Birkenau death camp – Auschwitz 2

Entrance to Birkenau
This famous view was long thought to be of Auschwitz 1. However it is the entrance to Auschwitz 2, Birkenau which was built in 1944.

Birkenau was begun in 1941 because Auschwitz 1 simply could not cope with the influx of prisoners. It was begun for political prisoners but by 1942 Hitler had decided to exterminate the Jews so Birkenau was refocussed to the efforts of a labour camp and extermination camp. 

4 crematoria were built as gas chambers and incinerators to kill as many people as was possible. The first one, Bunker 1, was called Red house. The second a little later Bunker 2, was called White house. 

Crematorium 2 had been designed as a mortuary, but by installing gas tight doors and ventilation to remove the gas afterwards it was turned into a gas chamber. It already had ground level incinerators which were to become useful. Crematorium 3 was the same but 4 and 5 were built from the start as gassing chambers.

The Nazis chose Zyklon B as it was very fast acting and should have killed the prisoners in seconds. However that’s only in set circumstances and in some cases people took over a half hour to die. 

There is a story about how several hundred gypsies -another ethnic group targeted by the Germans- had a rebellion and attacked the soldiers with makeshift weapons. 3 soldiers were killed but the rebellion was quashed and all involved later gassed. 

Birkenau saw World War Two’s largest ever death march. The Germans fearing the advance of the allies set off from Birkenau in January 1945 headed for Loslau. The SS killed large numbers of prisoners by starvation before the marches, and shot many more dead both during and after for not being able to keep up with the pace.

Here’s some more photos of Birkenau

Caen, France

I came to Caen once before, some years ago and kinda drove straight through it. I was headed to Mont St Michel and sometimes when I get something in my head I am 100% focussed. Well, not so much now but I used to be. So this time I decided to stop in Caen and check out the war memorial.

Caen British Memorial Garden
Separate plaques at the Caen British Memorial Garden commemorate each of the battalions, units and corps that fought during the battle to free France.

I vaguely knew Caen figured heavily in the war and I found the memorial very easily. Luckily there was an aire there too so I had no problem parking for the night. 

The museum is spread over a massive area and has huge fields and woods around it so there was lots of walking for me and Jack. I did of course enter the museum but I was still waiting for my pay to go into the bank and could not afford the €30 odd it was going to cost. I explored the grounds instead. 

The British memorial was only completed in 2004 although it was considered to have been started in 1988 when the then Israeli president planted a single tree there. 

Caen British Memorial Garden
The Caen British Memorial Garden commemorates his Majesty’s forces but also the merchant navy and civilians who contributed.

It’s quite sobering visiting any of the war graves or memorials of which there are many in northern France. The mood is always sombre but that’s the knowledge of what went on that makes you feel that way.

“Lest We Forget…”

One man created the whole war. One man. It’s very frightening to think that so many people can be led by one single maniac to carry out atrocious acts on their fellow humans. 

They say “Lest we forget” but it’s not really a case of forgetting. It’s a case of being drawn in irrespective of the horrific memories of what went on for those years.

Caen British Memorial Garden
This garden was designed and built on behalf of the British Friends of Normandy with the help of the city of Caen.

I sometimes think they glorify war and ennoble the dead in order to encourage more to be prepared to fight when the day comes that those in charge want to take something for their own.

Our leaders have not stopped going to war ever since and probably never will do.

It’s about power, resources and greed and you can’t cure politicians and business leaders of that.