Monday, May 12, 2014

Auschwitz I Concentration Camp - Poland

Back in November we took a trip to southern Poland. My daughter, Ashlenne, read The Diary of Anne Frank last year and was interested in visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp, where Anne Frank was imprisoned for September and October in 1944. Anne Frank was transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in late October, 1944. She succumbed to months of starvation and disease in March, 1945.

Auschwitz concentration camp gates

Here is the entrance to the camp with the Nazi slogan Arbeit Macht Frei, or Work Makes (you) Free.

Auschwitz concentration camp

Auschwitz took in prisoners from 1940 until late 1944. Because records were lost and destroyed and evidence (human bodies and ashes) of the extermination carried out by the Nazis was hidden and also destroyed, it is difficult to know exactly how many people were murdered in Auschwitz. But estimates put the number at at least 1,100,000 people. Many of the young and very old were never registered when they reached the camp. They were immediately killed in the gas chamber. 

Auschwitz concentration camp

Walking down this gravel street in the rain, it seemed that we were in a quaint, brick village. It was peaceful and serene. It wasn't until you got up close to the buildings and read the description on the placards about the atrocities that took place inside that you realized the horror of this seemingly quaint village. Experiments, starvation, and torture.

Auschwitz hanging beam

This is a pole where people were hung backwards by their arms.

Down the road there is Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The concentration camp that is famous for the railroad lines that lead up through the gates for the easy unloading of people, many of who were sent directly into what were called "showers," but were actually gas chambers where pellets of the pesticide Zyklon B were dropped through holes in the roof. It took 20 minutes sometimes for the poison to kill everyone inside.

Auschwitz concentration camp

Here is a wall where prisoners were shot and killed by guards. Other guards were positioned nearby to remove the bodies and line up a new batch of prisoners to be executed.

Auschwitz concentration camp

This is a window of a basement room in the infamous Block 11 where some of the worst and the most heinous punishments were carried out.

Auschwitz concentration camp barracks

Here are some of the barracks where prisoners of the concentration camp were housed. These are wooden bunks, stacked three high, where prisoners slept two to a bunk on the bare wood. Prisoners that were issued wooden bunks were the lucky ones, though. We passed rooms that were nothing but a cold concrete floor where people were made to sleep.

Auschwitz concentration camp

As the Soviet Red Army advanced towards Auschwitz in January 1945, SS officers ordered the destruction of the crematoriums to hide their crimes. Here are some of them still intact. The Soviet Red Army liberated the camp on January 27, 1945.

Auschwitz concentration camp crematorium

Inside the crematorium, the walls, the ceiling, and the brick ovens are coated with soot leftover from the bodies that were burned here.

I walked around Auschwitz with my children and husband. We were all quiet. The acts that took place here, the suffering, it was just horrible. It's almost too much to comprehend. What do I mean almost. It IS too much. A numbness settles on you after you have seen picture after picture. After you have read story after story detailing the awful ways humans can cause pain in another human. When I say numb, I don't mean that you don't feel anything. You definitely do. But you don't see many people crying. What you see is people walking around with a shocked look on their face. Mouths slightly hanging open. And it's quiet. Although I managed to photograph around the tourists on this day, it was quite crowded. But everywhere you looked, people would be standing in line, whispering to their group. This is not the place for running and shouting.

Auschwitz concentration camp suitcases

On of the things that helped the Allied Forces determine the number of casualties in the concentration camps were the number of household goods left over that the Jews, gypsies, and political prisoners had brought with them to the camps. We saw rooms like this one filled with suitcases. There were rooms filled with coats, eyeglasses, artificial limbs and leg braces, and hats. But the hardest one was the room filled with shoes. Piles and piles and piles of shoes, numbering in 10,000's. Men's shoes, women's shoes. And the worst, children's shoes. Little white ones turned yellow and grey with age. What happened to those small children that wore them... 

As awful as it is to visit this place, there are small reminders that hope lives on. Like these lanterns placed around the camp as remembrances to the victims.

This is a difficult spot to visit on vacation. Auschwitz isn't exciting, or beautiful, or filled with different regional food specialties. But everyone should try to make a stop at a concentration camp if they are in this part of the world.

Because after all...

Auschwitz concentration camp


  1. I felt moved and shocked just looking at your photos -- I can't imagine what it must have been like to be there in person. Like your daughter and so many others, I read Anne Frank's diary as a teen and have never forgotten it! The tragedy is hard to comprehend, but your final thought is so important: we must remember.

    1. Thank you. It is a moving place. It is hard to put into words and pictures the feelings that one experiences in a place like this.

  2. We went in winter (same trip as Krakow), and we also fell silent. What could be said? We could only think of those who suffered in the bitter cold, undernourished, underdressed. We have also been to Dachau, and though it is hard to visit such places, we think it is important because of the quote at the end. May we never forget!

  3. This is definitely on my list of places to visit. I recently read the book Night where Elie Wiesel recorded his own personal accounts as a teenager being imprisoned with his father at Auschwitz and later Buchenwald. Just when you think things couldn't get any worse, guess what, they did. So horrific and disgusting and so much worse than any word could describe.


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