Auschwitz Journals

Auschwitz - History at its Most Intense

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A November 2005 trip to Auschwitz by lcampbell

Ominous sign Photo, Krakow, Poland More Photos
Quote: To go or not to go was my question, but this day-trip from Krakow is a valuable revisiting of history at its most intense.

Auschwitz - History at its Most Intense

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Overview

Work will set you free Photo, Krakow, Poland
Quote:
I have a hard time referring to anything as being a "highlight" when visiting the location where 1.1 million people were murdered. But there are certain parts of Auschwitz and Birkenau that should not be missed. Auschwitz was a small camp with diverse functions: housing prisoners, housing workers, torture, and medical experiments, and there was even a brothel. There was some murder by gas, but most took place at Birkenau. The blocks that once held prisoners now hold museum displays. Be sure to visit Block 5: Evidence of Crimes, and Block 11: Death Block and Execution Yard. There are also Blocks with displays regarding Everyday Life and Camp Conditions, and Blocks dedicated to various Natio...Read More

Birkenau Camp

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Story/Tip

Train tracks leading in Photo, Krakow, Poland
Quote:
“What did you see back there?” he asked, pointing back to the far corner of Birkenau. He was an old man with gray hair, but sturdy and strong looking.I told him that there was a destroyed crematorium back in the trees.“Did you see ashes?” he asked. “I want to collect some ashes.”I told him I hadn’t seen any, but there could be some there in the rubble or in the pond. “I know there are – I was there when I was a child.” He smiled and turned, slowly making his way back toward the woods.I’m sure this is fairly common – survivors visiting the camps. But I wasn’t sure I would want to come back. Even as a visitor, my imagining of what this place was like then was dist...Read More

Auschwitz Camp

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Story/Tip

Auschwitz block buildings Photo, Krakow, Poland
Quote:
From its beginnings as a dilapidated Polish Army barracks, Auschwitz was rebuilt by prisoners in 1940 to be a concentration camp for political prisoners. A good chunk of the first prisoners ended up being German criminals, Polish academics, students and scientists, and Soviet POWs. They were made to steal materials from the Polish countryside, and from each other, to build the camp. Auschwitz had a capacity of 14,000 prisoners and was a diverse place. There was slave labor, the laboratory of famous Nazi doctor Mendel – a place of medical experiments and twin research – a brothel, and Block 11, a “prison within a prison,” where so-called “trials” were held and prisoners found to have broken the...Read More

A History Lesson

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Story/Tip

Fence and guard tower Photo, Krakow, Poland
Quote:
The history of Auschwitz is far more complicated than I had imagined. It was a place of systematized killing, to be sure, but it didn’t start out that way. After reading Auschwitz, A New History by Laurence Rees, I learned that Auschwitz was originally a dilapidated Polish Army barracks, but was made into a concentration camp in 1940. The first prisoners to arrive were German prisoners, Poles who were considered enemies of the Nazis for a variety of reasons (the only crime of some was that they were university students), and Soviet POWs. Their task was to construct the camp, primarily using stolen materials – stolen from around the area, or from the other groups of prisoners. After the cam...Read More

Messing with their heads

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Story/Tip

Quote:
One of the most disturbing things to me was how the Nazis used psychological methods in an attempt to keep people calm, so that they could carry out their "Final Solution" with the most ease. The stop at Birkenau was touted to by a "hygiene stop." Now, of course many prisoners did not fall for this, but many did. And those that were unsure may have been swayed by some of the Nazi measures. First of all, the train tracks did not stop at Birkenau; they continued on. Or at least they gave the illusion of continuing on. They continued on to the tree line, then stopped, but the Jews did not know this. Next, the Nazis immediately apologized for the bad conditions during transport, took the peopl...Read More