Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Auschwitz I

Sorry for the silence. Got wrapped up in writing - which I'm supposed to do, what with being on a writer's retreat an' all...then decided to take a drive down to Kraków.

My last trip to Poland was really interesting and, since I'm here, I may as well see the places I've wanted to.

Kraków was about a four hour drive south east of here. Quite a road trip. I stayed at a 70s Hostel (more on that to come in a future post) and booked myself on their tour to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi concentration camps.

Around 2001-ish, I worked for the Army Youth Services for a summer up in North Germany, and visited Bergen-Belsen where Anne Frank ended up. Incidentally, Belsen memorial centre is run by the same organisation that run the Gisozi Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda - the Aegis Trust, who work to prevent crimes against humanity.

Unplanned, yet somehow fitting to spend Rwanda memorial month at yet another site of world remembrance.

Wasn't at all sure what to expect. Hadn't read anything about it. Belsen hardly exists - it was razed to the ground as the Nazis left. The sonderkommando (prisoners forced to work the crematoria) of Belsen kept diaries right up until liberation, but were taken out and shot before the allies arrived. Their diaries were recovered afterwards.

At Auschwitz, the entire camp is pretty much still standing. The gas chambers at Birkenau have been razed, but the one at Auschwitz still exists. Here's a pictorial tour, you can enlarge by clicking on an image:

The famous sign: 'Freedom Through Work.' The original was stolen in December 2009 and returned in three pieces which have yet to be mended. This is a replica.

Along the barbed wire separating the main camp from the SS buildings and crematorium. 600 volts would have killed anyone who touched it and many prisoners committed suicide this way.

Our guide explaining that a band used to play by the main gate every day. The prisoners were not allowed to stop playing even when they saw the bodies of relatives being dragged back out at the end of the day. The idea was that marching music kept the prisoners moving at a steady pace through the gates. In return, the chosen musicians received better living conditions.

Main street and guard hut at Auschwitz. Originally military barracks before being turned into concentration camp lodgings, mostly for Soviet political prisoners. Jewish people were sent to Birkenau, the larger satellite camp.

SS canteen on the left, Crematorium I on the right, in very close proximity.

Entrance to Crematorium I.

Looking out from the undressing room. Last view before the gas chamber.

Hole in the roof through which Zyklon B was dropped.

The gas chamber in Crematorium I.

Adjoining crematorium.

Empty tins of Zyklon B, blue crystals still encrusted around the rim. Four tins were enough to kill an entire crematorium at Birkenau. Estimates suggest the four crematoria at Birkenau were capable of 'processing' 8,000 people per day.

Pile of victims' glasses.

Children's shoes.

Adult shoes.

Gallows where, fittingly, Rudolf Hoess was hanged.

'Wall of Death' against which prisoners were shot. Nearby are wooden posts where prisoners had their hands tied behind their backs and were strung up, causing dislocation of the shoulders which, in turn, meant they could no longer work and were then executed.

Pictures of some of the first prisoners. Male on right wall, female on left wall - most lasted for about three months before conditions in the camp killed them.

And so ends the first leg of the tour. One of the most haunting images was a glass wall containing two tons of human hair, used in bomb fuses and U-boat officers' socks, cut from the heads of female prisoners. It was starting to grey with age and out of respect we were asked not to take photographs of it.

See Also:

Auscwitz II 

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