In Summer 2011, I had a family trip for 10 days in Eastern European Area. Visiting Auschwitz in Poland was obviously not the most pleasant part of the trip but the most memorable and shocking. In fact, my family initially thought of skipping it since it might be emotionally disturbing. But since it’s one of the most historical significant monuments, we eventually decided to visit Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
It was about one hour drive from Krakow, Poland. The scenery looked quite ordinary at that moment but thinking about how people coerced to stuck in the camp would have felt while looking the view from completely packed train heading to Auschwitz.
On that day, Auschwitz was quite crowded with visitors all around the world. It was mandatory to accompany with a guide to look around the concentration camp so we had a guide who can speak fluent English. Before we looked around the facilities in Auschwitz, the guide led us to the museum to provide background information.
Nazi decided to build the giant concentration camp in Auschwitz(Polish: Oświęcim) because Auschwitz is geologically the center of Europe that can easily be reached by railroads. Due to the location, Nazi thought they could easily transported Jews and other “inferior” people from all around the Europe. Plus, Poland has one of the largest Jews population in Europe at that time. Nazi were able to gather a lot of Jewish people by telling them Nazi will provide shelters for them.
Here is the statistics of the estimated number of Jews deported to Auschwitz. As you can see, most people deported to Auschwitz are from Hungary and Poland. Surprisingly, Nazi even deported people in Norway. Among those people, 1.1 million were killed.
<Auschwitz Concentration Camp 1>
In this picture, you can notice there are a lot of same looking buildings and that’s where many inmates who were capable of doing hard labor. Men who were capable of doing hard labor were sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp 1 while women and young people were sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp 2. Otherwise, old people ,who were not likely to do work well, were killed as soon as they arrived the camp.
According to “Man’s Search for Meaning” written by Viktor Frankl who survived in the camp, Nazi militants decided who to send to the camp or be killed instantly using his finger: right-you will survive laboring in the camp, left- die instantly in gas shower.
This is monumental entrance of the concentration camp with the notorious slogan ‘Arbeit macht frei’ which means “Work makes you free”. Not only in Auschwitz, but also there are same slogan in other concentration camp like Dachau, Germany. The inmates showed resistance in a subtle way by flipping B upside-down.
Inside these buildings, they exhibited what inmates were coerced to give it to Nazi before entering the camp. Indeed, Nazi took pretty much everything as they can even including hairs and leg casts and it was speechless.
Since many inmates thought they would get a new shelter, they brought a lot of things like these mugs and dishes.
And there are enormous piles of shoes.
And these portmanteaus with the owners’ names on it.
There are some people who thought it would be better to commit a suicide than continuing living in the camp with the worst and unhygienic conditions. This is where they tried to quit their lives and there are also towers where Kappos can watch those people.
<Auschwitz Death Wall>
The condemned were led to the wall for execution. SS men shot several thousand people there—mostly Polish political prisoners and, above all, members of clandestine organizations.
This is the demonstration inside the buildings. Imagine there were tons of people packed in those buildings. We can see how the conditions of living in the camp were utterly terrible.
<Chimney of gas chamber>
If you look closely on the whiter part of the chamber, most part of it is the nail scratches.
Next to the gas chamber, it is where Rudolf Höss,the longest-serving commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, was executed. While many inmates were killed, he often had parties in his house near Auschwitz with other Nazi officers. This house is also closely located to the gas chamber.
Of course, visiting Auschwitz would not be the pleasant part of the trip but I believe every person needs to visit this place. Visiting this place in my life gave me a good opportunity to contemplate how cruel humans can be and it encouraged me to read more about the journals about survival in the camp. German government officially apologized to the victims and financially support running this place. Indeed, there were also a lot of Germans visiting this place or other concentration camps in Germany to learn their mistakes in the past and tried not to repeat it. Although Mark Twain said “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes” , we should not forget this and tried as best as we can not to repeat it.