I went to Auschwitz not entirely sure what to expect. I left Auschwitz reeling from what I had learnt. It was such an evil place.
Amy and I (someone I had met the previous night and had decided to go together) took the bus, which was a small minibus so packed with people that we had to stand for the hour and a half that it took to reach the town of Oscwiecim. Although considering where we were going, it didnt feel like the time to complain.
We were given a guided tour packed with information. We walked under the Arbeit Macht Frei sign into the barracks of Auschwitz. This sign promised those that walked under it that if you worked hard, you would be rewarded with freedom. Of course we all know that wasnt the case.
It was a beautiful day, in stark contrast to the place we were and I had to keep reminding myself that I was treading those same paths and that this was not some replica museum.
We were shown how prisoners of war were first kept in Auschwitz and then how Jews were enticed in with promises of work. I couldnt believe how far the propaganda to hide it all stretched. Most people were shipped in in trains, went through a selection process, those that were strong were kept and went to work, others went straight to the shower rooms. However, a few families were occasionally kept together, long enough for Nazis to force them to write happy letters home telling of the work and good conditions that were provided at Auschwitz. Then they were sent back through the selection process like everyone else.
Once selected for work, belongings, clothes, families and identites were taken leaving the individual with just a number. The items that were taken were looted through and sent back to Germany. Every one was shaved. Human hair made a good price in the textile industry. We were taken through rooms that showed these items – the ones that were not sent off or destroyed before the liberation. That was hard to see. there were so many stolen things. There was a whole room full of mounds of shoes. Each pair having once belonged to a person. It was a sharp reminder of the souls that were here, you can listen to facts, look at photos but these… Well, it was really something else.
We also went to Birkenau which was truely massive. there were concrete chimney stacks left where the barracks had been burnt away around them in an effort to destroy evidence. The barracks which people were forced to live in actually were designed as horse stables. The brick barracks were made from the houses that had been dismantled from the town that was previously on the site.
Of the 90,000 that could be kept in Auschwitz at any one time, at the liberation, only 7,000 were rescued. The Nazis optimistic to the end- many had been marched to Germany to continue back there.
all in all, a heavy day. It was a busy day there and it was good to see so many people still care.