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