Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Auschwitz- Birkenau 1940-1945

After a really early start yesterday we got to sleep in today. We started our day today at 9am with a nice breakfast at the hotel, before the buses picked us up to leave for Auschwitz. The journey there took us about an hour, which was nice because we were expecting to have an hour and a half ride. As soon as I stepped off the bus at Auschwitz I got the chills; it was kind of creepy. The weather helped set the mood there, as it was a cloudy and rainy. We started our tour, and the sign in the main gate said “Arbeit Macht Frei”; translated in to English it means, “Work will Set you Free”, which I found to be ironic because they were brought there to be enslaved and murdered. Also, the tour guide informed us that upon arrival at the camp the Jews were told the only way out was through the chimney. As we continued through the camp we went to many different blocks. The one that had the biggest effect on me was the one with all the peoples' belongings. We first saw the hair of thousands of women and saw how the Nazis would make uniforms and blankets and sell it as cloth. When I saw full locks of hair in braids I was really shocked and just thought why. In the next room there were clothing, glasses, brushes, luggage and shoes from all the victims, and to see how much there was there hit me really hard. All I could think about was everything I have learned about the Holocaust, and then actually being where the biggest massacre occurred almost brought me to tears. We also went in the gas chamber, and crematorium. Being in there, it was very hard to absorb all that occurred right where I was standing. Looking around at the wall and stuff I could see scratch marks on the walls. I could just picture the people and how much they must have suffered; it was too much, and I didn’t want to stay in there.

After we finished this part of our tour we continued to Birkenau (Auschwitz II). This concentration camp was a lot larger in size. The gate into this camp was called the Death Gate. We first walked in and all we could see were the barracks where the prisoners lived and bathed. The conditions that they had to live in were horrible. The toilets where just stone slabs with holes in them, and the space in between each of them was a few inches. As for showers they had a rotation, and it could be up to a couple of months until they got to shower next. The “rooms” the Jews were forced to live in were adapted from field stables that the German army used, but instead of 52 horses, about 400 prisoners where housed there. They slept on three level wooden bunks using paper and other random things for blankets and pillows. As we walked towards the back of the camp we stopped on the spot where the train would bring everyone in, and the selections were made of who survived and who didn’t. This also was a lot to take in because 65 years ago the people standing in the same spot I was had no idea what was about to happen to them; millions of people took one of their last breaths where I was standing. Then we proceeded to the international holocaust monument, which is located in Birkenau, and it had a plaque that read, “Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz- Birkenau 1940-1945.” After seeing this we also saw the other two gas chambers and crematoriums that the Nazis blew up, to cover up what had gone on at the concentration camps, when they found out they had lost the war. This part was also very hard for me to handle, because as we walked by the rubble my peers and I could smell the burning, which made it very rough to hang around there.

Over all today was a good day. I learned a lot of new things that I didn’t know before, and well I got a whole new prospective on the Holocaust. I have always known of the events that occurred there, but they really did not sink in until now.

PHOTOS by Michele

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