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.
|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|
|Inside the barracks where they slept|
|A memorial with inscriptions in the 22 languages spoken by the captive|