Day 31 – Auschwitz

Krakow, Poland

Today was one of those heavy days like when I visited the Vietnam War Museum and the Killing Fields on past trips.

Today, I visited Auschwitz.

It’s only fitting that after a couple of nights in a blissful empty dorm room in Warsaw I would find myself in Krakow for a couple of nights in a room with the loudest snorer I’ve ever known.

So much so I actually just gave up and took my blanket and pillow and slept on the couch in the common room.

But, really, on a day like today when you witness all the pain and suffering from the past its’ pretty petty to be complaining about someone snoring.

In fact, pretty petty to complain about anything really.

Also, in this blog you’ll see no selfies and no photos of green dinosaurs or pink ducks.

Today is about respect for the atrocities in the past and making sure history does not repeat itself.

The weather for my entire trip has been pretty much grey and gloomy but today it seemed right in place.

Our tour started at 1:30 and our small group of 12 was on our way for the 1 1/2 hour ride out to Oświęcim – the city where Auschwitz is located.

On the bus ride a video was played for us about the liberation of Auschwitz from the perspective of a Russian cameraman who documented the events.

It was a good introduction to the day.

There are two camps at Auschwitz – Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

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Auschwitz I was originally a Polish army base and is the smaller of the two camps.  When the Nazis invaded they transformed the existing buildings of the base to fit their needs.

It is now the site of the Auschwitz museum.

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Auschwitz II-Birkenau is 3km away and was built entirely from scratch by Nazi prisoners.  Although the bigger of the two camps it now only has a few structures standing as the Nazis tried to destroyed evidence when the Russians were advancing towards them.

There are still a handful of structures remaining including the remains of one of the crematoriums.

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There’s also a memorial with different plaques from the world community acknowledging what went on here.

As for the tour – we started in Auschwitz I for a couple of hours before taking a short ride over to the second camp later in the afternoon.

Now, as for this blog…

Well, I decided not to write about the history of Auschwitz as, well, if you don’t know about it already there’s tons of information about it in cyberspace.

Instead I decided to write a few takeaways I took from the tour and also share some of the more than 100 photos I took today (you can see all of them by clicking the photo link above).

A big stunner for me was there were buildings at Auschwitz called Canada I and Canada II.

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Hearing the name of my beautiful country being a part of this tour was like a gut punch.

Turns out that these buildings were where the Nazis stored all the possessions and valuables taken from their prisoners.  It was named “Canada” because the country was seen as the promised land and the land of plenty which, to them, was the fitting name for buildings holding all these valuables.

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Also, our tour guide uttered the same phrase over and over again…

“Nothing could be wasted”

This was in reference to how the Nazis used everything they acquired from their prisoners including their hair which they used to weave clothing like socks for their soldiers.

We were shown rooms full of everything from hairbrushes to suitcases.  There were rooms full of cookware and shoes and of course a room full of human hair.

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When you think that each hairbrush, each pot, each suitcase represented one human life lost it really brings things into focus.

We also saw the three buildings that housed the so-called hospital.  They were actually no more than buildings with no more than some aspirin and some paper bandages and were really known as the waiting room for the crematorium.

In fact, the biggest takeaway from the day was just how little value was placed on human life by the Nazis.

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There were always new prisoners arriving every day so they always had replacements for their work force as people starved to death or died of diseases like dysentery or frostbite.

Even prisoners who were favored by the guards and made zone commanders were eventually murdered after a couple of months as they had witnessed too much and were, thus, expendable.

There were Nazi doctors at the tracks as the trains arrived deciding whether people would live or die just based on how they looked.

And then sometimes they just sent whole trainloads of prisoners to the crematorium.

Oh, and if someone actually did escape or attempt to escape as punishment 10 people in their cell block would be murdered.

Story after story about the atrocities that went on there.

As the sky turned dark and the rain started to pour down the tour came to an end around 6pm as we stood at the memorial at the end of the tracks at Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

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A heavy day indeed and certainly one that puts things into perspective…

USSR Trip 2015, Trip Journal

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