Friday, January 30, 2009


There is nothing in the world that I want to do less than go to Auschwitz again. The former Nazi concentration camp (the largest) is a close bus ride from Krakow, so it is kind of a must, though not something to look forward to. However, I do feel that visiting Auschwitz or another concentration camp elsewhere is extremely important. People should not forget what happened there, and if we get too comfortable about leaving the past behind us, we will be destined to repeat it.

You really cannot feel the entire weight of the situation until you have walked around Birkenau (the second camp of Auschwitz) and see how massive the place is. It boggles my mind that there are still people around the world, such as the President of Iran, who deny that the holocaust ever happened. There is very very physical evidence, and nothing drives it home like a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. If I never go to another concentration camp in my life I will be happy, as it is a very uncomfortable experience, but it shouldn't be comfortable. If you find yourself in Poland or near another one of the camps, go once. You wont regret it, and it will probably affect you for the better. Below are some pictures that I took during my visit, mainly to show the scale of how big this is.This is the entrance to Auschwitz I, which was originally a Polish military base until taken over by the Nazis in 1939. The horrible sign above the gate reads "Arbeit Macht Frei" in German, which means "work will set you free". This camp was used mainly for political prisoners, pow's, and members of the Polish resistance until 1942 when it became too small. At that time the Nazi's built Birkenau and began to send Jews from all over Europe there to be exterminated. A map in one of the buildings showed that people were sent here to die from as far away as Greece and Paris, Italy and the Netherlands.

This is the gate to Birkenau, and you might recognize it from the movie "Schindler's List". 1.1 million people passed through this gate and never returned, 90 percent of whom were Jews from every country in Europe.

This is where the people were taken off of the train and sorted by Nazi doctors, basically into groups of who could work (and basically starve to death later), and who would be sent immediately to the gas chambers. 75% of everyone getting off the trains went straight to the gas chambers.

Some memorial candles lit at the other end of the train tracks from the main gate.

This is a view from the top of the main gate of just one part of the camp. It stretches out as far as you can see in this picture. The barracks in the foreground are a restored example of where the prisoners lived. They were actually designed as horse sheds for the German army, so when you go inside there is absolutely no insulation of any kind. It would have been like sleeping in a very crowded barn in the middle of a cold, Polish winter.

I took many more pictures, but this is all that I will display for now, as I'm sure you readers are not aching for more from Auschwitz. In my next few posts I will move on to happier things as I travel to Prague, but for now, let this post make you uncomfortable, that is how a visit to Auschwitz should make you feel.

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