Nicole and I woke up around 6AM to catch the 7:30AM bus to go to Auschwitz today. Nicole wasn’t excited to get up that early, but we needed to get there before 10AM to avoid having to get put into a tour group. We wanted to explore the camps on our own. Now, would the tour groups have been good to learn about the history better, absolutely! Honestly, I wouldn’t mind doing two full days there, once with a guide and another time on my own. One problem with the tour groups is that they rush you through pretty quick.
My first impression of Auschwitz 1 was how small it was. And the buildings were not what I expected. We always have these images of what something looks like from movies and TV, but until you step foot on the grounds to put the context together, you really have no idea.
As I walked through the famous gate the says, “Arbeit Macht Frei “, I tried putting myself in the shoes of the thousands who walked through that same gate to their imminent death. When going through a number of the buildings, there is a ton of information about the different ethnic groups of people that came through that gate. It’s almost to much information to take in because there are so many personal stories. The parts that hit me the hardest was the “Death Wall “ where prisoners were executed in pairs with a bullet to the back of the head. It’s estimated that 1,000 previously jailed prisoners, 4,500 political prisoners, and perhaps thousands of others like Soviet POWs and Poles were killed here. Because there is only partial data, it’s hard to know the exact number.
Front Gate of Auschwitz 1 (Picture 1)
Death Wall (Picture 1)
One of the buildings that housed “Physical Evidence” was also very emotional. Each room in this barracks had piles of items from those who passed through the camp. I’ve heard about the piles of shoes, suitcases, glasses, combs, etc. displayed, but until you see it, there aren’t words to describe this horror. The names of those put to death are written on their suitcases so they would be able to identify their belongings later and the display of hair shaved from their heads were the displays that struck me deepest.
Suitcases (Picture 1)
At the end of Auswichz I was the gas chamber and creamatorium. To stand in the “Shower Room” were so many died and to then pass into the adjacent room where their bodies were burned was an emotional blow. It’s hard to imagine humanity can be so cruel and destructive. Yet, in many places in the world it continues.
After spending time at Auschwitz I, we jumped on the shuttle to Auschwitz- Birkenau. Many don’t realize, but there are two camps and the second camp is huge. Until you walk through the gates, it’s hard to comprehend how many people lived here. Many of the barracks are no longer standing and all you see are the remains of the stone chimneys where the buildings once stood. At the back of the camp is were the remains of the destroyed crematoriums once stood before the Nazis blew them up with dynamite to try and destroy the evidence of their genocide. We also went through the processing building were prisoners were stripped, de-liced, tattooed, and given their stripped pajamas.
Main Gate (Picture 1)
I don’t know to many people who have visited Auschwitz, but I feel it is a trip everyone must make sooner than later. Unfortunately, most people I know would rather plan a trip to Cancun, Mexico to get drunk than come to Poland. I’ve personally been to Hiroshima, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the unexploded bomb polluted lands of Laos and Vietnam, and massacre sites in Kosovo and Korea. I will now add Auschwitz to this list of place that will unfortunately grow as I travel from place to place and stand as a witness to the destruction humanity creates and continues to repeat.
When Nicole and I got back to Krakow, we walked around the Old Town area the rest of the day and enjoyed a nice Mexican dinner after our roller-coaster of a day.