To be honest, I had initial hesitancy about publishing this post. This experience haunted me–so much so– that I was hesitant to even publish an online article about my experience. How could words even begin to express such atrocity, such evil, such hate? How could I ever verbalize my disgust and astonishment about what I saw? The truth is . . . I can’t. Yet, here I sit.
I’m publishing this post not for my self or for my readers, but for those who suffered. May their spirits forever fill the saddened hearts of those missing generations of the 6+ million individuals murdered during the Holocaust. May these photographs and words float on the wind, not on whispers, but on bold statements– I share the following so that no evil like this will ever occur again. Educate your future generations. Say it often and fiercely– hate breeds hate. Evil breeds evil. Fight the evil– that enemy the devil, he prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, & devour, he did.
The anniversary approaches. On January 27th, 1945 Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz.
The haunted venture began as we rode in a van through rural Poland. The National Socialist Party leaders knew exactly what they were doing when they created this terrible place. It’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s STILL hard to get to; it’s in the middle of the frost covered woods and fields, far out of sight.
The black bare trees towered high overhead, a stark contrast against the snow on the ground. The van dropped us off in Oświęcim, Poland. Darkness had just laid her cover over us. No one else was around. I looked to my left. I wasn’t prepared for the haunting view yet, but there laid the concentration camp.
A Norwegian once described the feeling to me best. A cold feeling overcomes your whole body when you’re there. Your soul feels cold.
We walked to the hotel, pulling our suitcases behind us on the gray brick road along the fence, clack, clack, clack. The hotel, to my knowledge, what just about the only hotel in town; it was also right across the street from the camp. I could see the buildings from my window on the second floor. Despite its location the hotel was surprisingly & modestly nice. It smelled of the dishes cooking in the delicious kitchen in the basement. The room had 3 twin beds. Andrew went to bed early because he was feeling pretty crummy, succumbed to a cold virus. I lied awake for hours. In times of distress or discomfort, sleep is always the first thing to flee from me. I dreamed of demons and devils. We woke early to experience the camp alone. The following photographs were taken in memory of the people who suffered at both of the camps we saw, Auschwitz and Birkenau. Each photo has a description. There are also three short paragraphs of narrative writing following the photographs. These photos where taken in a respectful manner. Viewer discretion is advised.
The Nazis bought this land and forced all of the locals out, either relocating them or killing them. They used prisoner labor to add on to the camp facilities and continued to do so throughout the war.
This snow field was where prisoners were first processed once they arrived. Children, the elderly, and disabled prisoners where shot here if they were not able to work. Imagine the white snow stained in blood.
The camp entrance began with a lie “Arbeit Macht Frei”, which directly translates to “Work Makes Free”, meaning that prisoners could work themselves into freedom. A small musical band was on the right side when you entered the camp. This delusional circus act was designed to keep prisoners marching to a beat, making them easier for SS officers to count.
This drawing made me very sad. It is of an officer stepping on a small child to kill them.
This shows the two layers of fence. We learned of many prisoners plans to escape. We even saw a space in a wall where a prisoner was slowly hiding items to take with them for an escape. I imagine that this prisoner did not live to fulfill their plan. There were a few successful escapes from the camp. But when prisoners escaped, or were caught trying to communicate with the outside world, their entire extended family was rounded up and brought to the camp as a consequence.
These are the barracks where they housed prisoners of the work camp. I was surprised to learn that the Soviet prisoners of war where treated the most cruel & were separated from other prisoners. Prisoners where literally worked to death. They were also forced to stand in role call, sick, with little clothing, everyday in the freezing cold. Joseph Mengele, a demented Nazi doctor tortured and did experiments on triplets and twin children, cutting them open with no anesthetics, and replacing their reproductive and vital organs with the organs of their siblings. Pregnant women were used for experiments. Nazi officials waited for the births of the newborn children, then murdered the infants in front of their mothers. The mothers were then killed. People were starved. They were hung. They were suffocated. Severe pain was inflicted & They were made to watch, helplessly dreading their own death and helplessly watching the suffering of their fellow prisoners.
These are the legitimate cans of zyklon B, the chemical used to gas prisoners.
This is a pile of glasses gathered from prisoners who were murdered. The exhibit also showed piles (as big as a house) of shoes from those murdered. I did not cry until I came across a pile of children’s tiny shoes the size of my living-room at home. I was really not prepared to see the 4,300 pounds of human hair in a pile. The hair was shaved from the dead bodies of those murdered. The pile of hair was discovered by the soldiers when they liberated the camp. The pile was about 10 feet high and 50 feet long. It was huge. The SS officers sold the human hair to the public for profit to make items. They also pulled the gold from the teeth of those murdered. I walked through one of the gas chambers where they would lock hundreds of victims inside to gas them. I envisioned this happening to me as I walked through, I was terrified, & horrified.
We rode a bus to camp #2, Birkineu. This camp was created as a final solution to the Jewish question. Prisoners were not used as a workforce here, but rather murdered (in most cases) directly after unloading off of trains.
This was the end of the line. Of the hundreds of miles of railroad used to transport prisoners to their death, this was where all of the tracks led, this was where it ended, & this was where so many lives ended. These were some of the last things that they saw.
When the war was ending, and the Nazi soldiers knew that the Soviet and American soldiers were closely approaching, soldiers destroyed most of the crematoriums to cover up their war crimes. To me, this is direct evidence that they knew what they had been doing was wrong.
I expected to find a Holocaust museum when I headed to Auschwitz. For me, the most telling and lasting experience was that this was not a museum, it was exactly the same as when the Nazis left it. It’s a grave. The buildings really did not seem that old. World War II was really not that long ago. It eerily seemed as if there were prisoners there yesterday. Throughout my travels in Europe, I have seen many of the homes of those killed (the Jewish population & otherwise); I’ve seen their homes where where they once peacefully lived.Commemorative plaques mark the places where people where pulled from their homes and sent to concentration camps, where people where sent to Auschwitz. Some of those homes where hundreds of miles away, in Copenhagen, in Berlin, in Prague, Paris & Budapest. The victims’ perspective really came together for me on this day. They had traveled so long, so far, only to meet their end at the hands of an evil government. The people who where murdered where really not much different than you and I; they were not much different than our grandparents. You can feel them when you walk around. You can feel the evil, the misconception, and the prejudice that made it’s home in this domain. The evil is still there & that same evil could be on your doorstep, or on your children’s doorstep if you do not share these atrocities & those like them.
I had a conversation with a local Polish taxi driver who remembered the war. His family’s home was used as housing for Nazi soldiers. He told us that the soldiers were really not terrible people, that they were normal men who were trying to avoid the war front with the Soviets, so they were stationed in Poland.He said the soldiers gave his family food & they were kind. But he told me that the SS officers were terribly mean and crazy. He shared that in life, he thought most people are good hearted– he said that he loved all people, but that he hates all governments. Let us be weary of power, and governments, for power corrupts human brains.
This experience also peaked my interest in other unjustified killings. Did you know that in Cambodia, due to the Khmer Rouge, that as recently as the 1970s that 2.5 million people where shot, and starved as a direct result of political conflict? Did you know that an estimated 130,000 people are held in prison camps in North Korea, tortured and killed? Can you believe that this sort of evil still exists in the world? We must teach our future generations how to overcome this sort of hatred. “The one who does not remember history, is bound to live through it again”.
For more information at the camp check out Rick Steve’s short informational video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9O5-4uCU3T4