What can I say about Auschwitz that hasn't been said? Just about everything I saw and heard today, I already knew. The only thing new for me is the knowledge that the Nazis were even more sadistic and inhumane than I had imagined.
|Work Makes You Free Sign|
There were many camps throughout Europe and North Africa. Some were concentration camps and some were death camps. Auschwitz functioned as both and Auschwitz II is the most infamous and largest of any of the camps.
Auschwitz I is the original camp here and houses the indoor museum (technically speaking the entire place, both camps are museums and UNESCO World Heritage Sites) with emotionally moving exhibits in an attempt to explain some of the terrible things the Nazis did here.
Initially, political prisioners and intellectuals were brought here. Then, as the murderous Germans streamlined their killing machine, the focus was put on the Jews. Auschwitz I is where the famous gate with the sign overhead that reads "Arbeit Macht Frei"; a sick lie which translates roughly to "Work Makes You Free". Work was just one more way to kill in this place. As prisoners went to work each day they were made to march to the tempo of the prison orchestra. This was an added bit of Nazi humiliation, for good measure.
The exhibits and museum are inside the original barracks buildings where the first prisioners were held. These barracks had originally been a Polish army barracks. The Nazis took control in September, 1940 when they invaded Poland at the beginning of WWII. These are the actual buildings and rooms where people were brutalized, tortured and killed. This way of experiencing the place really helps the visitor to empathize and imagine what it might have been like to have been held here.
We saw the room that held the kangaroo court where innocent people were convicted of 'crimes' and then sentenced to die after a 'trial' that lasted, in many cases, a few moments.
We saw the 'death wall' where so many political prisioners and others were shot to death by firing squad; their only crime: being an intellectual or outspoken political activist. On one record setting day here they managed to shoot and kill over 200 people at this wall within 24 hours. Click READ MORE to continue to the rest of this post and see the videos.
Our Polish guide was passionate and articulate and she stressed the most important points that she wanted us to remember to help us understand the things we would see later in the exhibit. I wondered if she had lost relatives here. I didn't ask.
Down in the basement of the prision barracks were the 'standing cells' where four prisoners would be forced to stand all night long in a cell no bigger than one square metre: a concrete closet. In the morning they would have to go to work for 11 hours, just like all the other prisoners, only to return to the cell to spend another night standing. Their crime might have been something as minor as smoking a cigarette, or being in possession of a stolen crust of bread. Most of these prisioners would be dead in less than two weeks. One simply could not survive. Daily food rations might consist of a lump of margarine, or a small crust of mouldy bread.
We saw a large room filled with the actual hair shaved from the heads of victims. The Nazis, known for their efficiency, didn't waste a thing or a part of anyone that might be useful. The hair was sold and used to make fabric and to stuff mattresses. After the camp was liberated some of this hair and reams of fabric was found in a storage area.
The suitcases had belonged to Jews who were told that they should pack one suitcase and bring what they would need to start a new life. Imagine what you would pack if you could bring only one suitcase for all your possessions. You'd probably pack your most valuable and prized belongings and personal objects. Again, the Nazis had planned every detail.
Once the Germans had streamlined their killing process, the new arrivals to Auschwitz were told they were going to have a shower. This, after being packed inside a locked cattle car with about 80 other people. In the winter there was no heat. In the summer there was no air conditioning. In fact, there was barely any air at all; only one tiny window to let air into these packed cars where people sometimes stayed locked for days. There were no bathrooms. You would have to defecate on yourself during the journey as you were brought to Poland from various countries throughout Europe. A shower would be enticing after an uncomfortable, smelly and dirty trip of several hundred kilometres that many people didn't survive.
Originally, at Auschwitz I newcomers were told to undress outside the gas chamber/shower. As they did, Nazi soldiers on the roof were shouting to them to remember where they set their suitcases so they could retreive them afterwards. This was to fool the prisoners and ensure that no panic or uprising ensued. These people would never see their belongings or loved ones again.
Once inside the gas chamber, the door was locked and a canister of poisonous gas, manufactured by a German company for the military, was dropped through the roof into the packed room. Within a few minutes everyone would be dead and the bodies would be stripped of any useful items like hair and gold teeth by other prisoners who were forced to perform this sick work.
The suitcases would be sent to two large warehouses called Canada I and Canada II; so named after a country the Nazis thought of as wealthy. Ironically, the people that were considered subhuman by the Germans owned items of clothing and shoes that were good enough for the SS (Military Police) to give to their wives. Toys from murdered Jewish children were given to the children of SS men.
At Auschwitz I, we walked through the gas chamber, the actual `shower` room where thousands, if not millions of people died. The hole in the roof where the gas canister was dropped was the only opening in the room except for two doors; one that prisoners had entered through and the other which adjoined to the crematorium where the bodies were burned.
The crematorium at Auschwitz I is the only one that remains today. At one time there were five such buildings. The four larger versions, which contained rooms for undressing, were situated at the huge Auschwitz II camp a few kilometres away from Auschwitz I. These four were blown up by the Nazis, in a vain attempt to hide their crimes, in the last days before the Soviet military liberated the camps in 1945.
What remains of two of the massive buildings of death lie on either side of the memorial which was built in 1967 to honour those who died here.
I found the entire visit to be emotional, as expected, but I was also disappointed and disheartened by the negligence that continues to this day on behalf of those in charge at Auschwitz.
Part of my reason for wanting to come to here was because my people, the homosexuals, were also persecuted and singled out as part of the subhuman segment of the population.
During our tour, there was one brief mention of the homosexuals, at the end of a long list of those who were persecuted by the Germans. As you can see in this photograph, the gays don`t even rate an official mention in the exhibit. I think this is disgusting and unacceptable.
The homosexuals were persecuted not only by the Nazis, but by the other prisoners as well. They were considered the lowest of the low, at the very bottom of the camp hierarchy.
Many of the homosexuals who were held at Auschwitz and other prison camps were re-arrested after their liberation because being a homosexual was illegal at the time. As we now know, being gay is no more a choice than one's race is a choice. The fact that this genocide is swept under the rug to this day by the administration at Auschwitz-Berkineau is offensive in the extreme.
We say "never again", does "never again" not apply to the gays of the world?
Have we learned nothing?
One would think that at Auschwitz of all places, acceptance and tolerance of all people would be a given.
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