Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Auschwitz Camp Tour

We recently got home from a few days in Krakow, Poland. While we were there we decided to do a tour of the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. Me and Jade have both been keen to visit in the past and we both find the history behind world war 2 both horrifying and interesting.

We arranged the tour through Cracow Local Tours and we were picked up at 8am by our driver Dawid. He was extremely friendly, funny and knowledgeable about the area. He even marked my tourist map with fantastic restaurants and bars.

We pulled up to Auschwitz first and your first impression is nothing what you'd expect. There is just groups of people everywhere waiting to get into the camp, we had to go through security on the way in to make sure we had no banned items. I was speaking with one of our tour guides who explained that people in the past have taken chisels and screwdrivers in, they have then attempted to chip off some brickwork or wood to take a some kind of "souvenir" which is utterly disgusting. After getting the all clear from the security staff we all put on our headphones and tuned into our tour guide, Conrads, broadcast station. I only learnt after the tour that Conrad was not an official tour guide, he was infact a driver from the company we booked the tour on but his level of knowledge was on another level. I also did not realise he was Polish as his English was also perfect.


The tour started by walking through the main, and only gate. This is when you forget about all the other tourists around you, you realise that where you are stood was a place where many evil people once stood and more importantly where thousands of innocent people once stood. The wording on the gate translates to "Work Sets You Free" this was just another sick example of the lies spewed out by the minds behind the death camps. They were sold a false promise of freedom in return for labour.


Walking into the camp you notice how similar it is to a military camp, this is because prior to area become occupied by the Nazi Party, the camp was occupied by the Polish military, walking round we were told about the treatment these people were forced to endure, food levels, a "soup" that was made from boiling water and some chopped up vegetables. The punishments handed out for crimes. For example, if someone were to attempt and escape, it would not only affect the individual but all other member of his work team would also be punished in horrific ways. We went into several different buildings and learnt about the tragic events that happened. The first building had an urn full of ashes that were recovered from the camp when it was liberated by Russian forces. Jade was visibly upset from the moment we walked in but I managed to keep it together until you are faced with physical items. A cabinet full of empty Zyklon B used to kill prisoners, a huge collection of human hair, prayer mats, glasses, cutlery and clothes. I could not concentrate on the tour guide after seeing the collection of children's clothes. Some of which were quite clearly for a child aged no more than 3 years old. The idea that a group of people can be so heartless and cold as to bring harm to a poor innocent child simply because of the beliefs or race was heartbreaking.


We had an opportunity to look at the living conditions of the prisoners and also look at the cells used as punishment. The most barbaric were the stand up cells. A room no more than 4ft wide in any direction was built with the idea of housing 3 prisoners per cell with the intention of someone being locked in for up to 4 days at a time. What I was shocked about was that they were not just subjected to physical abuse and torture. The Nazi party were able to mentally destroy prisoners as well. There was a suffocation cell. This was a cell with an extremely small air hole that can be covered by the guards should they wish. Several prisoners were put in this cell, and while a prisoner could not suffocate in there, the psychological suffering caused by the thought of running out of oxygen was much more terrifying.

We walked past medical block where experiments were carried out on young girls and twins. These people were operated on with no anaesthetic as this was too expensive. The Nazi's were attempting to find the best way to sterilise the prisoners in an attempt to kill off the bloodlines of those not deemed "worthy" Jews, Blacks, Gypsy's, any section of society who could not adhere to the Aryan race. A man names Josef Mengele was the doctor at this camp, he was also running trials on twins to see how one child body would react if something happened to the other child. Amputations and infections were the most common.

We then were escorted to the only gas chamber left in the area, the rest of the chambers were destroyed by the Nazi's in an attempt to cover over the evidence. Walking into the concrete structure your emotions are all over the place. Stepping through the door way the realisation that the doorway you just walked through represented the last few steps of thousands of peoples lives. The room is a large bunkers like building with holes in the ceiling where the chemicals were poured in. This is a moment where you have to just stand still and take it all in.

This was the last stop on our tour. The whole tour is a heavy experience, it is an emotional struggle but it gives you an insight into how these victims were degraded and discarded with no regard to humanity or morality. I went to the camp, knowing what had happened, I've seen the movies, I've read the history books but I don't think any form of media or literature can prepare you for the feeling you get when being there. To say I enjoyed the tour would be the wrong phrase to use, I appreciated the the importance of remembering the brave people who suffered and I was honoured to have been able to pay my respects by visiting and become more educated about the people who lived there.

We then set off to Birkenau Camp which can be read here.