Friday, March 1, 2013

Auschwitz - A Visit from Krakow

Well this was a depressing day. Having learned extensively about the Holocaust, hearing stories from survivors while growing up, and seeing videos and images of the horror of the camps, nothing prepared us for the profoundly moving and troubling experience of visiting Auschwitz. It was as if the suffering and evil there seeped into the ground and walls, where it was felt all around us as we walked. It took me a few days to recover from what we saw there. (The following contains some upsetting and graphic descriptions and pictures.)

Less than an hour drive from Krakow, we started at Auschwitz I. The entrance bears the sign "Arbeit Mache Frei" ... "Work Makes You Free", an ironic message to those arriving to the camp, though Auschwitz I started as a work camp for political prisoners. With a tour guide we walked through the preserved camp and prison blocks, where some have been turned into small museums holding everything from eyeglasses, hairbrushes, clothing, shoes, and hair. Yes, real human hair that the guards shaved from the dead later to be turned into blankets, clothing, and other textiles.


Suitcases confiscated from the prisoners

Thousands of shoes

We also saw many photographs that gave us a human connection to the empty rooms and barracks that we saw. Our guide said that less than an hour after the following picture was taken all of these people were dead. I don't know why, but I haven't been able to get this particular picture out of my head. Did they know what was about to happen to them, or were they still hopeful at this point?

Our guide took us to other parts of the camp and we saw the places where prisoners slept, one of the gas chambers, and one of the crematoria. It was hard to be in a place where so many people had died.

Gas chamber


A lot of people were crammed in here to sleep.

Birkenau (Auschwitz II) was where the majority of Jews died. In fact, 90% of the people on the trains were killed in the gas chambers (and then put in the crematorium) within one hour of arriving at Auschwitz. A selection process determined whether you would become a forced laborer or would be killed. Those who could not work, looked like they couldn't work, the elderly, pregnant women, young children, infants, and many others were sent to the gas chambers straight away, although these were disguised as shower installations to mislead the victims. The others endured immense suffering with long hours, little to no food, unsanitary conditions, disease, torture, and horrific medical experiments.

The train came right into the camp

A train car that was used to transport Jews
A destroyed gas chamber and crematorium
Prisoner barracks
Inside the barracks where they slept
A memorial with inscriptions in the 22 languages spoken by the captive
Auschwitz Concentration Camp was the largest of its kind, and although there aren't definite numbers, it is generally agreed upon that about 1.3 million people died at Auschwitz with 90% of them being Jewish. Though upsetting, we're glad that we had the chance to see a part of history that should never be forgotten. The world needs to remember the atrocities that happened here and at other camps. To quote Elie Wiesel, author of Night and a Holocaust survivor, "To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time". Never forget.


  1. As you know, I have read and commented on all of your blogs. Each and every one of them have always been happy, showing beautiful pics and describing all of the amazing places in Europe that you and Jon have been to. But I have to tell you that this blog in particular was extremely hard for me to read. First I have to say, that you did an amazing job on this blog. I agree that the pictures are extremely upsetting and disturbing, however, you presented this blog with the upmost dignity and respect for the six million Jews and other victims of this unspeakable horror. I also have to say that I can't even imagine someone out there saying that the Holocaust never happened. How can some people deny it?!! How fitting is it that the sky is dark and bleak, and the weather is cold? And in your last blog (Chamonix, France), I commented on the fact that the snow looked so beautiful and peaceful. But I can't say the same thing here. I look at the snow in these pictures, and instead of it being pure white, clean, and fresh, I look at the snow as being dirty and disgusting. I try to imagine these poor people at this horrible place, and it's so hard to even think of what they went through. Your pictures capture the feeling of despair and helplessness. The victims suffered and went through absolute hell under the Nazi regime, and we will never, ever forget their determination and heroism. I feel this blog is in memory of all the victims of the Holocaust.

  2. I agree with your Mom, Cheryl, you really did a great job on this post because I cannot imagine how hard it was to visit and then try to summarize your experience. There are no words for the pain and horror that took place here but it is very important to remember, to honor the lives that were lost and to make sure that such atrocities never occur again. Thank you for this post!!!!