Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

In February 2015, we packed up the car and headed off to Poland! This trip was a last minute decision. Since we had done a big Christmas Vacation, 11-day Mediterranean Cruise, we decided that we were going to hold off on doing any trips until March when Drew's mom Gwen came to visit.
The 4-day weekend in January passed and we didn't do anything. When the 4-day in February approached I started to get antsy. I had taken the Friday off of work back in December because I thought that we would do something, as it got closer we still had nothing planned. So Drew and I sat down and decided that we were going to do something.
Since the 4-day was the next weekend, we decided that we had to do something that was pet-friendly, or somewhere we could bring the dogs. We chose to go to Poland, mostly for the food. :)
I've been hinting that I wanted to head to Boleswiec and go Pottery Shopping. Drew said that if we went to Poland, we HAD to go to Auschwitz. So we compromised, we went to both!
From Grafenwoehr, it is less than a four hour drive to Bolesweic, like Germany, Poland is one of the few countries that you don't have to have a Vignette (A tax sticker, you buy them when crossing the border). If I remember correctly we didn't have to pay tolls on the road either!
We stopped off in Boleswiec for the afternoon while I went pottery shopping crazy, Drew kept the pups company, the rooms were way to filled with pottery to the brim and I didn't feel comfortable letting them come in with us. you break it you bought it was all over the place.
Sooo many knick kacks. I wanted them all!

HAHA. No comment needed
From Bolesweic we drove 3 hours to Auschwitz. Oświęcim is a town that lies on the intersection where National Road 44 meets local roads 933 and 948. Oświęcim's old town is located east of the Soła, with the Main Market Square at its centre. There really isn't much to do in Auschwitz. The only thing in the town is Auschwitz. We stayed at Hotel Olecki, for 378 zloty (less than $100), for 2 nights. It included free Parking, breakfast, WiFi, and accepted pets. The best part about it was that it was literally right across the street from Auschwitz. I can't say enough about this place, it was fantastic, especially the food.

If you've never been to Auschwitz, I hope you've at least heard of it. After our trip there Drew had guys come up to him asking him what Auschwitz was! Can you even imagine? I have middle schooler's who know what it is! So I guess the next generation isn't hopeless. But just in case, Auschwitz was a network of German Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp to staff an IG Farben factory), and 45 satellite camps. The camps were located approximately 37 miles west of Krakow, near the prewar German-Polish border in Upper Silesia, an area that Nazi Germany annexed in 1939 after invading and conquering Poland.

The gates to Auschwitz I displayed the motto Arbeit macht frei ("Work brings freedom")

We went to Auschwitz on February 14, I know it's not the most romantic place to go and visit, but what can I say, we like to live dangerously.
I don't really have words to describe this place. Being here was surreal. We got up early-ish, headed next door and stood in line for our tickets, I would suggest buying them online. The line was out the door and we missed the English tour by 5 minutes! So we had to wait another hour for the next tour. I was told you could buy it online, but we weren't sure what time we were going to be there. It all worked out in the end. The line moved quick enough, it sucked that we had to wait, but tickets were cheap enough, I think it was about $10, (Polish money is confusing to me). Our tour group was pretty huge, but they broke us down into smaller groups. I think our group had about 20 people in it. Not too bad. We each got our own head set, I love it when tour groups have the head set. It makes it so much easier, I get to wander but I can still hear the tour group!

Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941, and Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazi "Final Solution to the Jewish question". From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp's gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe, where they were killed with the pesticide Zyklon B. At least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz, around 90 percent of them Jewish; approximately 1 in 6 Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp.

 Original gates still up today!

This is where they had to stop other wise the prisoners were shot!

Between the medical-experiments barrack and the prison block (Block 11) stood the "Black Wall," where SS guards executed thousands of prisoners.

Photographs of the children that were murdered.

Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and tens of thousands of people of diverse nationalities. Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.
Cans of Zyklon B (a highly lethal cyanide-based pesticide) that was used in the gas chambers

The first gas chamber is on Auschwitz I, when people were first being experimented on. Our guide told us that it took days for the first round of people to be murdered. I couldn't bring myself to go into the original gas chamber. It felt wrong to me some how, too much bad ju-ju for my liking. 

Gas Chamber
Scratch Marks on the door.

After our tour at Auschwitz I, we were given the option to head to Birkeanu, it is included in the tour, but a lot of people chose not to go. We chose to go because of Birkeanu's history. This is where the gas chambers and mass murders took place.
Auschwitz-Birkenau also contained the facilities for a killing center. New arrivals at Auschwitz-Birkenau underwent selection. The SS staff determined the majority to be unfit for forced labor and sent them immediately to the gas chambers, which were disguised as shower installations to mislead the victims. The belongings of those gassed were confiscated and sorted in the "Kanada" (Canada) warehouse for shipment back to Germany. Canada symbolized wealth to the prisoners.

Original tracks that lead into Birkeanu

The view from the outside

Aerial View

The train cart, usually would fit about 80-100 people here.

6 Prisoners would sleep in this little space.

The chief of construction of Auschwitz II-Birkenau was Karl Bischoff. Unlike his predecessor, he was a competent and dynamic bureaucrat who, in spite of the ongoing war, carried out the construction deemed necessary. The Birkenau camp, the four crematoria, the technically complicated central sauna, a new reception building, and hundreds of other buildings were planned and realized. Bischoff's plans initially called for each barrack to have an occupancy of 550 prisoners (one-third of the space allotted in other Nazi concentration camps). He later changed this to 744 prisoners per barrack. The SS designed the barracks not so much to house people as to destroy them.

Birkenau is a death camp. Words cannot describe what it is like to be there. We didn't take pictures of us while we were there, for some reason it felt wrong to stand in front of a place where millions were murdered and smile and pose for a picture. 

Auschwitz is not for the faint at heart. It is a place that we knew we would have to see while we were in Germany. While we were there my heart hurt, but it is an experience that I feel everyone should visit if given the opportunity.