1 day 16 hrs AET
I’m sitting on a train heading back to Krakow. I’m going to open this blog with a quote from a film
“Everyone forgets that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own”
I was pleasantly surprised by the clunky old train that was the same type running in Poland when I was small, even the smell was the same :-) but they were old then.
In the south of Poland is a small town called Oswiecim (osh-fyen-chim). Its quite a nice town in its own way it’s got a huge station building that echos it’s important past as a massive rail interchange. When the Nazis occupied Poland they also saw the importance of the railway there and so this town was renamed to the German translation: Auschwitz.
The name synonymous with one of humanities most horrific acts. At Oswiecim station we met Ellie and Bianca who were on an Interail jaunt around Europe. We all walked along to the site of the original Auschwitz prison camp OKA Auschwitz 1. This was an army barracks converted for the purpose of a concentration camp. Political prisoners, Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals and anyone who had physical or mental impairments were amongst the early inmates. As you take your first look at the barbed wire and the infamous sign over the gates Arbeit Mact Frei (Work makes/sets you free) you feel that knowledge strike you that it’s real, this happened. I have to impress this on you that this is very real, it really did happen but you truly feel it when you see it. Amongst some of the more novel methods the Nazis had for torture and killing were to march them off to work then March them round the camp where they had to sing “hooray we’re back” then they were shot. These people were broken quickly, upon arrival they had their possessions removed, then were shaved all over then showered with freezing or scalding water then they had their picture taken. The camp commandant gave them a speech: “a rabbi with not live longer that 2 weeks, a priest, 3 weeks and the rest of you will probably be dead in a few months. There is no escape, the only way out is up the crematorium chimney”
With this in mind the Nazis began research into “the problem of the final Jewish solution”. Shooting? No… A waste of bullets. Injection? No… Too slow. So they came upon the idea of poison gas. Cyclone B, a rat poison which turn to gas when activated by body heat and shuts down the oxygen transfer system of the body was perfect. So they began gassing prisoners. The first gas chamber was able to do 700 people at a time, it showed the Nazis the way forward.
It is right now I want to remember a prisoner of Auschwitz 1: In block 6 there are photos all over the walls, hundreds of terrified eyes starring at you all except for Jan Krasinski, a watchmaker born 16/05/1915… He survived 14 months and in his picture, he was smiling and his eyes glittered with a humour that seemed to say “you can’t break me”.
There are rooms in the other blocks with displays of items plundered from the dead of both Auschwitz camps. Suitcases, spectacles, pots and pans, shoes (80,000 of them!). But possibly most horrific of all is the hair.
2000kg of female hair (never taken from men), taken from approximately 40,000 corpses. Since it would take the Nazis about 20 mins to kill 2000 people in a gas chamber in Auschwitz 2, 6 gas chambers all doing between 1400 and 2000 people it took about 1hour 20mins to kill enough people to generate that much hair. They would send it to companies to make cloth!!!!
I’m going to mention Auschwitz (2) – Birkenau. Situated on a spur from the railway 3km from Auschwitz 1 the Nazis built their killing masterpiece. As you have read it was damned efficient in its task. Almost every picture taken shows the selection process on the area between the lines. Twizzles and our friends took one look and then walked back to the main gated archway. I sat at the crossroads (the point of selection) and wrote:
I feel alone here
Here people met their end
Not by the actions of their past
But by the life they were born into
I see before me the path they had to take
To the left as I face the gates
This is where they believed they would live
This is where they would die.
I hear the horn of a train
People here must have heard the whistle of a steam train
People must have heard the sounds of a world
That one man decided they could no longer be a part of
I am lucky, I can walk back out of the gate.
As I walked away a thought occurred to me that gave meaning to a phrase from a story/game I enjoy. If Auschwitz-Birkenau could talk and it could speak to Hitler and Himmler and all the rest of them it would say “I am a monument to all your sins”.
Auschwitz is a monument, everyone should visit it once, but I promise that you won’t want to again.
It’s time to find a beer and a meal (it’s taken that long to write this) but I’m including a picture of what I could could see when I wrote those words above.
And after today all I want to say is: be excellent to each other
Zombie and Twizzles