Sunday, June 26, 2011

Auschwitz 1 and Birkenau Concentration Camps!

I don't have words to even describe my feelings after visiting the largest concentration camp in the world but I will do my best so you can at least have a small sense of what I have witnessed today.  Jule and I set out to visit 2 concentration camps.  Auschwitz 1 and Birkenau.  They are located about 1 hour and 20 minutes outside of Krakow, Poland.  There was an estimated 4 million people killed in the Auschwitz camps but this figure was revised several times and based on documentation that was provided by the Soviet Union Library in 1945, the revised number is now 1.1 million Jews that were killed.  Just think, from 1940-1945, over 1.1 million people were murdered by gas chamber, forced labor, infectious disease, medical experimentation, hung or executed, or through starvation.   Over 90% of them were Jews and the other 10% were Poles, gypsies and Russian pows.   1.1 million people that were killed in Auschwitz is not an accurate number because of the prisoners that directly walked off of the trains and directly into the gas chambers were not recorded.  This is actually only the Bare Minimum which was able to be accounted for.  Everyday, trains would arrive delivering more prisoners into the concentration camps.  The doctors would be the ones selecting those fit for work.  They would only pick between 10-30% of the people while everyone else would go directly into the gas chamber and be killed.  
There were 3 main camps:  Auschwitz 1, the main camp and the administration camp, Auschwitz 2- Birkenau ( the extermination camp) and Auschwitz III (labor camp). Auschwitz Birkenau was the largest concentration and extermination center of the 3 and there were 45 subcamps created inside of these 3 camps.

Auschwitz was located outside of Krakow, Poland and is the symbol of Holocaust.  One of the main reasons that the Nazis established it there was because it was the central intersection for all of the roads and railways.  

"Arbeit Macht Frei"  This is the ironic sign which means, "work will set you free" as you walk through the gates of the Auschwitz 1 Concentration Camp.

guard tower

Auschwitz I

The nazis first chose Auschwitz I because it was once an old military camp so the facilities and buildings were already in place for a perfect prison and concentration camp. 

Germans kept detailed records of every single person coming into the camp.

List of newly arrived prisoners who were deported from various countries into Aushwitz

The line up and selection of those were considered able to work while the others were sent directly to the gas chambers. Only 10-30% were selected to work.  People were misled that they were just being led to a shower to get disinfected when in fact, they were being led to their death in the gas chamber.    

The trains were filled with mostly jews going into the concentration camps.

Model of the gas chamber

empty cans of zyclon b that were used in the gas chamber to kill the prisoners
This lethal poison was the most effective and widely used form of chemical to kill the majority of people in Aushwitz in a short period of time.  This is the same chemical used to kill lice on the clothing of the prisoners. Once the crystals in Zyclon B were heated to a certain temperature, it would produce a lethal gas.  

cyclone b

The burning of the camp warehouses as the nazis were trying to get rid of the evidence

reading glasses from the victims that were killed in the concentration camps

The nazis were not wasteful of anything.  Not only did they rob and strip the jews and the other races of any material objects, gold, money, jewelry and valuable art, they took everything.  They left them with nothing.  They took even their prosthetic limbs, crutches, reading glasses and anything of value.  I had no words and I could feel the goose bumps all over my body when Jule and I entered in a huge room with a mountain of human hair.  There were ponytails that filled a gigantic room from the hair of the women!!!!  They were stripped of their clothes, dignity and even their hair.  Their hair was taken before they were gassed in the chamber.  Piles and piles of it were used for the german uniforms!  I have no pictures of the hair out of respect for the victims and their families.  There was a total of 7,000 (15,400 pounds) kilos of hair found during the liberation in 1945.

a mountain of combs from the victims that were murdered in the camps

hair brushes of the victims

crutches and prosthetic limbs of the victims

most of these limbs and crutches belonged to Polish war veterans from WWI who were also victims of Auschwitz

There were 43,000 pairs of shoes of some of the victims during the liberation in 1945.

Names of victims to identify their suitcases

baby and children shoes of victims


more shoes

and even more shoes of victims!

hair brushes

Block 10 is where the doctors performed medical experiments on the prisoners which included sterilization of the females, tested with drugs, put into pressure chambers, dissecting twins, castrating them and sometimes exposing them to various traumas.  Josef Mengele was the Auschwitz doctor known as the "Angel of Death".  He headed the majority of these torturous experiments which also included children's operations that did not involve any anesthesia, sex change operations,  injecting of lethal germs and also removing organs and other body parts.  

The prison within the prison.  This is where people who broke the rules were sent.  They had starvation cells where they would get no food or water in their cells until they were dead.  There were also standing cells as a way to torture the rule breakers.  The men would stand in a narrow cell with four people of only 16 square feet.  The men would be forced to only stand all night and then have to work hard labor the next day.
In September 1941, the first experiment killing 600 Russian POWS and 250 Polish Inmates were put into a gas chamber with Zyclon B.  This was the first incident using Zyclon B and was later used in Birkenau to kill masses of Jews and other prisoners. 

Women were instructed to strip here before taking them to the gas chamber

Execution Wall in Auschwitz I between blocks 10 and 11
" Wall of Death"

Jewish Groups visiting Auschwitz

Photograph of the victim with the date he came in and the date he died.  He lived very long in the camp.  Most jews had 2 weeks to live if they weren't exterminated upon arrival.  If you were a priest, you got 1 month to live, and all other non-jews had about 3 months to live.  Stefan survived the camp for 1 year and 8 months which is unusually long for a prisoner.  The majority only lived for the maximum of 3 months. 

Photographs of victims

Stanislawa only survived 1 month

Birkenau Concentration Camps.  This was once a horse stable but was used for the prisoners.  Sometimes there would be up to 4 people in 1 bunk.  There could be 700 to as many as a thousand inmates per barrack when normally a stable can only hold about 52 horses.  There was almost no heat to warm the barracks.

The bathroom facility in the prisoner barrack.  There was no running water at all which was an invitation for infectious diseases and beyond unsanitary living conditions.  The prisoners were not allowed to use the bathroom whenever they wanted.  They could only go twice a day when they were told to go. 

Some of the prisoners slept on hay like animals

Exterior of the gas chamber of Auschwitz I

Interior of the gas chamber of Auschwitz I

Interior of the Crematorium of Auschwitz I

Main Gate at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Auschwitz Birkenau was so much larger in size and capacity than Auschwitz I.  This is where the mass extermination of Jews took place.

goods wagon which was also used for the deportation of jews and other victims to the concentration camp

Auschwitz Birkenau main gate and railroad tracks which brought in the victims to their death

watch tower in Auschwitz-Birkenau

This is the remains of one of the crematoriums that were destroyed in 1945 by the Nazis.  This was part of a way to get rid of the evidence of the concentration camps.
By the spring of 1943, there were 4 fully operational crematoriums in Auschwitz-Birkenau.  They consisted of 8 gas chambers and 46 ovens that could dispose of 4,400 bodies per day.  

ruins of a crematorium in Birkenau after the nazis tried to blow up the evidence

Railroad leading the prisoners to their death in Auschwitz-Birkenau

the gate was made up of two layers of barbed wire which ran electrical current through it

Fifty Years Later:Reflections on
Teaching the Holocaust to Young People

by: Judy (Weissenberg) Cohen

I am a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen Belsen, slave labour at aJunkers Aeroplane factory and a death march. I was liberated by theAmerican Forces on May 5, 1945 in a small town called Duben, somewhere nearLeipzig, in Germany.
I am a frequent speaker to hundreds of young people at our HolocaustEducation and Memorial Centre in Toronto, Canada.
I stand in front of you and see your innocent stares, looking at me, anticipating a personal account of my pains and nightmares. How do I begin? How can I make you understand and feel the deep scars that I carry fragile and still easy to bleed? How do I tell you about human created hunger hopeless, no-end-in-sight, when, perhaps, you just had a good meal and feel full and warm inside? How do I tell you about constant fear in the pit of the stomach, the nauseating kind when, hopefully, you experienced only goodwill and peace in your short life? How do I tell you about losing family and friends in a matter of minutes by moving thumbs in white gloves, belong to a Nazi a so- called human being? How do I tell you about the odor of burning flesh, tortures and killings of innocent people that were planned cold bloodedly, years before! drinking and singing around the table? How do I tell you about Auschwitz-Birkenau the efficient killing machine where mothers, babies, children and the old marched to the "showers" and out as smoke? How do I tell you about being torn from all my loved ones in my teens when you only know and should know the warm embrace of family and peers? How do I tell you about the genocide of six million and more during which my family lost eighty one, when you can happily look at yours and declare missing: NONE. I do however, know to praise those wonderful few, defiant and brave, at great risk to themselves, reached out and helped many lives to save. I stand in front of you and see your innocent stares, but having heard it all your gaze is no longer there! You have lowered your eyes so sorry! I saddened you, having heard a witness now, you become a witness too. To inform and teach my story is told. I urge you to be fair-minded and bold. For it is up to you, THE YOUNG how the future will unfold. Let us create a society free of hatred and hunger where respect for each other glows like a beautiful ember. End.

Words for Hope 
by Terrace Holocaust Survivors Group

I speak five languages,
But I have no words for the Camps,.
The Eskimos have many words for snow,
But we know only one word for death.
I have only tears.
Enough tears for many lives.
I cannot cry and cannot laugh.
I can talk, and want to talk.
If the new generations will listen,
The Survivors might find words for hope.

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