Auschwitz was not one camp but was a complex of three primary sites:
Auschwitz I was the administrative center and concentration camp for
primarily Polish prisoners, Auschwitz-Birkenau (Auschwitz II) was the death
camp, and Buna (Auschwitz III) was for manufacturing and testing facilities,
which also had dozens of labor subcamps.
I which now serves as the museum. Wojciech had been our guide before
and we had been very impressed with both his knowledge and his
pleased. We started under the iconic sign, present in many camps,
which we had seen in Terezin (Theresienstadt): Arbeit Macht Frei.
There, Wojciech gave us the history of the camp. Built in the town
of Oswiecim, Auschwitz is the Germanization of the name of the town.
It was established by the Nazis in 1940 and was in use until the Allied
liberation in 1945.
identified by Block numbers which made up Auschwitz I. Before
passing through the gate, Wojciech showed us a drawing which depicted
an orchestra playing as inmates marched out the gate. He informed us
that many in the orchestra also worked in the kitchen which was a long
building located to the right of the gate. There they were safe
to “organize” [euphemism for ‘steal’] some extra food, and were also
protected from the weather extremes, and so their chances of survival were
concentration camp were severe--- hard work, starvation, disease and brutal
treatment --- so that the average time between one’s arrival in
Auschwitz-Birkenau was established . In 1942 after the Wannsee
Conference this camp starts to function as a death camp. 90% of the
victims in the camp are no longer prisoners, but are taken directly
from the trains to the gas chambers. In 1942, there are estimated to
have been 11 million Jews in Europe, primarily Central Europe:
5 million in the Soviet Union, 3.5 million in Poland and 850,000 in
Hungary. There were 6 death camps, all located in Poland:
Auschwitz was the largest and the only one still functioning towards
the end of the war. The others are Belzec, Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibor,
and Maidanek. An estimated 1.3 million people were murdered in
Auschwitz, a compromise between the low estimate of 1.1 million and the
high of 1.5 million. An urn with a small amount of human ash in
Block 4 symbolizes the loss of all these lives.
shown a large model of a gas chamber which we would see this
afternoon in Birkenau and which showed the three phases of its
operation. First, there was the disrobing room where people were
told to remove their clothes. They were often told to remember
the number on which they put their clothes, or make sure to tie
their shoes together, some were even given a piece of soap – all in
the name of deception. A gas chamber could hold 1,500 people at
a time.The second phase was to have two Zyklon B pellets dropped
through the vents in the roof. The Zyklon B pellets alone were
harmless, and had been used in delousing, but when dropped into
water created a deadly hydrogen cyanide. In 20 minutes, all the
people would be dead and the room would be ventilated which
required half an hour. The third phase required Jewish prisoners
in a special unit called the Sonderkommando to remove the bodies,
shave the hair and remove any gold teeth from the corpses, and
then burn the bodies in the underground crematorium. The average
length of time one served in the Sonderkommando before being killed
himself, was 3-4 months. About 80 Sonderkommando survived the
war and were able to provide testimony.
and heard today and then walked back along the path, passing through the
iconic gate of Auschwitz to head to our final stop on our tour, Krakow.
I did not realize how large Auschwitz was. Walking around the grounds brought about much sadness in me. All the lives lost; so many lives lost; the innocence lost; how could one place be so destructive?
I have never felt worse in my life, then how I felt at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Upon seeing the photos and quotes on how the first to die were children, I could not do anything but cry. Never have I been to a location were the presence of evil emanated so literally.
Standing on the ramp at Birkenau and listening to Shalmi tell stories of victims of the Holocaust, left a feeling of sadness. To hear personal stories of families being separated in this exact spot was heart wrenching.
Nazi ideology, bystanders, perpetrators, victims, Final Solution, were all pieces of the Holocaust. This can be written down on paper, looked at and studied. But in Auschwitz-Birkenau, it made no sense, none of it made any sense.
In Mrs. Sussman's Holocaust class we read "This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen," by Tadeusc Barowski which described life for prisoners who were members of Canada. Today we saw pictures of men who had to take peoples last possessions before being sent to their deaths. Seeing real but stoic images of people who seemed to have the best job in the camp gave a more positive impression than Barowski's description of the type of person he became to gladly send thousands of people to their deaths for a chance to steal their food.
It's difficult to fathom what people will do for their personal benefit. Europeans first accepted Jews only to improve commerce and trade. In the Holocaust, everything the Jews had left including their hair, prosthetic limbs and luggage was taken and sold to benefit the Germans. Jews were only seen as objects to manipulate for personal gain.
There are no words to describe the things we experienced today. We were able to see where millions of people experienced the cruelest treatment by human beings breathing the air, walking on the pavement and seeing the scenery left me unsettled.
Today we went to Auschwitz and it was very emotional. Seeing the hair of the deceased was very upsetting to see and I was in shocked that the Nazis utilized the hair to make blankets and uniforms. This really demonstrated to me the process of dehumanization that the victims went through.
Today I found it very hard to fathom the horrific, inhuman, and unjustifiable crimes that took place in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Walking down the same path that millions of others had been directed down, carrying both their belongings and emotions, I could not help but realize how different it was now from then. A a result, it was hard to imagine what actually transpired where I stood. I struggled with these feelings throughout the day and found my breaking point to be in the room full of women's hair and I felt with the question of why life was so cruel to these innocent people?
The biggest surprise for me today was the fact that I did not know what to expect. I felt that there was this immeasurable amount of emotion that continued to follow me because the sites that we aw today were nothing like I ever pictured before. The Holocaust came together for me today, but yet left me struggling for answers.
As we walked around Auschwitz and Birkenau I felt my legs grow heavy and my stomach drop. From the room filled with hair to Mr. Barmore telling us heart-wrenching stories of families being separated on the ramp, I felt everyone was holding back tears. It is hard to believe that people were forced to live in such conditions.
Today was both physically and emotionally moving; just being where over a million people were sentenced to death. Seeing the whole camp made me depressed, not for the fact that I was there, but for those who were there before. I was emotionally drained seeing the tracks, gas chambers, and crematoria.
Actually being at Auschwitz-Birkenau was overwhelming. Standing where the mass murder of innocent lives occurred revealed a harsh reality. I felt pain and sorrow for the Holocaust victims.
Kelly B. says...
Walking through Auschwtiz-Birkenau today, it was heartbreaking to think about all the lives that were lost there. What really struck me was that most of the people murdered there were convinced that they would be leaving and returning to their lives with their families. The false hope that they were given was cruel and left a lasting impression on me.
Today when we were standing at the selection site at Birkenau, Shalmi told us three stories about peoples personal experiences at the selection site. For me, I started thinking about my family and how I connected to that site. I knew that I was standing in that exact place millions had their fate decided for them.