Alex on Camel, Egypt
Butchers in Moshi, Tanzania
Remarkable Rocks, Kangaroo Island
Summer Palace, China
Dorota on Brighton Beach

Auschwitz & Birkenau camps/museum in Oswiecim, Poland

Auschwitz & Birkenau camps/museum in Oswiecim, Poland - feature photo

I remember going to the Auschwitz museum for the first time when I was about 10. It was a horrible experience; I had nightmares for a long time after. I would never recommend anyone taking there children there. Later on, I visited Auschwitz a few more times and still it was very difficult each time. I can’t believe it happened. Or I should say it has taken place recently in Europe!
Last year Alex and I went there during Christmas time, the temperature was below 0? C, plus it was snowing. You start your Auschwitz tour with a guide, who tells you that it was only a “hospital”, people were only taken there, if they were too ill to work or Nazis wanted to experiment on them. The guide tells you what inhuman conditions all the prisoners had to face, shows you prisoners’ belongings, blankets made from human hair…

Then we were taken to Birkenau by bus, a place where everyone was “delivered”, selected (so strong people had to work), as you can see in The Schindler’s List, where they lived… and were killed. They worked in factories and plants in the Upper Silesia industrial region and other nearby areas that were important to maintaining the German war potential located nearby. If the transport (of prisoners) was delivered to the overcrowded camp, there was no selection, everyone was sent “to have a shower”. They lived in wooden stable-type barracks, built originally for 52 horses, and had a total capacity of more than 400 prisoners per barracks. In reality there were about 7 people sharing a bed, not enough toilets and no heating. The barracks were frequently damp, and lice and rats were an enormous problem for the prisoners.

As previously mentioned, we went there during winter time, had hats, gloves, warm jackets and boots. We were freezing. Very often they didn’t have any shoes and only very thin, destroyed clothes…

The last place you are taken to, which is on the other side of Birkenau, a place for extermination, it was partly destroyed by the Nazis escaping in late 1944, and trying to destroy any evidence of the genocide.

Brief history
All over the world Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust. It was established by Germans in 1940, in the suburbs of Oswiecim, a Polish city that was annexed to the Third Reich by the Nazis. Its name was changed to Auschwitz, which also became the name of Konzentrationslager Auschwitz (concentration camp).
The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was the fact that mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing “local” prisons. Initially, Auschwitz was to be one more concentration camp of the type that the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s. It functioned in this role throughout its existence, even when, beginning in 1942, it also became the largest of the death camps.

The first and oldest was the so-called “main camp,” later also known as “Auschwitz 1” (the number of prisoners fluctuated around 15,000, sometimes rising above 20,000), which was established on the grounds and in the buildings of pre-war Polish barracks.
The second part was the Birkenau camp (which held over 90,000 prisoners in 1944), also known as “Auschwitz 2” This was the largest part of the Auschwitz complex. The Nazis began building it in 1941 on the site of the village of Brzezinka, three kilometres from Oswiecim. The Polish civilian population was evicted and their houses confiscated and demolished. The greater part of the apparatus of mass extermination was built in Birkenau and the majority of the victims were murdered here.

The Germans isolated all the camps and sub-camps from the outside world and surrounded them with barbed wire fencing. All contact with the outside world was forbidden. However, the area administered by the commandant and patrolled by the SS camp garrison went beyond the grounds enclosed by barbed wire. It included an additional area of approximately 40 square kilometres (the so-called “Interessengebiet” – the interest zone), which lay around the Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 2-Birkenau camps.

The local population, the Poles and Jews living near the newly-founded camp, were evicted in 1940-1941. Approximately one thousand of their homes were demolished. Other buildings were assigned to officers and non-commissioned officers from the camp SS garrison, who sometimes came here with their whole families. The pre-war industrial facilities in the zone, taken over by Germans, were expanded in some cases and, in others, demolished to make way for new plants associated with the military requirements of the Third Reich. The camp administration used the zone around the camp for auxiliary camp technical support, workshops, storage, offices, and barracks for the SS.