“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
I visited Auschwitz on a day tour during our stay in Krakow. Expecting to learn interesting facts about WWII and the Nazi death camps while I was there, I was in no way prepared for the intensity of the emotions it would make me feel.
The tour included visits to two camps, Auschwitz 1 and 2. The scale of the place is just massive, especially camp 2 (Birkenau). It’s difficult to comprehend the size until you’re actually standing there, envisioning the endless rows of buildings in front of you filled with over 100,000 people at any one time.
69 years after the liberation of the camp and it was a crystal clear day. The long winter shadows made my surroundings look strangely beautiful considering its dark past. I was stood on the same platform where 1.3 million people had arrived in crowded carriages, not realising that they’d just stepped into a death camp where 85% of them would perish.
The entrance to Auschwitz 1 features a sign stating Arbeit Macht Frei (Work makes you free). This was mostly a workers camp and also an administrative center for the whole complex.
Bordering the camp are multiple barbed wire fences and watchtowers. There was little chance of escape.
The on-site museum features a map of where Jews and prisoners of other nationalities were deported to Auschwitz, and enlarged photos of adults and children walking to the gas chambers who probably didn’t know what was about to happen.
There are also massive piles of used gas cylinders and empty suitcases which were raided for valuables after they were taken from arrivals at the camp.
The gas chamber at Auschwitz 1 could hold about 700 people at a time. The crematorium was in the next room. It was hard to imagine how many thousands of people walked through that door and never came out.
The entrance to Auschwitz 2 was where the crowded trains entered the camp, bringing people in for their fate to be decided. They were either sent directly to be the gas chambers, or got their heads shaved before becoming workers.
Inside Auschwitz 2, the hard wooden beds would hold about 6 people each. As with Auschwitz 1, there was no chance of escape with barbed wire fences and watch towers bordering the entire camp.
Have you been to any of the death camps scattered around Europe? Share your experiences in the comments.
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