This is the 2nd part of my visit at the Auschwitz concentration camps in Poland.
I have seen and heard enough for the Nazi Camps in Poland over the years but nothing prepared me enough for what I encountered there. It was a trip that completely changed my point of view – the way I experience history through my trips.
This post is about Auschwitz II – Birkenau, also known as the extermination camp.
Birkenau is located 1.2 km away from Auschwitz I.
1.3 million people were sent to Birkenau from every corner of Europe through long and exhausting trips by any means of transportation – often carried in animal wagons. The camp’s rails are its trademark; they extend all the way into the camp’s entrance to assist a quick selection of the newcomers. Doctor Joseph Mengele picked its guinea pigs right on that deck.
During the initial prisoners’ selection, documents show the camp’s soldiers to appear happy with a smile upon their face – they were ordered to do so in order to promote a warm, welcoming atmosphere and a promising future instead of extinction and death.
The Museum of Auschwitz I holds a track record of the longest trip to the camps; it was a 17-day long trip from the island of Rhodes, Greece to Auschwitz.
The railway map
All cities where prisoners have been transfered from.
The initial selection upon arrival.
Those incapable to work or take part at Mengele’s experiments were killed immediately with Zyklon B gas. The rest of war prisoners – unaware of the horrific killings – were sent to Auschwitz I to work or remained at Auschwitz II to work at the local factories. After July 1942 though, all Jewish prisoners arriving at Birkenau were immediately extincted, no matter what.
Those surviving the initial assortment were either sent to work inside the concentration camps, were used as guinea pigs or as workers at local Polish factories. More than 200.000 eventually died out of abuse, exhaustion, hypothermia, diseases, undernourishment or experimentation.
The entrance to the camp.
The blocks where the prisoners were living.
Birkenau had six gas chambers and four crematoria.
After 1944 when hundreds of thousands of prisoners were sent to the camp, it was almost impossible to cremate so many bodies – despite the constant operation of the crematoria. After a while, more bodies were burned in open air – a fenced area you walk by while you explore the camp today. An area that stands as a graveyard, hosting the ashes of the thousands of innocent victims – a proof of the horrific acts that took place in that camp during that certain time for the generations to come.
The ruins of Crematorium 4 are at Auschwitz II too – the crematorium which members of Jewish rebels blowed up using explosives from nearby factories and the help of a few women prisoners. They didn’t manage to escape and were killed.
Τhe inmates suffered of the poor living conditions inside the camps with 8 to 10 people sharing one bed, using make-shift toilets right beneath them. Extremely cold temperatures, undernourishment and exhausting labor were both the everyday life of the inmates and the main cause of deaths.
An incident our guide described us was typical of the exhausting laboring conditions the prisoners had to face; When the Nazi’s invaded the nearby town of Brzezinka, they used the inmates to carry stones and other edificial materials to use for buildings inside the camp.
Having survived Zyklon B, hanging or undernourishment, many died out of the extremely exhausting labor conditions.
Trying to hide all evidence the Nazi’s blowed up almost all crematoria in Auschwitz II before evacuating the camp. In January 1945, Auschwitz was finally free – yet it still hosted thousands of people who were unable to leave the camp. Both camps are open to visit, offering a chance to re-live all the horrific war crimes that took place inside their walls.
The Auschwitz Concentration and Extermination Camps are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and they are both Polish government property which also offers their maintenance.
Every citizen of the world has a duty to visit the camps once in their lifetime. It is neither a fun, nor a pleasant tour. The historical facts offered aren’t actually of a pleasing outcome. It is a shocking tour – a visit worth having. It is the only way to understand the importance of the crime commited in this place though.
Read here about Auschwitz I, the Concentration camp and all the horror behind it.
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