Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps – Auschwitz 1

We arrived in Oswiecim which is the village where Auschwitz museum is located about 2am Saturday morning. I found a car park and it was slightly confusing about the prices but eventually I sussed that the museum itself opens at 4am so I could park in there. It was €5 less than the tourist office car park too so as I was not staying for the evening it was better value to park at Auschwitz.

Early sunrise at Auschwitz
It wasn’t even 5am but the sun shone magnificently through the trees at the edge of Auschwitz

By the time me and the dog had stretched our legs a bit it was open so we had a chat with a really friendly security guard and parked up, then went for a wander in the grounds. The sun was coming up nicely but it was about 8am before I finally got in to the museum itself. This photo was taken before 5am so that shows what the sun was like.

Even looking through the fence before you enter you do get a small sense of foreboding. There are fences now to keep people out rather than in, and clearly there’s a need. The famous Arbeit macht frei sign was stolen some time ago but happily recovered.

Aging buildings
The buildings of Auschwitz are now more than 80 years old, it’s accepted that they are going to show major signs of ageing and wear.

We were forced to wait til just after 7:30 am for the ticket office to open. It’s free entry but they have to manage visitor flow and numbers of course. I would very, very much have liked to have had an audio guide available. I’d have paid more money for that. You can pay to join a  group with what they call an educator, but tbh it’s not clear what you can do and how much it costs at first. Slick does not describe the management of the museum. 

It is ironic to think I’d come so far to get into the place so many tried to get out of. More than 1 million lives were taken at this one place, most of them brutally, some in indescribably horrifying ways. It’s almost difficult to take in until you see the faces of the people and the place where they were tortured, the photographs that the

Work makes you free
Even as they were brought into the camp the Nazis pretended they would be given jobs and cared for. They were however worked and tortured to death.

Germans themselves took and the accounts of the few who survived. 

They’d come to this gate. Told they would be looked after well and fed and housed, put to work to keep them occupied. Some say that many knew what was going to happen but could not escape it. 

Auschwitz was a former Polish army camp and so while austere, the place does have an attractiveness about it if you can see only the buildings. However you soon notice the watch towers, and the endless barbed wire which was electrified for part of the time. 

Chain link security
Chain link fencing keeps people from getting into Auschwitz now, rather than for keeping them from escaping.

The booted Gestapo who were based here took every opportunity to inflict misery and brutality on people for no good reason other than they enjoyed brutalising.

You’re pretty much left to your own devices when you enter the museum, so instead of heading through the main gates I decided to head left and go straight down.

The final escape

The first building I came to was the gas chamber where they gassed the helpless people who thought they were there to be showered. 

They were using a poison called Zyklon B and dropped it through roof vents into the chamber below.

Ceiling vents
The vent in the ceiling was there the gas was dropped into the chambers. The scratches on the far walls are allegedly those of the prisoners trying to escape in their agony.

You can see on the wall the many scratches where desperate and agonised people tried to claw their way through solid concrete to escape the pain and suffering.

It’s difficult to think of how these people must have felt. In their dozens, some with family and other loved ones, others alone and afraid. 

It’s an awful room because you can hear in your head the voices and the cries and the anguished wails of dying humans and the tearing of fingers as they scrabbled desperately at the walls. it’s an awful place and the point of the museum is that we never forget what humans did to fellow humans here. 

Production line of death
Two of the four incinerators used to burn the dead. The Germans almost had a ‘production line’ mentality to killing and disposal.

The final ignominy of course was being loaded one by one into what were called the ovens. They weren’t ovens though, they were incinerators, designed to burn many bodies as quickly as possible. 

I can’t imagine the mentality of the people who were tasked to work these infernal devices. 

 

Block 11

Through the spyhole
Below ground, these cells would be filled with people who were simply locked away to die of starvation.

Block 11 is just indescribably sad. It was the base of the Gestapo and the centre of their cruel operations. 

People would be brought to Block 11 for minor infractions of rules, or if they were thought to be plotting escape, or for a whole variety of reasons many of which might have been made up on the spot.

Some were locked in cells where they were simply left to starve to death. Some were placed in rooms that were so small they could not even sit down. Access was a small hatch at the bottom of the space. This must have been suffocating and claustrophobic for anyone and such a cruel and unusual way of causing misery and suffering.

A favourite punishment of the Gestapo was to tie the hands of a prisoner behind their backs, then suspend them by the wrists from poles in the ground. They were then simply left to die. 

Others were summarily shot at the ‘shooting wall’. 

It’s a very sobering experience coming to Auschwitz. I’ve read about it for years and seen stuff on the TV and watched movies but you can’t get the feel for the human cruelty and misery until you’re here. It’s a testament to human nature, a monument to the dead and an awful reminder that this could so easily happen again. 

Bleak sunshine at Auschwitz
The bright sunshine belies the bleak and dark history this death camp had for millions of souls

The site at Birkenau was opened when they found they could not cope with the sheer numbers at Auschwitz, so they opened a new camp to help kill more people. The camps are called Auschwitz 1 and 2 as Birkenau was opened as an annexe to Auschwitz, although they’re more popularly known as Auschwitz and Birkenau.

There’s a free bus every 10 minutes or so starting at about 10am from Auschwitz so I took that and spent an hour and a half at that camp. Here’s my feelings on Birkenau

As ever here’s a few more photos of my visit. 

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