Auschwitz - The most unreal place I have ever been to

by Martin Godlowsky July. 12, 2017 810 views
Entrance Gate to Auschwitz-Birkenau

Entrance Gate to Auschwitz-Birkenau

Ever since I first heared about the Holocaust, I have wanted to understand how such a thing was ever possible. Therefore, I gathered all information I could get. Eventually I had to go to the place that symbolises it, as the highest number of killings took place in Auschwitz, or Oświęcim, as it is officially called in Polish. Being German, I also feel it to be compulsory for me to visit the darkest spot of my national history.

I first went to Birkenau, which is also known as Auschwitz II. The used to be three main camps, Auschwitz I as the central and first camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Auschwitz-Monowitz. The latter was bombed by the Allies because the inmates worked in the adjacent IG Farben factory producing fuel for the German military.

There is no entrance fee, but donations are welcome. Walking along the area you become aware of its great size. It could hold up to 100,000 inmates.

Women's Camp in Birkenau

Women's Camp in Birkenau

At the end of the railroad tracks, you get to the possibly most unreal place on earth: the ruins of gas chambers and creamatoria II and III (I is in the main camp, there are also IV and V in Birkenau). Being aware of the Red Army approaching, the SS bombed all gas chambers and crematoria in Birkenau. The ruins have remained until today as a memorial of the atrocities.

Ruins of gas chamber and creamatorium III in Birkenau

Ruins of gas chamber and creamatorium III in Birkenau

Between gas chambers and crematoria II and III, a monument was built. When I was there, several Jewish travel groups held ceremonies with speeches, songs and prayers.

Popular estimations claim that about 1.1 million people were murdered in Auschwitz, about 1 million of them Jews. The vast majority died in the gas chambers in Birkenau.

Others died of starvation or from the bad living conditions. The barracks the inmates were kept in were terribly overcrowded. Some of the houses were open to visitors. The Nazis planned to keep four people in one bunk, the number later being raised.

Inside of a Birkenau barrack

Inside of a Birkenau barrack

Birkenau is actually not in Auschwitz, but in a village 3km (2mi) west of it. Its Polish name is Brzezinka. Its initial purpose was to hold Soviet POWs and it was built by these first inmates themselves.

Barb wire fence close to the entrance building of Birkenau

Barb wire fence close to the entrance building of Birkenau

After this, I went to the main camp which is located in the city of Auschwitz. There is a free bus that runs between the two camps every ten minutes. As opposed to Birkenau, there was airport-like security control in Auschwitz I. First, I went to gas chamber and creamatorium I, the only one still intact. Here, the Nazis started with this method of mass murder.

Entrance to gas chamber and crematorium in Auschwitz main camp

Entrance to gas chamber and crematorium in Auschwitz main camp

This is the most appalling procedure in history: the people were driven into the building. First, they entered a room that looked like a changing room, where they were told to take off their clothes and neatly put them on coat hooks. Alledgedly, a shower awaited them.

Gas chamber in Auschwitz I

Gas chamber in Auschwitz I

After that, they went into the gas chamber waiting for the water to come out of the shower heads. Instead, gas came out killing everyone within minutes.

Roof hatch for the insertion of Zyklon B

Roof hatch for the insertion of Zyklon B

The doors were opened and Jews themselves who worked there had to take the bodies out of the gas chamber into the crematorium, where they were burned. On some days in the spring of 1944, more than 10.000 were killed that way in Birkenau.

High performance ovens in Auschwitz I, custom-made for mass cremation by German company Topf und Söhne

High performance ovens in Auschwitz I, custom-made for mass cremation by German company Topf und Söhne

Behind the gas chamber and crematorium in Auschwitz I, there is another custom-made killing device, gallows that were set up after the war. As opposed to the gas chambers, their purpose was but to kill only one man: the camp's first commandant Rudolf Höss.

Finally, I entered the main camp through the gate with the infamous lettering above it:

Main gate of Auschwitz I, stating "Arbeit macht frei" (labour liberates)

Main gate of Auschwitz I, stating "Arbeit macht frei" (labour liberates)

The main camp is converted into a museum portraiying different aspects of the Holocaust and the history of the camp, each in a different building (here called Block). Walking around, I was approached by a man with an Israelian flag around his neck. He was looking for the famous exhibition of the prisoner's properties. With the help of the guidebook I bought earlier in Birkenau, we were able to find it (it's in Block 5) and went there together. However, I did not take any pictures there.

We started a conversation. He told me he was from Haifa and wanted to know why I, as a German, would come to this place. I explained to him in the same way I did at the beginning of this blog. Before we parted ways, he offered me his hand. Even though I was born too late, that meant so much to me: a German shaking hands with a Jew in Auschwitz.

Join the conversation
8
There are 8 comments, add yours!
Dinesh Kumar 2 months, 1 week ago

Think back on a evil period of history.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Greg Alford 2 months, 1 week ago

As hard as it is to view these pictures, it's important that we do so. We must never forget what happened there. You would enjoy the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. One could spend days there viewing exhibits of Auschwitz and the holocaust. You guys should make it at least a day trip. Florence and I went there years ago, stayed at a Sheratan Hotel while Al Gore was Vice President and was staying there and spent a few hours walking around on Rodeo Drive. An enjoyable and educational weekend!

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Marilyn Grimble 2 months, 1 week ago

I have visited Auschwitz too, it touches a part of your brain you have never explored. Mx

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Phyllis 2 months, 1 week ago

Lest we ever forget.........very emotional story.....well written and well portrayed.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Becky Brannon 2 months, 1 week ago

Thank you for your poignant photo and story.  It is hard to understand how such atrocities  came about........  

What I have always like to learn about was the countless people who risked everything to hide Jews, like Corrie Ten Boom and recently I just watch the "Zookeeper's wife"  It reminds me of the many good people out there.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Jean-Michel Laurenti 2 months, 1 week ago

Hi Martin, it's difficult to just click on an icon saying "I like this post", because your effort to tell a very personal experience deserves more than that.
You find a right balance between the images and the text, and if you were trying to share the emotion you visibly felt during that visit, I can honestly say that you did succeed.
Thanks for sharing that story and these photographs.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Heike 2 months, 1 week ago

Your article touched me deeply, especially the last sentence made me very emotional. I've never been in Auschwitz, but in Bergen-Belsen. The visit left me speechless and I still can't explain the feelings I had. It was a mix of numbness, coldness, emptiness and consternation. It is so important, that the horrors of the holocaust and it's victims will never forgotten and the people talk about it.
Thanks for that, Martin.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Ram Ya 2 months, 1 week ago

What a chilling story. I am glad you told the story of this unbelievable place and its victims. I hope your story serves as a reminder to every human being about the destruction and hurt that can be caused by war and hatred. Thank you.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Up
Copyright @Photoblog.com