Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Auschwitz I & Auschwitz II Birkenau

"The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again" 
George Santayana

In a little town called Oświęcim (Auschwitz is the German pronunciation of this town), not far from Kraków and Katowice in Poland, lies two of the Nazi concentration camps where collectively more than 1.3 million people were murdered. Surely the worst atrocities seen in modern times were committed here between the years of 1941 to 1945, and contrary to what a lot of people think, they weren't all Jewish.

It's interesting to note at this point, that on my way there, I commented that it was a shame it hadn't snowed. Given the many images that circle my head of the Holocaust, much of the footage was in the harsh winter months when victims were made to stand outside all day with no shoes, or even naked, with freezing water poured over them as punishment. Many froze to death. Had it of snowed, I thought it would have added to the eerie and bleak atmosphere Auschwitz creates. No sooner had I said this the sky turned a dark grey and snow began to descend.

I've thought long and hard about how to approach this article. I have read alot of what occurred in this very place and yet no article in my opinion has done it justice, I say this because, in my opinion words cannot convey the tragedies that occurred here. I don't even think I could possibly do it justice either. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw that day, and so after careful consideration I knew exactly what to do. I would let the photographs I took that day tell the story.

Arguably the most infamous sign in Auschwitz is the sign above the main entrance gate to Auschwitz I that reads 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (work sets you free). Several ironic slogan signs were dotted around the camp at the time.

The entrance to Auschwitz II Birkenau including the train lines where many of the prisoners arrived. Once the train had come to a stop, hundreds of prisoners appeared from the carriages and stepped onto the ramp. Women and children were separated from the men and there and then it was decided who was fit for work (this amounted to around 25%). The rest were led straight to the gas chambers.

Suitcases were immediately confiscated and mostly sent to Germany to be recycled and sold.

Prisoners being sent to the gas chambers were told that they were going to take a shower to avoid panic. Once inside the changing area, they were told to strip naked and led to the chamber. The doors were locked and cyklon B gas pellets were dropped in through a hole in the roof. After 20 to 40 minutes, the corpses were retrieved and stripped of jewellery and even gold teeth. This was then melted down and sold. Even hair was removed to make fabric.

Corpses were placed on the metal runners and incinerated.

The bunker turned gas chamber.
 In the background you can see the chimney in which the smoke from the incinerators came from. The smell filled the air with a foul stench. This remained undetected due to the fact the surrounding villages had their occupants removed by the Nazis.

Scratches on the inside wall of the gas chamber

The execution wall. Many prisoners were made to strip naked then were escorted to the wall where they were shot in the back of the head. In the building to the right of the wall many atrocities happened. Prisoners were locked in cells and left after being sentenced to death by starvation. Others were made to stand in tiny cells until they died of exhaustion. The basement of the building also housed the room where the first experimental mass murder was committed using cyclon B gas. This was mostly trial and error until the correct formula and time was calculated. In the building to the left of the execution wall, several hundred women prisoners were used as guinea pigs mostly by Gynaecologist Prof Dr. Clauberg for sterilisation experiments. Some died from the treatment administered to them, others were murdered so autopsies could be carried out on them. Those who survived were left with horrific permanent injuries. Experiments by other SS officers were also carried out here.

An example of a carriage used to transport prisoners to the camp in Auschwitz Birkanau

Electric fencing surrounds the entire perimeters of the two camps to keep prisoners from escaping. The families of those who succeeded, were captured and paraded around the camp with signs above them saying why they had been brought to the camp to warn other prisoners what would happen. They were imprisoned until the escapees were recaptured.

One of many warning signs dotted around the camp.

A memorial to all the victims of Auschwitz Birkinau
 I hope that by writing this, as difficult as it was, people will understand that whilst most travelling gives us happy memories, others do not. For me this was educational, and a wake up call to why, as human beings we should live in harmony with other races and religions, stand up, and make sure something like this is not allowed to happen ever again.
Thank you for taking your time to read this article.


  1. Very well written Lauren and well put together. I've been there myself and the feeling that you get from the place can't be put into words! Speak to you tomorrow!

  2. Thanks Marc! Appreciate the support! :) It was very difficult to write so I hope I did good at conveying what I felt.