Auschwitz Tour – Camp Auschwitz + Birkenau.

I was wondering how to approach this blog post…
I realise it’s not the happiest of topics. But it happened, and sometimes we need to put things back into perspective…
Witnessing the ground on which millions of peoples freedom was completely and utterly taken, made me realise and appreciate the ridiculous freedom i am so lucky to have today.
The freedom to walk, the freedom to love, the freedom to sing, the freedom to travel, the freedom to eat, the freedom to even just walk out of my front door.

View from the watchtower at Birkenau
As much as we learn, read and watch about what happened in Auschwitz I don’t think you can really comprehend what went on. I certainly didn’t until I walked the ground on which it happened.
I am going to take you on my tour with me and share the things that stood out to me and stuck with me the most.
Take a couple of minutes now, forget about everything you may be finding difficult in your life and let this put things into perspective.

We did our tour (and our whole trip) through escape2poland, which I would highly recommend.

We were picked up from our hotel at 8am by a mini bus and departed on the hour trip from Krakow to the site. During this hour we were shown a video on the Liberation of Auscwitz to give us a bit of a background.

It was an early start so we all hustled and bustled off the minibus to grab a coffee and wake ourselves up.

We were all given individual headphones and a pack where we all were on a channel that amplified our guide speaking through her microphone. This avoided unnecessary conversations and made the experience very personal.

Here you can see the entrance to the first camp built – Auschwitz I.

‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ Translates to ‘Work makes you free’

Barbed fences surrounding camp Auschwitz

Buildings in Auschwitz I where the prisoners stayed worked and were killed. Majority are restored and now serve as museums to the evidence.
Transported from all over Europe during World War II, people were told many different stories about where they were going. Some told they were going to work elsewhere, some told they were going to the east for a better life.
Families packed up their suitcases and ascended upon the trains in hope of a better life. 
I remember our tour guide saying that some of the Greeks even paid for their train ticket to Auschwitz. Some of the tickets can be seen in the exhibits.
Little did any of them know where they were really going…

Upon arrival men women and children were separated. All belongings were taken from the prisoners.
Be it clothes, glasses, suitcases, shoes, hair, family, everything.

Pregnant women, the elderly, the young and the ill, were taken straight to gas chambers/ killed as they were considered ‘unfit to work’ and so completely useless.
They were told they were being disinfected and cleaned before being housed and fed. Really, that was just a lie and they were led into chambers and murdered.
(I know this is brutal, but really I’m not going to lie to you, at any point you can switch off this blog post and stop reading.)

Preserved evidence of a sample of the glasses taken from Auschwitz prisoners.

Preserved evidence of a sample of the suitcases taken from Auschwitz prisoners.
Preserved evidence of 40,000 pairs of shoes. Still only a sample that taken from Auschwitz prisoners.
Preserved evidence of a sample of the brushes/cosmetics/belongings taken from Auschwitz prisoners.
For those that I can’t even say ‘were lucky enough’ to survive this stage, they were given rags to wear, and were distinguished only by marks and a number. 
The number was tattoed on their left forearm and represented their prisoner number. For children the number was tattoed on their legs as their arms were too small.
From this point they no longer had a name, or their former identity. 

We walked round some of the exhibits in the restored buildings and then in the last building remained the original structure.

As you walk into the cellar there are cells upon cells, ones to suffocate prisoners, ones to keep them in the dark and ones to simply torture them. 

The one that stood out to me the most was this one (below). These little ‘pods’. 

Typically prisoners would work solid and graft for an 11 hour day, then would then return to these ‘pods’, squeezing 4 in each, and stand in the pitch black unable to move. Unable to sit down and this would be them set for the night before being released for another 11 hour day. 7 days a week.

This was the ‘cat flap’ opening on the floor through which the 4 prisoners would crawl through to enter the ‘pod’.
Human rights removed completely, being treated like animals.

This made me feel sick and really hit a nerve.

Others were lined up against this wall you can see below and… shot.

You can see the windows boarded up so that other prisoners couldn’t see the extent of what was going on, but the sound I’m sure was piercing enough and couldn’t be mistaken.

Prisoners were publicly hung on the 2 instruments above and below. Officers believed that by showing the prisoners the hangings it would scare them. And by scaring the prisoners with their fate, in fear it allowed them to control them more.

Many threw themselves at the barbed wire surrounding the camps to end the torture themselves.

Many prisoners were also used for medical experiments.

The average prisoner lasted for 3 months before they simply died of exhaustion or starvation.
Lady below weighed 47kg upon arrival and in 3 months weighed 23kg (3.6 stone).

Little bit of comic relief needed. Dad thinking he’s funny, ‘how about I take a photo of you taking a photo’

We got on the minibus for the 5 minute drive to Auschwitz II – Birkenau.

This camp was built soon after Auschwitz I, for the intent of a larger scale extermination. 

Prisoners would descend off of the trains upon arrival here at Birkenau.
Despite the blue skies, the fact we were stood exactly where it happened was kinda haunting.

They fit a ridiculous number of people in each of these carriages, more than you can imagine, along with all their belongings and very very little ventilation.

It was here that thousands of prisoners could be killed at a time in the gas chambers, a very efficient way to exterminate in the eyes of the evil.

Above you can see a model of the gas chamber operation.
Prisoners were informed they were going for showers, they were told to hang their belongings on numbered pegs, and to remember their number so they could retrieve their belongings after. Effort was made so that it was all very believable, the detail turns my stomach. 

Obviously, none of them ever survived the 15 minute gas chamber.

Once the operation was complete, hair would be removed, gold teeth melted down and both were shipped out of the camps to sell in industry.

When the camp was liberalised, the gas chambers were destroyed to remove as much evidence as possible of the goings on here at Birkenau.
Nevertheless what was left of the gas chamber still stands today, and you can see it below. You can see the stairs at the far end of the ruin.

Some authentic accommodation for the prisoners still stands today and we were able to walk around. It was only towards the end of the war that the concrete floors were installed. Before that, it was soggy mud and ridden with rats.

There were 3 tiers of ‘bunks’, each would squeeze 8 flat laying prisoners for the night.

These were eventually the toilets.
The lady told us that cleaning these out with their bare hands was considered the best job on the camp. It meant they were under shelter and it meant that when noone was looking they could sit down for a minute.

View from the watchtower at Birkenau
View from the watchtower at Birkenau

I can honestly say it was a grounding experience. Reading about it and watching documentaries on it keep its small, it keeps it fictional and it never seemed as real as it did when I stood there.

Freedom is actually everything to me.
To even begin to comprehend what it must have been like, blows my mind. And it wasn’t even that long ago.

We are so lucky to have the freedom we have. And I think it’s definitely something we take for granted.
As we walked through the camps it was pretty cold and windy, and a few times we naturally went to moan. When putting things into perspective, our problems really are miniscule.
I hope this blog post has had even for a minute made you realise how lucky you truly are.

Mollie xoxo
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