Friday, 2 November 2018

Birkenau Camp Tour

Hopefully you have had a chance to read the Auschwitz Tour post.

Following on from the Auschwitz tour we travelled about 1 mile up the road to Birkenau. This was a direct contrast to Auschwitz, there were no tour groups, no queues no security. It was almost as though time had stood still. If you google Auschwitz you will see the iconic photo of the entrance with the railway line running through. This is your entrance to the Birkenau camp.

Walking through the entrance you are astounded by the sheer size of the camp. As far as the eye can see there is barbed wire fencing and rubble from the destroyed housing huts. We were taken to the centre of the camp, next to rail line we were told about how the prisoners were separated right where we were standing. Children pulled from their families, the elderly and sick sent straight off to the gas chambers and the remainder examined to see if they were fit for work. We were in a group of 21 people, and only 5 of us on average would have been declared as work worthy. 

The camp was built by Russian prisoners of war and was the most brutal and demanding camp in the area. The tour guide explained that due to living conditions and standard, Auschwitz would have been the better of two bad places. 

This camp was built solely for the purpose of extermination. At the back of the camp there is a forest with a lake in it, the ashes of all the people who died there are believed to have been tipped into the lake making it the worlds largest graveyard. 

There is a mural at the back of the camp dedicated to all those who lost their lives. Each stone is written in a language spoken by victims. There is a stone written in English dedicated to a Scottish Nun who was captured in Hungary, she was sadly sent to the gas chambers after refusing to leave the children she was caring for. The gas chambers at this site are now rubble having been destroyed by Nazi forces having learned that Russian forces were advancing on their position. The sheer size of these chambers compared to the one at Auschwitz clearly shows that this camp was built for mass killings. It started raining and the wind picked up while we were walking and looking at this section, you can feel the cold and it made you realise that some poor people were forced to work in these conditions at all hours of the day, in any weather.

Walking back down past the huts we made our way to a wing where you were sent if you were sick and unable to work. The idea was posed as somewhere you went for medical treatment and you were nursed back to health and sent back to work when in truth it was your death sentence. Over 700 people would be crammed in this hut at a time all waiting to be marched up to the gas chambers. The hut was dark, cold and dirty. 5 people at a time were expected to sleep on a wooden board, no bigger that a double bed. There we two heaters in the building which I cannot imagine gave off much heat during the winter when temperatures would drop below -7.

Our tour guide then got us all together and gave the final talk, this was a talk that has resonated with me, "if you ever see someone with number tattoos on there arms, speak to them, ask them questions. Everyone who experienced this horrific tragedy are either dead or in there 80's and 90's. In 10 years time we will have no living proof this ever happened, all we will be left with is memories and stories" This message made me realise that while life have moved forward, the holocaust is something that should never been forgotten. The minute people forget the holocaust happened is the minute it has the potential to happen again. 

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