A Week in Poland, Part 2 : Auschwitz I

I feel all kinds of different emotions for all kinds of different people – sorrow, envy, pity, joy. But nothing is as breathtaking as stepping inside a concentration camp, and the inevitable and involuntary feelings those steps can stir about the people involved on both sides. You can read about the Holocaust all day long, and I have, but I don’t think anything can really prepare you for actually being here.

No I did not take this picture

The atrocities committed by the Nazis in WWII are unrivaled in my mind as the worst things mankind has done to itself and each other in its entire history. Orchestrated by “people” who deemed themselves better – so much so that over 1.1 million others needed to be exterminated at this camp alone.

As I walked through the various buildings of Auschwitz, I quickly lost count of how many times I said, “Wow. Holy fuck. Wow. This was done by so-called ‘people.'” I don’t think there is any way to really express what went through my heart and mind yesterday – you’ll have to go there yourself to really get it. There were a few key things from this experience that pulled at me like little else in my life:

  • An unfathomable collection of prisoners’ glasses, combs, brushes, luggage, and other belongings.
  • An entire room filled with, I want to say, 100,000 shoes, maybe more.
  • A display of over 4,000 pounds of human hair, removed post-humously (with the intention of selling to textile manufacturers).
  • Photos taken of women and children either before their capture and death and even a few as they were being led to the gas chambers.
  • A pile of the actual canisters of Zyklon B that were used (up to 70,000 people were murdered per day in the gas chambers at the peak of Birkenau’s operations, but this technique all started at Auschwitz as a cheaper means of extermination than bullets).
  • Learning that, unlike what common history books taught us in school, Jewish people were not the only ones affected – large numbers of Polish, Slovak, gypsies, homesexuals, etc. were all sent off to their deaths as well.

I really wasn’t in the mood for taking pictures here, even in the places where it was allowed, but I did take a few to share:

ausch-gate_thumb
The iconic gate, from the inside; the overgrown tree seems out of place

ausch-firingsquad_thumbThe ricochet-free backdrop for the firing squad

ausch-zyklon-bUsed Zyklon-B canisters (I did not take this picture)

ausch-halt_thumbThe iconic warning post

I feel very good about the fact that I made it to this place and saw it first-hand, but nothing else about it feels good. It’s all very sad that so many “people” could get brain-washed into the Nazi plan, never mind commit these heinous crimes, then escape prosecution for decades, if not forever.

To a lesser extent, it saddens me to know that there are people out there now who like to believe that this whole set of events never really took place, that it is some big conspiracy to, I don’t know, make Hitler, or Nazis, or Germany as a whole, look bad? One thing is for certain: Anyone who visits these places in person could never possibly suggest that the Holocaust did not happen.

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