Auschwitz I / Auschwitz II – Birkenau
I had a very sobering day visiting two of the Auschwitz concentration camps. They are located in Oświęcim, Poland about three miles from each other. The Nazi’s changed the name of the city to Auschwitz when it was annexed to the Third Reich.
This poster below shows the train routes that the Nazi’s used during World War II in order to move the prisoners. Auschwitz was the central location for the murder of about one million Jewish victims as well as Gypsies and other prisoners of war – starting with the Poles. There is no exact number known on the death toll. Below the map is a picture of a memorial statue.
This is the infamous entrance to the main camp that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “work will set you free”. This entrance is also mimicked in the Dachau concentration camp. You can see a map of the main camp layout here. The main camp consisted of 28 brick buildings that was formerly a Polish army compound. Each building had housed somewhere between 700-1200 people with a camp of about 16,000 prisoners.
There are two fences of barbed wire that surrounds the entire camp.
Living conditions inside the buildings. Below there are painted cats on the bathroom walls. The prisoners slept on beds make of straw.
Suitcases with names and years (of arrival) painted on them.
This is the closed courtyard where the Nazi’s lined men up and shot them. The windows on the building are boarded up so that the prisoners could not look down and watch, but they could hear the shots being fired.
The building next to that area was known as a prison within the camp – Block 11. In the basement there were several rooms marked by numbers. Each number was a reference to what type of punishment was endured by the prisoners within. There were starving cells, standing cells, and dark cells.
This is the crematorium mortuary and gas chamber.
After spending a couple hours walking through Auschwitz I, our tour group was escorted the very short distance to Auschwitz II Birkenau concentration camp. There is only a few miles between the two concentration camps, but there are staggering differences in the vast expanse of land that makes up Birkenau. Birkenau was built to house about 125 thousand prisoners.
When the Soviets arrived, the Nazi’s began burning the buildings to destroy evidence of the camp. These chimneys are all that is left of most of the barracks at Birkenau. The crematorium was bombed.
This is the inside of one of the barracks that we were allowed to enter. 700 prisoners were contained in one barrack with one small fireplace that hardly heated up the entire building.
The prisoners were allowed to use the bathroom facilities twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening. This is an image of a sink that ran the length of the building. The most ridiculous feature of the sinks is that there were engraved areas designated for the soap to sit. This feature was for “show” when the camp was inspected – the prisoners were not given any soap. The toilets were in a separate building. The prisoners were given buckets within the barracks to use during the night.
After visiting Auschwitz and seeing it all in person, it is unfathomable for me to understand how there are people out there denying that Auschwitz was a place of genocide. I suppressed tears the entire time I was walking through the camps and when our tour guide would refer to specific stories of a prisoner or visitor. I’m glad that I had the experience of visiting the camps after only learning about the horrors from books and what I’ve seen in movies.