Day 186 | Friday September 16
Ania wanted to make sure that I was allright for the coming days so she bought me some bread, bananas, water and even gave me some pocket money “for your Auschwitz trip”, that is where I was going today. Ania lives only 1 hour away from the memorial site.
For many years I wanted to go to this place because of it’s historical importance. The camp is one of the few things that is still visible from the war. Auschwitz consists of 3 different areas: Auschwitz I (base camp and central office), Auschwitz II (Birkenau ) and Auschwitz III (Monoscwitz with the sub-camp and buna). Today I visited I and II.
The tour started in Auschwitz I, this complex was already there before the start of the war and used to be a Polish military camp and the town was called Oświęcim. When the Germans took over Poland they changed the name into how the camp is known today. The first people who were send to the camp were 700 polish people, mostly intellectuals or people who committed a crime.
We entered the camp through the famous gate with the text “arbeit macht frei” (meaning: work sets you free) above it. Little detail: the ‘B’ in arbeit is placed upside-down. There are various stories of why this is. Some say the detainees did it as a protest or to warn new people but this is criticized as the Nazi’s must have seen that in the 5 years that the camp was in operation. Another theory is that in that time the Germans experimented with Sans-Serif fonts and in some variants the lower part of the B was smaller as the upper part.
The majority of the barracks in the complex are still intact, inside are various exhibitions and explanations about the war. In one room is a 30-meter long showcase of cut-off women’s hair. Every detainees hair was removed to avoid diseases and later sold. Another room was completely filled with kitchen wares. People who came to the camps believed they were going to a place where to would have a decent life, it’s one of the many cruel ironies you’ll find here.
Auschwitz I rapidly became to small for the plans the Nazi’s had so they gave orders to build a second camp, Birkenau. Man and woman were separated. The woman placed on the left side of the complex in brick houses. Bricks became scarce in the area so for the man they build wooden barracks. This complex houses 250 barracks, build to the design of horse stables which usually houses 52 horses. Now 800 to 1000 people shared one barrack. At it’s peak Birkenau housed 200.000 people in total.
The second camp was mainly build for factory scale extermination. Between 1940 and 1945 1.3 million people were send to Auschwitz and 1,1 million dead, 90% of them were Jewish people.
It’s unbelievable what has happened here, only 70 years ago. One of the survivors wrote in his book “it happened before and it could happen again”. Unfortunately that is very true and we should realize that our freedom is something to cherish and in many countries it is still not for granted.