|View from the watchtower at Birkenau|
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.|
Upon arrival men women and children were separated. All belongings were taken from the prisoners.
Be it clothes, glasses, suitcases, shoes, hair, family, everything.
|Preserved evidence of a sample of the glasses taken from Auschwitz prisoners.|
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.
Many threw themselves at the barbed wire surrounding the camps to end the torture themselves.
Many prisoners were also used for medical experiments.
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.
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.
|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.