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A Day in Auschwitz - Shock, Disbelief, and Remembrance

Now Auschwitz would normally not appear in any honeymoon itinerary, and with good reason. There is absolutely nothing positive to be felt in going to a place were over a million innocent men, women, and children were systematically murdered.

And yet, we were honored to have visited this site and to have heard the shocking tale of evil and depravity that occurred here. We are all witness to this atrocity, and we shall never forget.

Auschwitz Gate Work Sets You Free

* Arbeit Macht Frei - which translates to "work makes you free." Right on the entrance of the camp stands this bold-faced lie, offering hope to all newcomers that they were just to be used as slave labor, far from what really transpired here.


Map and History of Auschwitz

* Contrary to popular belief, Auschwitz was not one camp but was actually three huge ones (Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz) and 45 satellite camps.

Books on Auschwitz

* The Visitor Center has a huge collection of books for sale discussing the numerous atrocities that the Nazis inflicted on Jews and other minorities.

Books on Auschwitz

* Books translated to numerous languages; showing us that people visit from different corners of the world to pay their respects.

Auschwitz Entrance

* The tour begins at Auschwitz I. Originally serving as a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners, the prison population grew from an initial 728 prisoners to an astounding 10,900 in less than a year! 

Auschwitz Entrance Gate

* As the Jews started arriving from across Europe by the millions, Auschwitz I became the administrative center for the whole Auschwitz concentration camp complex.

Auschwitz Gate Work Sets You Free

* A plaque depicting the marching of prisoners, thinking that they were here for slave labor, not knowing what the Nazis had in store for them. 

Auschwitz

* Today, the various buildings of Auschwitz I have been converted into exhibits, each one showing a different facet of life / atrocity here in the camp. 

All Trains Led to Auschwitz

* Auschwitz, the final destination for over a million prisoners from all over Europe. All roads led here.

History of Auschwitz

* While Antisemitism (prejudice, hatred, and persecution against the Jews) had existed for more than a millennium in Europe, it was the Nazis who took it upon themselves to actually wipe the whole race  out from the face of the earth.

Auschwitz

* Blaming the Jews (who were the bankers of the time) for the rampant poverty across Germany and the ills of society in general, Adolf Hitler directed his right-hand man, Hermann Goring, and SS Chief, Heinrich Himmler, to bring about a "Final Solution to the Jewish Question." 

Auschwitz

* So it was, that millions of Jews across Nazi Germany, its allies, and conquered states, were evicted from their homes, property and businesses confiscated, gathered in ghettos, and sent to concentration camps built to exterminate them all.

Auschwitz

* Apart from Jews, numerous other persecuted ethnicities were sent to Auschwitz including: native Poles, Romani and Sinti Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, and Jehovah's Witnesses. 

Zyklon B

* Empty cans of Zyklon B, the cyanide based pesticide used as the preferred tool in the gassing of the Jews. Originally, the Nazis used bullets to murder the innocent before accidentally discovering that Zyklon B could, in large doses, be a lot more efficient by killing at least 700 victims at once.

Piles of Eyeglasses

* Piles of eyeglasses confiscated from the Jews were often melted for their metallic components.

Confiscated Kitchen Ware at Auschwitz

* An entire room filled with piles of plates, cups, and other kitchenware.

Auschwitz Piles of Shoes

* The room that got to my wife (an avid shoe lover) the most, was this one with a mountain of shoes piled on top of each other.

Auschwitz Piles of Bags

* Conversely, what got to me the most was this room with piles of suitcases with the owner's names on them. Being a travelbug, I could only imagine what these poor people were thinking as they packed their entire lives into their individual bags, not knowing that the packing was a farce, and that they wouldn't be able to keep any of their belongings here in the camp.

Auschwitz Prisoner Bed Mats

* Sleeping conditions on Auschwitz I consisted of cramped prisoners sharing straw mattresses.

Auschwitz Toilets

* As well as sharing toilets with no privacy. Imagine lining up to take a crap, everyone seeing each other.

Auschwitz Hall of Photos

* One of the most eerie parts of the trip was this long hallway with picture frames of the camp prisoners. I felt an unexplainable heaviness on the room as I walked across it. These images greatly humanized the victims as under their photos are listed their hometowns, professions, dates of entry in the camp, and dates of death (mostly 1941).

Auschwitz

* News and information of the various atrocities were at different times able to get out of the camp, but they were so shocking that the Allies (UK and US) often considered them exaggerated and unreliable.

Auschwitz Cell

* The most notorious of all the brick buildings in Auschwitz I was Block 11. Intended to punish prisoners, the block contained various chambers in which a variety of torture devices were available to apply on the prisoners.

Auschwitz Cell

* And the worst of these were the standing cells. Four prisoners were confined in such cramped quarters that there was no choice but to remain standing, and for up to twenty days at a time.

Auschwitz Execution Wall

* Outside Block 11, is the "death wall" where thousands of prisoners were lined up to be executed via firing squad.

Auschwitz Tower and Barbed Wire Gates

* Over 7000 members of the elite German Schutzstaffel (SS) unit served as staff at the camp. Of these, 15% were later on convicted of war crimes by the Allied War Trials.

Auschwitz Barbed Wire

* As if the extermination and forced labor weren't bad enough, German doctors performed a wide variety of medical experiments on the prisoners such as forced drownings, exposure to extreme heat and cold, injection of different kinds of chemicals, and nutrition deprivation / overloading. Josef Mengele, known as the Angel of Death, was the most notorious doctor at Auschwitz and had a strange fascination with experimenting on identical twins. 

Auschwitz Hanging Gallow

* This scaffolding served as a bringer of justice and small consolation to Auschwitz's victims when Rudolf Hoess, Nazi SS officer and Commandant of the whole concentration camp complex, was hanged in 1947, following a trial in Warsaw for war crimes. Hoess was personally responsible for the death of three and a half million people.




* Video of the grounds of Auschwitz I and the chilling mountain of shoes.

Map of Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz Birkenau

* Within a year of operation, Auschwitz I was filled to the brim. It was then that construction of Auschwitz II - Birkenau began, a camp which could house 150,000 to 200,000 prisoners.

Entrance to Auschwitz Birkenau

* If Auschwitz I was classified as a concentration camp where people were imprisoned and housed, Birkenau would be the definitive extermination camp. People arrived here, and were murdered.

Auschwitz Train Cart

* Arriving daily via railway convoys, the victims were often segregated with the physically fit men and women sent inside the camp to be used as slave labor; and the women with small children, children, elderly, and those deemed unfit to work were immediately sent to the gas chamber. They went straight from the railway to their death.

Auschwitz Birkenau

* It is often said that those selected for immediate extermination were in fact luckier than those selected to live in Birkenau. Apart from working 12 straight hours with no rest or toilet breaks, getting at most 700 calories of food per day, and hardly getting any sleep, most died from exhaustion, disease, and beatings from the guards, thereby just delaying the inevitable.
 Auschwitz Bunk Beds

* Eight hundred to a thousand people were crammed into each barracks. There was no room for stretching so prisoners were forced to sleep lengthwise and crosswise, with a man's feet on another man's neck or chest.

Auschwitz Bunk Beds

* Imagine sharing this small space with over thirty people.

Auschwitz Birkenau Crematorium

* Ruins of one of four major gas chambers. Those selected to go directly from the railway to the gas chambers were told that they were to take a shower and undergo delousing. The lie was such that the Nazis even installed fake shower heads in the gas chamber and gave the victims soap and towels to be used. As soon as everyone was inside, the SS dropped the Zyklon B in, killing everyone in under 20 minutes.

Auschwitz Birkenau Pond Full of Ash

* Laborers from the Birkenau camp then worked to clear the bodies from the chamber. All valuables were extracted, corpses burned in incinerators, and ashes thrown in ponds such as these.

Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial

* The Auschwitz II - Birkenau Memorial featuring tributes in various languages. It is estimated that over 1.1 million were murdered in this camp.

Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial

* The Germans ended up killing 6 million Jews throughout Europe and an additional 5 million which included the aforementioned Gypsies, Poles, Soviets, homosexuals, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Every branch of Germany's government was involved in this mass conspiracy such that the Third Reich was effectively a "genocidal state."

Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial Picture

* One of the few couple shots we had that day. After the very emotionally heavy and depressing tour, we made sure to say a prayer at St. Mary's Basilica for the countless victims of the Holocaust.

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