|Entrance to Birkenau and train tracks|
Hello! Today, we went to the second part of Auschwitz, Birkenau. Birkenau was actually designed by the Nazis and didn’t exist until after the German occupation (unlike Auschwitz 1). We arrived there and met up with our same excellent guide from yesterday. Our first stop was to the tower that looks over all of Birkenau. It was from here that you can see how vast this concentration camp was, well as much as you could because of the fog. It was divided into 2 sections, split by the railroad tracks in the center. There were 2 sections that were in use (for men and women), and a third that the Nazis had begun to build but never completed it and they also had plans to add a 4th. Each section was basically the size of a big shopping mall to give somewhat of an idea of the size.
Next, we were taken into one of the buildings, designed as a stable but instead used as a washroom. There were dozens of toilets lined up with no privacy just one hole next to another. And this was used for men (because women didn’t have a toilet room they had to use buckets). This alone was enough to be disgusted by the harsh unsanitary treatment that they went through. And that was just the beginning. The next building was a bedroom. The guards had their own private room at the end of the “stable” and then there dozens of triple bunk beds. The guide pointed out something I found very interesting about the bunk beds. She said that the bunks kind of represented somewhat of a hierarchy of the prisoners, the strongest at the top because they were able to climb up and the weakest at the bottom. This also had its ups and downs.
Afterwards, we walked along the train tracks to where the selection process took place when incoming trains came in. Just to imagine the thousands of people shipped into this place, unsure of what they were coming to, many with false expectations and false hopes. Right off the train they were separated by men and females/children. Then the doctors and guards would look and decide left or right (prisoner or instant death). All the new arrivals were blocked from seeing what awaits them on the other side of the train, behind the electric barbed wired fence.
|(Trees right next to gas chamber)|
We then took a long walk across the camp to the very far right corner. The walk gave the opportunity to see the length of the camp and the large number of buildings that once existed (because many were only foundations remaining). When we finally reached the back corner, we were coming up to the sight of the once gas chamber/crematorium. To get there we first walked through the trees that people were required to wait in as the groups entered into the chambers. Many were forced to remove their clothes while waiting in the trees. This was a moving place because it made me think about the trees that are there, that lived and witnessed all these events. This was the last bit of beauty in life that many people saw just before they were murdered. We saw remnants of another crematorium not too far away from the first. Then we saw what’s referred to as “Canada”, the place where all the possessions of people off the train end up to get sorted through. This was nicknamed by the prisoners as “Canada” because of the freedom they associate with North America and this was one of the better places to be assigned for work.
We also entered the registration room where prisoners coming from off the train entered, then they were stripped of their clothes, their hair shaved and then forced to shower and everything was disinfected. There were other gas chambers to be seen (can’t remember if there were 4 or 5 all together). In this back area there was also a large memorial of steps and stones to monument all the lives lost. It’s so difficult to monument such an event and how do you build something that can honor the lives of over a million people, it’s extremely challenging. However, I thought the memorial area was simple yet appropriate. We then entered the section for woman. We went into a dorm room for the women prisoners and saw the beds and bad conditions they lived in as well. The German words “Sei Ruillg” for “Be Quiet” still written on the wall.
After seeing both Auschwitz 1 and 2, I have a much better idea of what took place except I will never have the full effect. I don’t think anyone will ever unless they were actually there to witness it in the 1940s. The sounds, the smells, the taste of the air, all that went on.
|Me and Holocaust survivor, Lgnacy Krasnokucki|
When we returned to the Center we were fortunate enough to have a meeting with a Holocaust survivor, Mr. Krasnokucki. He wasn’t a survivor of Auschwitz, but rather of some of the other concentration camps (not killing centers) that were used for labor. His story was very interesting and he was a lively funny guy to be around. He gave us a better look into what life was like in the Ghetto’s prior to the transportations to camps. The strict restrictions and isolations they underwent. He was moved all around Poland and Germany and the fact that he was a specialized electrician was beneficial to his survival because he was useful to the Nazis. He lost his parents and many of his friends and neighbors. He was able to go on with his life and is happily married with children and great grandchildren. It was nice to hear of a survivor who’s life became so much better even after such a horrible past. He said he had two birthdays, the first was when he was actually born, the second, when he escaped the Nazis and the war was ended, it was then that his new life began. A very nice perspective.I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s visit to an art exhibition in Harmeze. From the details that Sister Mary has given us on what we will be seeing, I am very anxious to go. I will wait until tomorrow to explain. Also, we have some interesting lectures tomorrow and will be returning to Auschwitz to explore without a guide.
All for tonight,GO GAELS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!