Auschwitz and Birkenau

29 Mar

Hello

So I just got back from Krakow yesterday and it was a moving trip but also a lot of fun. Also in about an hour my mom and brother will be in Vienna which I am so excited about! My next blog will be about all of travels in Italy so I will probably not have time to blog next week because I will traveling.

So now to Krakow. I took the 8 hour train ride by myself because the two other girls I was meeting were already there because they went up a day before me. I had a midterm still on Wednesday so I was not able to go the day earlier. It was good though I got there a day late because they did all of their shopping and girly stuff they day before.

I got in around nine at night on Wednesday and just walked about the for a little bit and checked into our hostel. We also went out that night which was fun because we got to experience another citys night life. The next morning we got up at about 8 in the morning and had breakfast and then got on a bus to Auschwitz. For those of you that do not know what this is although I am sure everyone does it was the largest Nazi concentration and extermination camps. It is located about an hour and a half bus ride from Krakow. Getting off the bus when we arrived at Auschwitz we meet these two guys who I will talk more about later. Just walking up to Auschwitz was not as bad as I thought it would be because there were so many tourists. It is free entry without a guide so we decided to save some money and not get a guide which ended up being fine. We could stay in a place as long as we wanted and there was enough info written that we could grasp most of the information we needed to. Walking in you see a sign made in metal that is across the entrance to the camp. It read “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “working makes (sets) you free”. This sign made me upset and angry because of the implications that this work actually did to the people that lived in this camp. There were barbed wire fences everywhere and buildings that all looked the same. They all had a number or block to them and many of them served different purposes. Most of them were living quarters but some of them were the “hospital” or “jail”. One story I read is that a child went to jail because he used a type of clothing to keep his feet warm so he got written and punished for it. There was also an eerie feeling as you walked around the camp even though it was such a beautiful day.  Some of the things I might say now about the camp you might not want to read because it might be too much or you want to go to Auschwitz at some point and experience this all for your self.

The Nazi’s used a lot of psychological punishment as well as physical. If someone tried to escape the camp they would display their body at the entrance of the camp so everyone would see it when they walked to and from work.  Also, if a polish prisoner escaped the family members were arrested and sent to Auschwitz.  They were then made to stand under a sign that explained why they were there until the fugitive was found.  They were also mass hangings for those that tired to escape and many other forms of public punishment.

Each building had a different theme to it depending on the purpose it served while the camp was in operation. They then made each building into something different. One talked about the extermination of the camp while another talked about the families, another about punishment, everyday life, and really anything you can think. Because I only have a limited time I will only talk about the things that hit me the hardest.  If you would like me to go into any more detail about something I covered I will try to answer it the best I can.

So one of the most disturbing things that I saw there was three pictures of ladies and also a room that had the hair of the prisoners. I will first talk about the pictures. These women were about 150 to 130 lbs when they arrived in the camp and about at the time pictures were taken of them the were 35 to 50 lbs! They were pretty much all skin and bones. I could just not believe how that could happen. Another room had an entire room full of hair that the Nazis had because each prisoner that came to the camp had to get all of their hair cut off.  One of the grossest things about that is that they kept it and sold it to be used as clothing material. People walked around Germany with clothing made partly out of the hair of these individuals. Very very sick.

Now for some quick punishments and then I will have to move onto to Auschwitz II or Birkenau.  One of the punishments was that the prisoners had to stand in a cell all night long after they had been working for 12 hours straight.  Many died of exhaustion and I could never imagine doing this.  They would also wipe the prisoners and if they would not go out for work they would make them strip naked and pour cold water on them in the freezing rain. Many would then freeze to death.  The last punishment I will talk about and as you know there many more was where they would get their wrists tied behind their back and they would then be hung up by their wrists on a hook for several hours. I could not imagine what that would do to your shoulders and arms.

So now on to Birkenau. This was where the crematories and gas chambers were held. This was about three kilometers or about a little over a mile and a half from Auschwitz.  This is where all of prisoners would first go and be processed. We saw the train tracks that went into the camp which was very hard to see because imaging that was really heart breaking. All of the crematories and gas chambers were in the back of the camp and so was the processing center. Many of times the whole train car would be sent to take “showers” which means they would be gassed.  All of the gas chambers and crematories were destroyed though to try to get ride of the evidence. Seeing the sites where these were though were still very intense. There were also many memorials throughout the camp for the many things that happened there. The Birkenau camp was a lot more different from Auschwitz because it was so big. We overall walked around the two camps for about 5 hours. It was very draining both physically and emotionally.  Just seeing all of the pictures and different buildings and descriptions made it that much harder.

I really think though that everyone if they can should go to a concentration camp. It tells the story of something horrible that happened in our history and for some of us our lives. This event should be remembered and it is sad today that there are still mass genocides even happening today. This was an overall moving experience and I am grateful that I went because I learned so much and you do not come out the same person after going to these camps.

So now on a lighter note we meet these guys from Belgium while we on the busses to and from the camp.  They were really cool guys and we ended up having dinner with them and going to a bar with them after dinner. Our dinner lasted three hours and it was really good and a lot of fun. They are both going to sailors and were on spring break. One of the guys is a DJ.  He DJss Baltic music which I had never really heard of before but I listened to some of it and it sounds interesting.  He is coming to Vienna to play and I really excited.  I should be able to go and watch him DJ. He also said I could go back stage with him or whatever back stage is and hang out before and after and even while he plays. They were both really nice guys and it was great to meet people not from the United States.

We then came back yesterday early in the morning and it was so much better having someone to ride the train back with. I was not as bored and it was a great end to a great trip. Well time to go pick up family from the train station! Hope everyone is well and I can not wait for this trip!
Benjamin

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