Monday, August 4, 2014

Auschwitz

Auschwitz.. just the name itself conjures up a vision of horrors.
Entering Auschwitz I
One of the main reasons we went to Krakow, besides to see the city itself, was to make a day trip to the Auschwitz museum.




When we arrived in Krakow, we found a brochure for a tour of both the main camps in the Tourist Information office at the railway station, and organised the booking for the following day.

The entry to the museum is free, but they restrict the times that individual visitors (non-tour group) can enter, plus with the hassle of getting there, getting between the two camps and getting back again, it was much more convenient to do the tour. At 135 złoty per person, or about AU$47, it wasn't too bad.

The tour included pickup from our hotel (and return drop, too), guided tour of both sites and the transfer between the sites.

The company had several buses of tourists, and there were at least three guide groups. The one we initially joined was disappointing, the Polish guide told the company's guy stuff, then we got a translation. There was no sense of flow and to top it off, he was breathing heavily onto the microphone, so we got lots of quite loud noise.

As we were walking, another of the company's groups was just ahead of us, and we listened in on their channel, and the guide was brilliant. She knew what she was talking about and her English was fantastic.

So we jumped ship, so to speak. We calmly and subtly walked into the other group and started following them around for the rest of the tour. Win!
I feel we got a lot more out of the tour now that we had a guide we could follow (and who didn't try to deafen us with blasts of air on the mic).

The site is well presented - a lot of buildings are still around, and there were a lot of buildings, particularly in the Auschwitz II - Birkenau camp.
Auschwitz I
There is a lot of greenery now, which was not in the camp when it was in use, and the guide told us that the prisoners would eat any grass they found, as they were so desperate for any food.

Apparently, the infamous "Arbeit macht frei" sign over the entrance to Auschwitz I was stolen and later recovered, but the sign there now is a replica.. guess they don't want more thieves to try their luck..
Replica..

The buildings we entered had displays of personal items left behind by the murdered people, including the cut hair of the women (and men, if the length was over 20mm), which the Nazis sold to factories that made cloth out of it..
Photos of this were not allowed, so this is one I found on the internet..

Shoes with missing owners..
Suitcases tell sad stories..

The mountain of shoes, left from the smaller of the two storage areas (the larger was burnt by the Nazis "on their way out"), and the suitcases all makes you realise just how vast the scope of this evil was.. so many people just ripped out of the world, leaving a pair of shoes, some clothes and in most cases, just some scattered ashes behind..

There was a spot where hundreds of people were shot, the so-called "Wall of Death"...
Wall of Death
One particular SS soldier did a lot of the killing here.. he'd shoot 10, 15, 20 people in a day, then return home to his wife and kids, after "just another day at work"..

Of course, his "job" was small-time compared to the gas chambers where several hundred would be killed at a time..
Gas chamber
Cremation ovens to hide the evidence..
Auschwitz-Birkenau was big.. the crematoriums here were blown up by retreating Nazis..
Crematorium ruins
In the houses, the people were sleeping on three levels, with the ground level being the worst as you'd get wet in the rain and covered in the above two levels' waste..
Sleeping arrangements..

Six or more people per "bunk" level!!
The houses were freezing in winter, with the stoves usually having no fuel, and scorching hot in summer. We were inside one for a few minutes and it was getting too warm for us... imagine sharing with another 500+ people..

It's almost an insult to have such beautiful weather at this place (Auschwitz-Birkenau)..

It's unbelievable that such evil can exist, but the evidence is undeniable..
When, in the greater scheme of things, we're all related, how can we even think of destroying others' lives?
Hopefully, memorials such as this will remind us, and warn against such evil arising again..