We just left Auschwitz and all I can say is wow. I honestly don’t think it has sunk in yet. I am going to find a lot of difficulty putting what I saw into words, but I will do my best.
We started by walking through the old “registration” building where the inmates names were switched out for numbers. It was surreal thinking that 60 years ago, all this was actually happening.
“Arbeit Macht Frei” translates to “Work Makes (You) Free”
Then, we walked through two old converted barracks which now house exhibitions. We saw maps of Auschwitz and pictures that were taken over the first few months that Auschwitz was open. We then walked upstairs which really started to show the magnitude of everything. First, they had the blueprints and a miniature model of the gas chambers. You saw photos of the cremations and learned that inmates cremated the bodies of fellow inmates. In the Jewish religion, there is a belief that you will one day be reunited with your body. This is not possible when your body is cremated.
Then, we walked down to another barrack where we saw a window filled with charred eyeglasses. Another room had a window filled with old crutches, prosthetics, and wheelchairs. Another with suitcases. Another with children’s shoes. Another with adult shoes. Some rooms were massive. Others small. Just writing about it is hard.
Crutches & other walking instruments that belonged to the victims of the Holocaust
Then, we walked to one of the barracks where we saw the chronology of the sleeping conditions. They started with just hay on the floor, then got mattresses on the floor, then came toilets over the buckets they were using, then came sinks. The average life span for a prisoner was two months for a woman and eight months for a man.
We then saw the gallows for those that broke the rules of the camp. There were many different types of cells. Normal ones with a bed, interrogation ones, death cells, and standing cells for people where you had to stand the whole time. Then, we saw the death wall where they had hangings and death by shooting squad. There were flowers everywhere. It was quite moving.
Then we passed the hospital where experiments were performed and saw more hanging posts. When the first people escaped from the camp, the whole camp had to stand on their feet for 18 hours. Many people died from heat stroke. Then, they implemented a rule that for every escapee they would randomly choose 10 people to starve to death.
Then came my “favorite” part of the tour – the hanging post for the Auschwitz Gestapo. He was hung a few years after the war. It’s a very bittersweet thing.
Plaque at the location the Gestapo was hung
Then, we walked into the gas chambers. They still smelled weird and I was sick to my stomach as I walked through them. Right next to the gas chambers were the cremation ovens.
Our tour guide said that the Nazis were always trying to find cheaper methods to kill people because “bullets are expensive.” It made me sick to my stomach.
Then, we boarded our coach and went to Auschwitz II or Birkenau which is the more well known Auschwitz. It is the one that the trains arrived at and where many people were immediately sent to death. Most people did not resist, even though they knew what was happening, due to sheer exhaustion. Some had been traveling for nine days. We walked up to the top of the main guard tower and saw the whole camp. It was disturbingly large.
Then, we had time to walk around by ourselves. I walked down the railroad tracks and saw one of the cars that prisoners were transported in. 60 people plus luggage for nine days.
The whole experience was unbelievable. It makes you think. Why were the Nazis able to gain so much power? How did so many people think it was a “good” idea? Does the human race truly have enough free will to deviate from the group and stand up for what is wrong? How bad were the conditions in post-World War I Germany to allow something like that to happen? Can something like that happen again? How do we stop the genocides going on in Africa right now? I honestly don’t know what to think anymore. It will take me a while for my faith in humanity to be restored.
Note: This post was originally published on June 19, 2012 in a blog entitled “Romeing Around Europe…Again” which chronicled my post-graduation trip across Europe.