I awoke to another cold and rainy day in Poland, which set the mood for our visit that morning to the death camps of Auschwitz and Berkenau.
We left our hotel early and walked in the cold rain the approximately half mile to where we met our tour bus. Walking in the rain on the ancient cobblestone streets of Krakow really is not so bad.
We found and boarded our tour bus and were soon on our way to the town of Oswiecim, known as Auschwitz in German . Poland had been experiencing some real cold weather and we even saw snow on our trip .
While on our bus, we watched a very informative and graphic video about the horrors of the Nazi occupation, the creation of the death camps and the murders of over a million human beings, mainly Jewish but also many Polish residents and citizens of other occupied countries. This is a link to some more photographs from our ride to Auschwitz. http://www.keepyoureyespeeled.net/poland-photographs-april-2017/nggallery/poland-april-2017/Poland-Day-Twelve-Auschwitz-walk-and-bus-ride-April-19-2017-
I have spent a few weeks now reflecting on my visit to these infamous places where so many atrocities were committed. I can write volumes on the feelings they evoked in me, horror, pity, disgust, sadness, anger, so many feelings. . I have decided it may be best to offer a few brief comments and let the horrific photographs speak for themselves and for the victims of the Nazi hatred.
We entered the camp, and it was hard, at first, to believe, that these quaint, well maintained stone buildings and tree lined streets could have been the place of such evil.
Above the entrance to the camp are the infamous words “Arbeit macht frei” or , in English, “work sets your free”.
The place almost seemed like a college campus, but, as is often the case in life, looks can be so deceiving. Here is a link to some more photographs of these buildings. http://www.keepyoureyespeeled.net/poland-photographs-april-2017/nggallery/poland-april-2017/Poland-Day-Twelve-Auschwitz-buildings-one-April-19-2017-
Once again we had an informative guide, who, soon made all of us aware of the horrific history of this place. We entered one of the buildings which contained exhibits explaining how the camp began as a prison for political dissenters and captured Russians.
However, as the Nazi regime initiated it plans for the “final solution”, the extermination of the entire Jewish race, it soon became an ever more efficient factory to steal from, murder and dispose of over a million souls, most of them Jewish..
The many exhibits included photographs showing the various ethnic, political and cultural groups chosen by the Nazis for extermination. They included most of the Polish intellectuals, reporters, lawyers, teachers, doctors, anyone who would question the hatred of the Nazis. Of course most of those murdered were Jews.
The exhibits included many illustrations and models of the gas chambers and how the Nazis were able, by trial and error, to develop ways to murder and dispose of so many human lives so efficiently.There was many items of actual evidence of the existence and extent of the murders including the canisters of gas used to poison these fellow humans whose only crime was to be born. This is a link to some photographs I took of the exhibits. http://www.keepyoureyespeeled.net/poland-photographs-april-2017/nggallery/poland-april-2017/Poland-Day-Twelve-Auschwitz-exhibits-April-19-2017-
We moved to another building or block as they were called in Auschwiz, block 4. which was, for me, the most horrible in this place of horrors and which affected me the most. It housed exhibits displaying the actual belongings of the people murdered in the gas chambers.
Most of the Jewish people who were transported here from other parts of Poland were told they were just being re-located. They were only able to bring a few items, and of course, they would be the one’s of greatest value. Upon arrival they were stolen and sold by the Nazis.
As were there shoes, handbags and other personal items.
I still get so emotional seeing this photograph of the hair removed from women prisoners. It too would be sold and used for the German war efforts. I recall seeing a ponytail taken, I believed . from a young girl, and imagined the feelings she had as it was cut. I thought of what her mother was thinking. And then they were both led to a chamber where they would be told they were to receive a shower, only to be suffocated with poison gas. Thinking about this as I looked at the hair, and hearing our guide tell us how a Nazi leader said that in order to exterminate a race you must start with the children I am not ashamed to say I broke down and cried. To see these horrors with one’s own eyes is a life changing experience.
As I said, I could write a novel about this visit but I must move on. There were many more exhibits in this block, each item belonging to a human being, with a soul, and destroyed for no reason other then hate and greed. It is a lesson we should have learned from, hate is never a solution to any problem, but with the events occurring on our planet it does not appear that we did. Here is a link to some more photographs of the personal items of the victims of Nazi racial hatred. http://www.keepyoureyespeeled.net/poland-photographs-april-2017/nggallery/poland-april-2017/Poland-Day-Twelve-Auschwitz-exhibits-belongings-April-19-2017-
We next proceeded to a block were political prisoners were housed and executed. At first the Nazis would photograph and assign numbers to the prisoners at Auschwitz, before this became too expensive and only numbers tattooed on the prisoners were used.
There were rows and rows of photographs on the walls of a long hall. I looked at the faces of each and every one, each a life extinguished too soon.
In addition to the many Jewish people there were also many Polish political figures and intellectuals who were rounded up and executed in this building. One of them was Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest who volunteered to exchange his life for a prisoner chosen to be starved to death. The highlighted red link will take you to a website with more information about this compassionate priest.
As we left the building we were shown the wall where many prisoners were executed by firing squad.
We continued our tour outside and walked past buildings where experiments were performed on woman. The horrors of this place, and the Nazi murderers who ran it, were everywhere. Here is a link to some more photographs of these buildings http://www.keepyoureyespeeled.net/poland-photographs-april-2017/nggallery/poland-april-2017/Poland-Day-Twelve-Auschwitz-barracks-and-photos-April-19-2017-
We next proceeded to the most horrifying part of the tour of Auschwitz, the actual gas chambers were victims were murdered and crematoria were they were disposed of. This is one of the rooms were the gas canisters were dropped into a room crowded with the unsuspecting victims.
You could see the marks left on the walls as the victims clawed against them with their last breath.
And here are the ovens used to dispose of the remains of the victims.
As we left the horrors of Auschwitz we saw this old man walk past and we were told he was a survivor, now in his 90’s, who works at the museum. I wished I had time to speak with him about the nightmares he witnessed, so I could recount them ,so that we never forget what this unfettered hate, when allowed to grow, did to so many innocent lives. Here is a link to some more photographs of the gas chambers and crematoria. http://www.keepyoureyespeeled.net/poland-photographs-april-2017/nggallery/poland-april-2017/Poland-Day-Twelve-Auschwitz-gas-chambers-
After a short break, we proceeded to the nearby Birkenau concentration camp, the largest of the camps in the Auschwitz complex.
It was created as the need to house, kill and dispose of more prisoners increased with the implementation of the Nazi plan for the “final solution” , the extermination of the Jewish race.
We first viewed the block or barracks which housed the prisoners.
It was now raining, windy and very cold out, there were snow flurries earlier, and we walked the half mile through the camp to the remains of some of the largest gas chambers and crematoria in all of the Nazi death camps.
They were destroyed by the Nazis as the Russian army approached to try and conceal that inhuman crimes that took place here.
We were told how, on windy days the piles of ashes from the crematoria would blow in the surrounding areas making them one large cemetery . So it was fitting to have a number of memorials in different languages serving as a reminder of these events and a warning to never let them happen again. A warning we should all take to heart as hatred continues to spread across this tiny planet we all share. Here is a link to some more photographs from my visit to Birkenau. http://www.keepyoureyespeeled.net/poland-photographs-april-2017/nggallery/poland-april-2017/Poland-Day-Twelve:-Birkenau-April-19-2017-
“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
― Elie Wiesel