Saturday, June 17, 2017

As far back as I can remember my mum has forever wanted to visit two places; Holland (which we visited a few years back) and Poland, to visit Auschwitz. After years of saying "we should", we finally did! I've split my time into two posts, for those who may only be interested in seeing Auschwitz and Birkenau. Or those who are (also) interested in seeing the sights of Krakow.

I know a few people have been interested in hearing about my visit and seeing images I've taken. So I will try to include as much information as I can remember. 
I do warn those who perhaps don't know the full extent of what happened at Auschwitz or Birkenau, to be prepared for some upsetting stories of historical genocide. 

The day we visited both Auschwitz and Birkenau started off very cloudly and turned into a beautifully hot day. We visited Auschwitz first and the journey (which we booked with our hotel) took around an hour from the city centre. It was such an odd journey. No one hardly spoke to each other, and the time past very slowly. This could be due to my terrible car sickness, or the fact we were all contemplating the place we were about to visit. When we arrived it was already very busy, with buses of school children queuing up. After about a 10/15 minute wait, we got allocated with an English speaking tour guide. Who showed us where to get our headsets, and get our bags searched etc. The headsets were actually a very welcomed feature to the tours. As in a group of twenty or thirty people. It's easy to not hear the tour guide up in front. It meant wherever we happened to be in the group, we could all hear him clearly. Choosing to turn the volume up and down as we see fit. 

We started at the infamous entrance gates. Reading "Arbeit macht frei" which in English translates to "Work sets you free". Our tour guide noted that he believes this may have been influenced by the Bible quote "the truth sets you free". The idea was a so-called motivational warning to those who entered the gates. But those believing that work would lead to them to being free were very sadly mistaken.

Personal documents of prisoners sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.

There was these massive (probably around 6x8ft) pictures on the walls inside the museum buildings. As far as I could tell the buildings used to be the cell blocks, which housed the prisoners in the work camp. Which we will see in more detail later.
As you can see in the image. Men/boys and women/girls were lined up during the "selection" process. They choose those who were "fit" for work, which was basically anyone over the age of fourteen years old, and sent them to the work camp. Those who were too elderly, or usually women with children, would be automatically sent instead to the death camp.

This is one image that really hit me hard. I tried my best to stay a little a head of the group to take images without being in the way. It was placed in a hallway that we didn't go up, we only were able to look down it, and see the horror of that image. I was standing by myself, waiting for the rest of the group to catch up, and all I could do was stare at that image.

One very intelligent feature they created, were these display cases filled with hundreds of items. Featuring only a big glass window to view whatever devastating things were inside. It was a very artistic exhibit, but it really got you thinking about the scale and solely on what you were seeing. Among the items I've photographed, there were also a few exhibits that we were asked not to photograph (as well as ones that were too crowded.) One of which was a massive case of human hair. All the prisoners at the concentration camps had their hair shaven, in order to help prevent typhus, which was spread by body lice. 
If you're interested in seeing this, I've included a link to images on google.
A display of thousands of glasses from the victims, found at the work/death camps.
The victims suitcases; As far as I'm aware, they believe their belongings were going to be sent back to their homes. So they wrote their names and address on them. But of course they never were. They were usually looted by the soliders who removed them from their owners.
The victims shoes. I cannot explain how many thousands of pairs of shoes there were. Nor can I explain the many different sizes, ranging from a grown man to the smallest of children.
Victims hair/grooming brushes.

This very long hallway. Featured thousands of images of death camp victims. Down one side were all woman. The other side, all men. As you can see they were wearing the well-known "striped pyjamas".

The patch seen here on Jozef Israel Liban was the Jewish star badge. They used this badge system in order to easily identify why the prisoner was sent to the work camp, and therefore what role exactly they would be given. Although the double triangle/Star of David star is the most recognized. There were many different badges used in this system.
Which can be better explained here.

I never took a photo of the courtyard, as I didn't feel like it was an appropriate thing to photograph. Especially as there were many lighting candles, praying, and paying their respects.

Electrified fences. Sign reads: CAUTION High Voltage. 

Then we continued our tour at Birkenau, the death camp.
They built the camps on either side of the railway tracks. So moving the incoming prisoners off the train into the camps, was unfortunately, a simple task.

This was what was left of one, of three of the gas main chambers. As far as I am aware, it had been bombed and destroyed.

The tall rectangle stone shape you see here, is the International Monument in honour of the millions of prisoners killed at Birkenau, erected in 1967.

Many of the barracks buildings have fallen into disrepair and no longer safe for the public to enter. But we did get to see inside one of the barracks at the woman's camp. 
It was one of the eeriest places I have ever been. For the whole time, my mum, my sister and I, had managed to not shed a tear. But all three of us were very close to doing so, by the time we left. I'm sure those who know about the living conditions at the death camps (and/or who have watched The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas) will know the horrors of these buildings. These "beds" were required to fit at least six people. When they were hardly the width of a standard double bed. I couldn't wait to get out, even for the mere minutes we were in there. It felt like the walls were closing in around you. It became very apparent to me, the painful energy this room held.

Even though it was of course a very difficult experience. We have always had an unspoken rule in our family, to not shy away from tragedies like this. Even in modern day, it's important to be educated and up to date on the horrors of the world. To know these aren't the acts of everyone and to learn the mistakes, in order to prevent, and to never ever repeat them. That we must all come together as equals, and realise even in our differences, we are all human.
To those interested in War World II and are wanting to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau. I hope this has been educational and an interesting read. I would definitely recommend it to anyone swaying on going. Just be aware, there's quite a lot of walking and the tour groups move quite quickly. So it can be a bit overwhelming to take it all in at the time.

Thank you very much for reading.

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