for about 500 prisoners.
A few contain sanitary facilities - concrete benches pierced by lines of round holes over a concrete lined trench. Most are dormitories, crammed with tiers of rough board bunks and little else. You can see how the prisoners might have fought for prime positions on the upper tier, where they would not be at risk of diarrhoea from those above them, and at the end closest to the brick-built stove.
The vast majority of the huts have long since rotted and the debris has been cleared away, leaving only the row upon row of brick stoves and their chimneys jutting up from the grass like mute monuments.
Of those who came to Auschwitz 2 the majority never saw the inside of the huts. As they clambered out of cattle-wagons practised eyes would appraise them as too old, too young or too infirm for work, and they would be despatched straight to the gas-chambers at the end of the track. One cannot see the chambers themselves, or the crematoria that burned the bodies that came out of them. The SS demolished them in an inept attempt to destroy the evidence as the Red Army advanced towards the camp. The rubble remains and amid the rubble is a plain but plaintive monument in dark grey stone. There are no lists of victims. Even if there were room, which there is not, their names were mostly not recorded and their numbers never counted, except approximately, for statistical purposes.
Life at Auschwitz 2 was not so much cheap as valueless. There were no torture chambers or punishment cells. There was only one punishment, and even that was not so much a punishment as the unavoidable consequence of arrival there. All who did not die first in other ways were destined for the gas chambers as soon as they became unfit for work, inevitable even for the strongest after a few months in such an environment. Arbeit macht tot. The hated kapos and sonderkommandos - collaborators used by SS for often lethal supervisory work in exchange for a few meagre privileges - were also destined for the same fate as soon as they outlived their usefulness. Tod macht tot.
Auschwitz 2 was not a concentration camp, but an extermination camp, dedicated to the efficient execution of those the Reich had selected as its enemies. Even the labour extracted from the victims was a side-issue, almost a distraction, an incidental favour granted to the politically well-connected IG Farben company. Auschwitz 2, together with the half dozen other extermination camps, was the apotheosis of the impersonal, the industrialisation of death.
For me, the numbers didn't tell the story, but for those who ran the camp, the numbers no doubt were everything. Not perhaps the brutalised guards themselves, but the officers and officials who commanded them. One imagines bureaucrats in steel-rimmed spectacles fussing over their neat columns of crabby figures, even more sinister in their own way than their thuggish underlings.
Franz Stangl, Commandant of Treblinka, another of the extermination camps, was asked during his later trial how many people could be killed in one day. His reply reveals much of the mentality of the perpetrators: "Regarding the question of the optimum amount of people gassed in one day, I can state: according to my estimation a transport of thirty freight cars with 3,000 people was liquidated in three hours. When the work lasted for about fourteen hours, 12,000 to 15,000 people were annihilated. There were many days that the work lasted from the early morning until the evening... I have done nothing to anybody that was not my duty. My conscience is clear."
Tracked down long after the war, Stangl was sentenced to life imprisonment. Rudolf Hoess, Commandant at Auschwitz, was caught earlier and hung in the grounds of Auschwitz 1. The gallows still stands there, a few yards from the house where he lived a model family life when not too busy murdering other families. I'm not sure that hanging him helped or solved anything. A deterrent? Any of us who need to be deterred from committing such crimes will not be, if the circumstances in which they can be committed should arise again.
Most of the guards at Auschwitz were never caught and never tried. Dorota, the guide who escorted our group round Auschwitz, related the paltry numbers of those brought to justice with a frown in her voice, though not on her face, which she kept expressionless throughout the visit. She did not need to scowl to communicate her disapproval of many aspects of the history of the camps: the failure of the allies to intervene, for example, perhaps by bombing the gas chambers or the railway lines that fed them.
Myself, I have no views on the feasibility of such intervention, or that of rounding up more of the culprits. I simply don't know enough about it. Like the rest of us, I listened in silence to her exposition of the circumstances. It is a noticeable feature of a visit to Auschwitz that most visitors, even those in groups, go round in silence, apart perhaps from the occasional question to their guides for clarification. Anything one could say by way of comment seems inadequate, and anything else one might discuss of utter insignificance.
Auschwitz alone doesn't tell the story, not even when the other factories of death - Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Chelmno and Majdanek - are brought into the narrative.
It would be comforting to think that the Nazi holocaust, as it has come to be known, was an aberration - unique. Uniquely inhuman. Uniquely brutal. Uniquely cruel.
It would be comforting, but it would also be untrue. Human history is littered with genocides, some more successful than the Nazi attempt to eliminate the Jews, in that the eliminated races have no survivors left to tell the tale. And there have been exterminations for reasons other than race: class, for example, religion or political belief.
Just within the past century several salient examples spring to mind. Stalin's systematic starvation of the kulaks (independent peasants) in the early 1930s accounted for more deaths than the Nazi extermination camps. Pol Pot's "killing fields" labour camps in Cambodia in 1975-79 accounted for fewer in number, but for a far higher percentage of that country's population than the proportion of the Reich's subjects liquidated by the Nazis. Not recent enough? Think of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, of Rwanda and Darfur. Inefficient by Nazi standards, but the intention was the same.
There have always been fanatical regimes with ruthless leaders at their helm, and they always find human tools to do their bidding. Not just people with a sadistic streak, but people with a credulous streak, an obedient streak, an ambitious streak, an amoral streak, an insensate streak, a subservient streak, a dutiful streak, or perhaps just a frightened streak. All these streaks conspire to create the people who will do such deeds, and afterwards say: "I have done nothing to anybody that was not my duty. My conscience is clear."
Perhaps these human traits exist to a greater or lesser extent in all of us, and it is ourselves that we must most guard against.
Anything that reminds us of these terrible truths, that helps to tell this salutary tale, is necessary and worthwhile.
A visit to Auschwitz reminds one of them, and therefore has to be recommended, gruelling emotional experience though it is.
For any visitor to southern Poland, it is easily undertaken. There is no charge for entry to the camp itself, and if you can find your way there by public transport your expenditure will be minimal. Being lazy and short of time, I joined a guided tour by coach from Krakow - about an hour and a half away - at a cost of 120 zlotys, a little over £20. We left at 9.15 in the morning and were back by 4.30 in the afternoon. The drive takes you through some pleasant countryside, although by the return journey this seems something of an irrelevance.
On the drive to Auschwitz, we were played an introductory film with heavy-handed commentary to prepare us for what we were to see. It didn't. There is no substitute for the reality, just as seeing the contemporary reality is no substitute for having seen the reality of the camp at work.
To understand what it was like then is beyond the power of imagination. To understand what it was like you then would have had to have been there. Thank whatever you choose to believe in - god, goodness, lucky stars - that you were not.
And swear at the same time never to succumb to the human traits that lead to such inhumanity. The holocaust story needs to be told not because it is unique, but for the very opposite reason: because it is not unique at all and we must keep ourselves forever alert against its further repetition.
© (first published under the name torr on CiaoUK, 4th November 2005)
The recommendation and 5-star product rating are, of course, for Auschwitz as a worthwhile place to visit and reflect upon, rather than as an institution.
I went to Auschwitz last summer (July 2003) with about 30 people from my history class at school. I was 16 at the time and had just finished studying for my history GCSE in which we had covered the subject of Nazi Germany. I had studied the camps history, the events which took place there; watched Schindlers list and read books around the subject but none of this was enough to prepare me for what I saw there.
We made our way to the camp by coach. On the way there I noticed that there were houses around the area and it made me wonder how people could live so close to such a place. Once we were inside, I was shocked to see that the camp looked so unchanged. (We had been to visit the mass graves at Bergen-Belsen (Germany) earlier in the week which although were very disturbing, did not have the same eerie atmosphere as Auschwitz did.) We had a tour guide who helped in answering our questions and explaining everything to us and we spent the whole day in Auschwitz, so were able to go everywhere on the site. The camp is divided into two parts, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). We saw many things at the site too many to write about- so I will include those that I personally found to be the most memorable. If there is anything that you would like to know which I havent included, I would be pleased to give as much information as I can
~~~~~~~~~~Auschwitz I ~~~~~~~~~~
We entered Auschwitz I through the original camp gate on which is written the infamous cynical message Arbeit macht frei (work brings freedom). From there, we entered one of the buildings where the quote Those who forget the lessons of the past are doomed to relive it was written. I cant think of a more apt quote to sum up the whole experience
One of things that shocked me greatly was seeing the hair of the victims piled up and placed in a glass cabinet. There were also dozens of suitcases, shoes and spectacles all in large mounds in huge glass cases. Before seeing them, I didnt realise that all of this still existed and seeing it all there in front of me was very hard-hitting. I had seen these images in textbooks and on television before but seeing the objects in front of me, centimetres away felt extremely strange and it made me have to acknowledge just how real it all was.
We were taken to the Executions Wall which was were the SS soldiers shot the prisoners and we stood in silence to pay our respects to the people who had been killed there. This was a very emotional experience, which left people either crying or feeling numb.
Another area in which many people found it difficult to cope with was the area used for punishments. (I realise that this is quite ironic as even being in the camp is torture in itself, let alone being punished further...) There was particularly one section (Cell 22) in which were four standing cells that measured less than a square metre each. Four prisoners were made to go into each one of these cells by crawling inside it. Once inside, the four people had to stand in the tiny cell as it was too cramped to sit, they even had to sleep standing.
A horrible experience at Auschwitz was standing inside one of the gas chambers. This was very disturbing as it was not possible to put the images that I had seen of this place in the back of my mind. Also, we went inside the crematorium and saw the large furnaces used to burn hundreds of bodies daily. The place was dark and it felt odd being inside the room. This is also another area that understandably, many people found it difficult to cope and felt that they had to leave.
The place that I found the most difficult was an area which had large photographs of children who had been at the camp on the walls. I cant really explain the exact way I felt, it was very disturbing for me as a tourist to just look at the images, I cant even begin to imagine how the children must have felt being there and experiencing it all.
After several hours at Auschwitz I, we got back on the coach (although it is possible to walk too) and made our way towards Birkenau, the second part of the camp.
This area had an even eerier atmosphere than Auschwitz I as it looked completely untouched since the time it was used. The camp was originally very big and had around 300 barracks but many were destroyed and few remain today.
There are train tracks which lead straight into the camp. We learned that it was here that officials selected which people were fit enough to work and which people were to be killed immediately in the gas chambers. Families were separated here.
We saw the original living quarters of the people at the camp. There were wooden bunks with three levels and we were told that 8 people would sleep on each level. The conditions in these areas were appalling, with rotten straw to sleep on and the only heat coming from smoke from the chimneys passing through the room.
Another barrack included the area that prisoners used to go to the toilet. This toilet consisted of a long concrete seat with holes in it, further evidence of how the Nazis degraded the prisoners and treated them as if they were not human. We were told that people used to want to have the job of cleaning out the waste from these toilets as it meant that the soldiers did not want to go near them, reducing the likelihood of them being killed.
It was raining when we were in Birkenau and we were the only people there. Also it was completely silent, adding to the eerie atmosphere. We spent less time at this place as a lot has been destroyed and consequently, there is not a lot to see.
Lastly, we watched a short film that had original footage of the liberation of the camp. This put everything we had seen into perspective and reminded us yet again of the harsh reality of it all. This was not just some random event which happened too long ago to waste time thinking over, it was real, and it had happened not that long ago to people that may still have been alive today.
Without sounding cheesy, I think that going to Auschwitz really can have such an impact as to change your life. Maybe not hugely, but I think that if you go there and you really acknowledge what happened, you cannot help but be affected by it. I think personally, the greatest thing was a realisation of just how trivial my worries were, as I thought about some of the things that bothered me and felt very stupid and shallow. It is also the kind of place that makes you appreciate just how lucky you really are to have the most basic comforts, the knowledge that you are a free person and to an extent, have ultimate control over what you do. (I think I will stop here before I start sounding like Jerry Springers Final Thought )
I would strongly recommend to anyone visiting Auschwitz to organise having a tour guide because they explain a tremendous amount about the history of each section and answer any questions you may have, enabling you to gain a better understanding of the events that took place. There are free guidebooks available in many languages but I dont think that these would be as effective as hearing an expert on the subject.
Also, I think that because it is such a hard-hitting, and sometimes frightening place, I would be wary about taking anybody younger than around 14/15. Even the most mature people can find it hard to visit this place so I think that it really depends on the individual whether they could cope with the whole atmosphere there.
Travel is possible by bus, train or taxi or you could go as part of an actual tour. There is a small kiosk on entry to buy postcards, information books and other books around the subject. There is also a small bookshop with a collection of books relating to the subject area. Some other facilities include a café and restaurant. Entrance is free but any donation made is appreciated. Also, if you want to watch the film it will cost you a very small amount of Polish money (Zloty), which doesnt really add up to hardly anything in pounds sterling. Taking photographs is allowed but many people find it difficult to detach themselves from what they are seeing and take pictures of it.
~~~ A small note that I would like to add is that a lot of the time whenever people talk about Auschwitz, they forget that there were many political prisoners and other people from minority groups who lost their lives there as well as many Jewish people. Also, we talk about the Nazis as if they are a group from the past that no longer exists but let us not forget that racists with very similar ideals still exist today ~~~
The State Museum in OSWIECIM. Doesn't sound sinister, does it?
But use the German name for the city - AUSCHWITZ - and it doesn't sound quite so cozy. It conjures up images of terror, unspeakable cruelty, bestiality and genocide. It is the epitome of the Holocaust.
A Short History
The camp was established by the Nazis in April 1940, in the suburbs of the Polish city of Oswiecim. The first inmates being Polish political prisoners. Afterwards, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies, and prisoners of other nationalities were also incarcerated there.
Over the following years, the camp was expanded and consisted of three main parts: AUSCHWITZ I, AUSCHWITZ II-BIRKENAU, and AUSCHWITZ III-MONOWITZ. It also had over 40 sub-camps.
In 1942, the camp became the epicentre of the greatest mass murder in the history of humanity, namely the Nazi's plan for the complete destruction of European Jewry. The majority of the Jewish men, women and children deported to Auschwitz were sent to their deaths in the Birkenau gas chambers immediately upon arrival.
At the end of the war, in an effort to remove the evidence of their crimes, the SS began dismantling and destroying the gas chambers, crematoria, and other buildings.
Some prisoners, those who were capable of marching, were evacuated deep into the Reich. Those who remained were liberated by Red Army soldiers on January 27, 1945.
On July 2 1947, by an act of parliament, the Polish government established the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the site.
There are guided tours in a variety of languages but we decided to buy a guide book and see everything at our own pace. The book was very easy to use and explained the exhibits in some depth but not so much that we spent all our time reading.
This camp resembles an army barracks (which it originall
y was) with around 30 two-storey buildings (or blocks) of which around 20 house exhibitions portraying the history of the camp or outlining the despicable torments of the victims.
 BLOCK 4 is where you will find the stockpiles of the Nazi's contraband - the items stolen from people before they were murdered. There are different rooms filled from floor to ceiling with all manner of possessions which were to be re-cycled. Items like: suitcases, shaving brushes, shoes, spectacles, artificial limbs....You can't imagine what 7 tons of human hair looks like, I certainly can't describe it.
And then there's the tiny children's clothes.......
 BLOCKS 5, 6 and 7 house the evidence of crimes and the living conditions of the prisoners.
 BLOCK 11 is the Death Block. This was effectively a prison within a prison. The courtyard between blocks 10 and 11 was where many of the punishments and executions took place.
 BLOCKS 14 to 21 display exhibits pertaining to different countries, these are: U.S.S.R., Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia & Austria, Hungary, France & Belgium, and Italy & Holland.
 BLOCK 27 depicts the suffering and struggle of the Jews.
All along the corridors in many of the blocks are 'mug shot' type photographs of prisoner's. I found this very poignant - sometimes when we talk of millions of victims, they can simply become statistics. To see photo after photo of these people somehow brings more reality to it.
The CREMATORIUM and GAS CHAMBER lies outside the main compound, but still inside the camp. Although this was largely re-constructed by the museum (from the original materials) it is extremely sombre and thoroughly depressing.
AUSCHWITZ 11 - BIRKENAU
This camp is around 3km from the main camp and is the quintessential image that most people have of the Death Camps.
s for me anyway. The rail tracks lead through the gates to the sidings where the 'selections' were made.
No messing around here. The tracks lead virtually to the entrances to the gas chambers - maximum efficiency.
Not much remains of the apparatus of mass destruction after the Nazis tried to destroy the evidence of their 'Final solution'. The bunkers are just ruins now and when you stand there and look back along the railway lines to the scene of so much suffering, it's hard to imagine the sheer scale of the crime committed here.
Birkenau covered an area of 425 acres and contained over 300 buildings of which 45 brick, and 22 wooden ones remain. Of the rest only the chimneys remain and gave me the impression of a cemetery - which I suppose it is. Birkenau was where the Nazis perfected their methods of mass murder and has been left pretty much as it was when it was liberated in 1945. It's not really a museum in the general sense - there aren't any exhibits - but as an historical site it probably has no equal.
For more information visit the official site:
I was pleased to see large groups of school children visiting as the subject of the Holocaust should never be glossed over. None of the kids were behaving in the usual boisterous manner either which was very refreshing.
My wife and I have wanted to visit here for a long, long time but the logistics have always beaten us, until now that is. To say it was enjoyable would be crass - fulfilling possibly, horrible, certainly.
It's not an easy place to visit - in more ways than one.
 Why did I go there?
From time to time I like to re-affirm my belief that there are no limits
to the de
pths to which the human race can willingly plunge.
I'd like to be wrong...just once.
A final thought
To those who deny the Holocaust, I say...... NOTHING. I wouldn't waste my breath.
Thanks for reading
The only time I’ll ever hear the above phrase is when someone refers to the main gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau – a Nazi Extermination camp set up in occupied Poland during World War 2. I’ve seen these gates and it’s extremely hard to say in words how I feel about this place. The word Auschwitz has always made me shudder whenever I heard the word. It’s the place where MILLIONS of men, women, and children were deliberately murdered during World War two. And they did no crime. All these people were murdered by the Nazis, purely because of their race, religion, abilities, beliefs and ways of life. But we must remember that Auschwitz was not the only Nazi extermination camp… it was one amongst many. I visited Aucshwitz-Birkinau in October 1999 with my friend and history teacher. It was on a course with the “Holocaust Educational Trust” called “Lessons from Auschwitz” and I feel I have learnt more than a lesson from it. We were to visit the camp and then speak to members of our community (mainly at our school) about our experiences and what everyone can learn from Auschwitz. Our school has always suffered from bad press being called “Racist” and “Violent” and when the Milton Keynes “Citizen” heard of our antics it turned the tables – especially as we won a national award for the presentation that we gave to the community. Before we even visited the camp we went to a hotel in London to meet everyone who we were going with (there were around 150 other students involved). We had to express what we expected when we actually got to Poland, how we expected to feel. But when we returned we were amazed at how wrong all our expectations were. At the hotel before we went to Poland we were introduced to a rather sprightly old Polish lady. Her name was Kitty Hart – an Auschwitz survivor, and the only reason she survived was because she hid und
er a mound of dead corpses pretending to be dead! When she described her experiences to us it suddenly hit me that she was our age when she was imprisoned at Auschwitz. It gave me a completely different perspective on the experience that the other 200 people and I were going to have to handle – it became more 3 dimensional and real. It made the camp more than a landmark and the people who suffered and died there more than a statistic. And the thing that amazed me was the strength that Kitty Hart had to carry on with life and teach the whole world of her imprisonment – reliving the monstrosities that she had seen. When we first reached Auschwitz we were taken to “Auschwitz One” the base camp. I was astonished at how ordinary it was. If I never knew anything about it’s history it could have been an old 17th century textile factory…. Only the barbed wire showed me it was once a prison. On the outside were red brick buildings – on the inside were artefacts and possessions that were once owned by the prisoners. We were taken into the rooms and saw horrific image upon image. In one room we saw hundreds of pictures and names below them – photographs of the prisoners on their arrival at the camp. These photos reinforced the fact that was forever in my head that everyone who suffered there were human beings just like you and me. But what reinforced this fact even more to me were objects and possessions such as Suitcases – each with individual’s names on them; shoes and glasses. The objects that affected me the most though were the baby’s clothes, artificial; legs and crutches – belongings of the children, old, sick and disabled – those who were the most vulnerable and had no option but to be sent straight to the gas chambers on their arrival. We also saw mounds of human hair and this hit my friend and I quite hard. Hair – to us is a very personal thing and it was cut off o
n their arrival at Auschwitz, taking away all their dignity and pride even before they had to deal with the harsh realities of camp life. But one image that I’ll always remember is seeing a girl, fro one of the Jewish youth groups there, running out of one of the buildings crying her eyes out – it just displayed to me just how many people this awful event has effected – past, present and future. We saw the even harsher realities of camp life next – the punishment blocks and gas chambers. As we reached “Block 11” the punishment blocks we walked past the hospital where Eichmann performed his experiments, even before seeing the courtyard where thousands were shot against a mesh wall and the awful cells where people were crammed into my heart sunk. There were candles around the shooting wall – in respect of those who had died to the bullet. All the way through seeing all these awful images I grabbed hold tight to my friends arm – it was the only comfort I could get hold of with such harrowing things around me. But the most harrowing experience I have EVER had was standing in the middle of one of the gas chambers. It could hold around 800 people at one time – and it kept running though my head that that was every person at my school DEAD! I imagined people standing there, thinking they were about to have a shower – oblivious to their fate. I couldn’t stop thinking that every person who walked into this room 60 years ago would not have come out alive. On the way out we saw ovens – the ovens where the dead bodies were burned. And as we walked outside I looked back and saw the chimney on top of the building knowing that that was the only way out for those prisoners. We also saw a wall, which divided the Nazi official in charge of Auschwitz’s house. It was hard to believe that it was behind this wall where he played with his young daughter whilst so much terror was happ
ening around it! It reinforced the question to me – “How could someone let this happen?” and “How could people find this monstrosity as the norm?” And this was only the first part of our “tour”. We were then taking to Aucshwitz-Birkinau – the work camps. Here were wooden sheds that weren’t even fit for horses or cattle. And around these was vast open space where the work and drills took place. It was so bleak and open and its hard to imagine prisoners in thin material uniforms. The dormitories were basically rows of “beds” – mattresses were made of straw and hundreds of people were crammed into these huts every night, some waking up in the morning to find their shoes/bowl stolen or even more horrific - the person sleeping next to them dead. The lavatories were in a hut filled with planks with holes in them – and these holes were the only form of toilet. Before we had a memorial service with the Rabbi who came with us we saw a field full of pits. It was here where ashes of the dead were thrown. It was hard not to stand here forever and think of those who had died. We then saw the ruins of the crematorium and gas chamber at Birkenau, the British forces bombed it when the camp was liberated. This gas chamber could hold around 2000 people – TWO THOUSAND PEOPLE! It was around here where we placed candles in memory of the millions who had suffered and died here. And standing there, listening to the Jewish Kaddish, I felt so privileged to be listening to such a beautiful culture – how could someone want to destroy it? The memorial service made the visit much more significant and made me realise that all this has affected so many people – past and present in so many ways and its up to us to prevent it from ever happening again. After the memorial service we walked back down the remains of the railway track, which led to the gas chamb
ers (ever seen Schindlers List near the end? That’s the image that prisoners would have seen!). I felt so lucky to be walking down that track and go home – 60 years ago prisoners were not so fortunate. And that was it – the last vision that I’ll ever see of Auschwitz Birkenau is the main entrance where the trains would have arrived. It was here where I reflected on what I saw – it hadn’t sunk in then – and only now (over 2 years later) have I been able to really reflect on what I saw there. The scary thing was that there is a village RIGHT NEXT TO THE CAMP! Villagers were carrying on with their day to day lives as people were; suffering, dying, murdering just down the road. Nobody said anything about it… nobody cared? Did anyone know what was going on behind those walls? The barbed wire? Did anybody know where the trains by the bulk load were going? Did anyone know the reason for all that ash? The stench of burning flesh? These questions will never be answered and will stay in my mind forever. I feel Auschwitz may have taught me a few things but no way has it given me any answers. In fact it has created even more questions for me to figure out. Auschwitz shows us how inhumane human beings can actually be to each other; it shows us that such horrors can happen at any time. These are the lessons we need to learn, as we look back on the 20th century – Kosovo, Bosnia and violence against civilians in current wars. It should never EVER be denied. And this is why Kitty Hart and other survivors are so determined to teach others of what they’ve seen, experienced and survived. Auschwitz is a place of remembrance that affects everyone in the world today. It shows us that we MUST LEARN that everyone is an individual, a human being… So by our knowledge the horrors of Auschwitz will never happen again. I urge everyone to go to Auschwitz, no – it isnR
17;t a very nice experience but it puts the world into perspective. As we look around the world, and indeed our country we can see so much racism going on. Auschwitz - Birkenau shows us the worse that can happen but most importantly it shows us that IT HAPPENED and it should NEVER be forgotten. I hope this opinion is of some use to you. It has taken me along time whether to share this experience with you. Its been quite hard but if you ever have the opportunity to go there its best to express your feelings about the place to others. I was lucky enough to have the support and the chance to present my experiences to others – if you can – do the same! If you want to see the website that our school has made in respect to the holocaust then the address is www.leon.milton-keynes.sch.uk Thank You Erica xxx
Auschwitz. Looked kinda creepy, even on the itinery of the tour I was doing in the Poland area with the local orchestra and choir. After going around the area of Krakov and Wroclaw, we were pleasantly surprised at Poland and it's countryside, people, customs, all that. It took a whole day to get around the Auschwitz museum. Any less and you could not have done it justice. The museum is basically the whole of the first, smaller, concentration camp. About 50 buildings, preserved in their original state, as they were left over 50 years ago. No graffiti, no litter - people have been and respected the place - it is hard not to. Every room tells another story - a room filled with hair, a cabinet of over 10,000 pairs of glasses, a table full of teeth. The museum itsself did take it's toll on many members of the group - some of whom not able to take in the atrocities that people are capable of committing. Then we went to the large camp. The scale of the large camp was frightening on its own. When approaching the camp, you see the gate house with the train track going into it - the one featured on Schindler's List. This sight, to be honest, scared the s**t out of me. Then you see the huts. Row upon row upon row upon row of wooden and brick huts. We were left there for a while, to try and take it in. The experience means a lot to me, and although not pleasurable was very informative. I read somewhere once . . . "A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic"
I visited Oswiecim/Auschwitz on the day before Christmas Eve a few years ago. Driving through the town I was surprised at the camp's proximity to buildings which obviously pre-date it and appalled at the way it has been turned into a tourist resort. On the car park there was (at minus 15 degrees in deep snow) a hot-dog cart along with the book sellers - not a good first impression. In the camp itself we found that most of the barracks were being painted ready for the tourist season so everything was nice and bright and clean and smelled of fresh paint. We took the short journey to Birkenau where it was easier to imagine the hopelessness and helplessness of the people who were incarcerated there. I would not simply recommend this place but would make it a compulsory field trip for anyone studying WWII or the Shoah. Such an ordinary place which has had an extraordinary impact on the world.
ON 15th November, last year, my friend Dan and I took part in a 6th Form course designed to teach young people about the horrors of the Holocaust and the lessons that can be drawn from this period of history. The course consisted of a day-visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. There were also seminars before and after the visit run by the Holocaust Educational trust in order to prepare us for the visit and then help us to discuss our experience. Overall there were approximately 250 students from all over the United Kingdom on the course with the addition of some teachers and dignitaries. More than fifty years have now passed since the liberation of the Nazi death camps. Nazi Germany’s largest concentration camp and extermination camp, Auschwitz, was established in 1940. In October 1941 a second extensive camp of wooden barracks was established, called Birkenau or Auschwitz II. The Nazis exterminated the Jews, homosexuals, political prisoners, gypsies, the mentally ill, physically disabled people and also woman and children. The mass murders by gas began in January 1942, in Birkenau in a farmhouse adapted for this purpose. New gas chambers were built disguised as shower rooms and four crematoria with a combined capacity if burning 4456 corpses daily. Since the crematoria could not cope with the number of people killed in the gas chambers and frequently broke down through overuse, corpses were also buried in pits. The victims arrived in railroad freight cars and passenger trains, mostly form polish ghettos, but also from almost every other Eastern and Western European Polish country. On arrival, men were separated from woman and children. Prisoners were forced to undress and hand over all valuables. They were then driven naked into gas chambers where they were asphyxiated with gas. The minority selected for forced labour were after initial quarantine, vulnerable to malnutrition, exposure, epidemics, medical experiment
s and brutality. Many perished as a result. The Jews were killed by means of the evaporation of Prussic acid, known as Zyklon B. the sick were killed by injections of Phenol in the heart. Many prisoners were also beaten to death or executed for minor reasons. We had our preconceptions of Auschwitz, having studied the Nazis at school, but once we arrived at the camp, these all disappeared. No textbook or film could have prepared us for the enormity and silence of Auschwitz. The first part of our visit was Auschwitz I, which was mainly used as a Labour Camp, where actual killings were not widespread but several executions took place. It seemed quite commercialised with its café and souvenir shop. This building was the entrance but it was bustling with people talking or shouting, and guides anxiously looking for their groups. It didn’t seem real until we were walking towards the main gate of the camp, with its big, ironic sign of “Arbeit Macht Frei”. It was here that our journey of discovery began where each of us was on our own now, our own experience of seeing what the camp really feels like. All the bustle of the tourists disappeared, the only sound being of the guides giving us information. We were taken round many of the blocks in the camp. Each bloke contained different exhibits, which made it feel museum-like. The most memorable exhibits were the personal belongings, which had been taken form the prisoners upon arrival and stored by the Nazis. There was a whole room full of the hair of the prisoners, as each prisoner was shaved for humiliation purposes. The hair was mostly grey but I at once noticed this one blonde plait sitting on top o the pile and this brought a shiver down my spine. This plait may have once belonged to a little child or a young girl who had suffered in this camp. Other rooms contained masses of shoes, glasses and artificial limbs, which again belonged to individuals and each tells a story. <br>The crematoria, gas chambers, punishment blocks and the execution square were the most emotive aspects of the camp as this was where deliberate death had taken place. Visiting these areas of the camp was too horrific to put into realistic imagination but I felt disbelief, fear and hostility. Standing in the middle of the gas chambers was fearful, as others had died an agonising death on that very spot. Auschwitz I felt cold and grey. It was hard to take all the information in, and at the time it was difficult to know how to react to things as well. The second half of our day was a visit to Auschwitz II or Birkenau. It took place in the dark as the day was coming to a close. This camp had been left as it was, unlike Auschwitz I, where some buildings had been renovated to fit all the exhibits. Birkenau seemed much more realistic, as the prisoners would have arrived in the night. It felt surreal due to its overwhelming silence: there were no tourists making unnecessary sounds. It was silent, desolate, and vast and the enormity of what had happened there impossible to take in. From the tower at the gate the whole camp could be viewed. I could see the chimneys still standing where the barracks had once stood. On the horizon there was only dense forest but I knew that these contained more gas chambers and crematoria and that the camp went beyond the horizon. The most harrowing sight in this camp was the barracks that the prisoners had to sleep ion. They contained rows of wooden bunks, which had once fitted approximately 6 prisoners at once. These barracks were meant to fit 70 horses, but 70 prisoners were cramped in instead. We also visited the toilet block and the destroyed gas chambers. The atmosphere at Birkenau was more eerie and sinister, as nothing had really been changed since the liberation in 1945. Until now I had never understood the organised and industrialised nature of the mass murder that went on in these
camps. What struck me personally in the camps were the different smells I encountered, but most prominently was the smell of burning in Birkenau. It struck in mind at once it must be the crematoria still burning, but it was only the local Polish people burning the autumn leaves, however, this did not stop my imagination running away with me. This made me feel quite uneasy and frightfully lonely. It was only on the journey back on the plane when we all felt guilt, frustration and anger as we began to process what we had seen. We finished off the visit with a very moving service by candlelight, led by a Jewish Rabbi, before the whole group walked along the full length of the camp railway track in silence, as a mark of respect to those who had died. The course was designed to help the young people spread awareness of the Holocaust and the lessons that can teach humanity. Perhaps by teaching the young of hat atrocity history has seen, we could avoid this happening again. Modern communication technology means that, in theory, it should be impossible for anyone ever again to kill so many millions without the world knowing about it. But in-between 1975 and 1979 more than a million people were killed in Cambodia, even though technology meant that news of the massacres reached the outside world. Just as during the Holocaust, eyewitness accounts were not taken seriously for a long time. This reminds us that people have to look if they want to see. In Rwanda in 1994, there was international peacekeepers and aid workers all around as Hutus massacred Tutsis. There was no doubt about what was happening, but nobody could decide if it was any of their business to stop the bloodshed. I other words the lessons have not been learnt. These remain a problem that humanity must confront, and demonstrate the fine line between society and savagery. One of the lessons learnt is that we should embrace other cultures and people different form us, a
s we all have something different to offer. An individual’s personal responsibility is to take action rather than stand by and watch and help to construct a better and more tolerant society. There is a value greater need for freedom, alongside a respect for human beings and civilised society in order to stop these events happening again. It is a hope for the future that we can strive towards this goal and the only way of doing this is to look back into history, where others have fallen short of this achievement. This course has given our generation a chance to learn from the past, and it is Dan and I who have taken this responsibility in our community to teach the lessons that can be drawn from Auschwitz. Dan and I will never forget our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau as it gave us the chance to see the camp beyond a photograph. We will never forget Kitty Hart’s account (an Auschwitz survivor) of her experiences while imprisoned in Auschwitz. We must not forget the lessons of the Holocaust and we must acknowledge the testimonies of those who survived. The camps remain there as a lasting testimony to the horrors of the Holocaust and they show future generations what went on and therefore teach them that it should never happen again.
"Auschwitz (Konzentrationslager Auschwitz) was the largest of the Nazi concentration camps. Located in southern Poland, it took its name from the nearby town of Oświęcim (Auschwitz in German), situated about 50 kilometers west of Kraków and 286 kilometers from Warsaw. Following the Nazi occupation of Poland in September 1939, Oświęcim was incorporated into Germany and renamed Auschwitz. The camp complex consisted of three main camps: Auschwitz I, the administrative center; Auschwitz II (Birkenau), an extermination camp or Vernichtungslager; and Auschwitz III (Monowitz), a work camp. There were also around 40 satellite camps, some of them tens of kilometers from the main camps, with prisoner populations ranging from several dozen to several thousand. An unknown, but very large, number of people were killed at Auschwitz. The camp commandant, Rudolf Höss, testifed at the Nuremberg Trials that three million had died there. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum revised this figure in 1990, and new calculations now place the figure at 1.11.6 million, about 90 percent of them Jews from almost every country in Europe. Methods of killing people at Auschwitz included, primarily, gassing with Zyklon-B; systematic starvation, lack of disease prevention, individual executions and so-called medical experiments accounted for the rest."