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Auschwitz-Birkenau

Introduction

In 2011, I went on a business trip to Krakow, Poland. Krakow is a beautiful city with a mix of the old and new. During World War II, this city was one of the few major cities in that area that was not leveled by bombing raids. As a result there is very beautiful old architecture intermixed with the new. I did capture a few images of Krakow and I hope to publish them in the future. However, in this blog, I want to focus on Auschwitz.

I am a workaholic so I am not one to take tours during business trips. My job as an IT auditor was very demanding and when I was not actually auditing I was reviewing my notes from the current audit, writing audit reports from previous audits, or running to catch a plane to my next assignment. However, for some reason, while I was in Krakow God moved me to take a day trip to visit Auschwitz.

I can’t even remember how I knew that Auschwitz was in the vicinity. I always thought Auschwitz was in the middle of Germany. I assume that there may have been some literature in the hotel. But to my surprise, I discovered that Auschwitz was located in the town of Oswiecim which is approximately 70 km from Krakow and as soon as I discovered the close proximity to where I was staying God put in my heart that I must go.

So I found a tour company that ran day trips to Auschwitz. I boarded a bus early Saturday morning and headed to Oswiecim. The trip from Krakow to Oswiecim is very scenic. We passed through several small towns and the countryside vistas were beautiful. It is so hard to believe such evil once lived here.

Poland, Auschwitz- Birkenau-Birkenau - Auschwitz International M

Birkenau Auschwitz International Monument

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners who began to arrive in May, 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September of 1941. Auschwitz II, the camp called Birkenau, was also constructed in the early 40’s and went on to become a major site of the Nazi “Final Solution to the Jewish question”. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews, as well as, others to the camp’s gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe, where they were killed with the pesticide Zyklon B. At least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz, around 90 percent of them Jewish; approximately 1 in 6 Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the Auschwitz camps.

Poland_Auschwitz_ Birkenau_ Auschwitz I - Arbeit Macht  Frei

Work Will Make You Free

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When approaching the entrance to Auschwitz I there is a sign which reads “Arbeit Maeht Fri”. Roughly translated, it states that work will set you free. However, very few prisoners that entered the camp were ever set free.

Poland_Auschwitz_ Birkenau_ Auschwitz I - VORSICHT II

Caution High Voltage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the information I found (a lot of which was from the internet) is very gruesome and chilling. There were approximately 1,200 concentration camps and sub-camps of various types created around Europe during the war. Another thing I found interesting was that concentration camps were first created in Germany after Hitler took power in 1933. They were initially created to house dissidents and desenters of the Nazi regime within Germany. However, as Germany rolled through Europe, extermination concentration camps were setup throughout Europe. Most of these camps became extermination camps and the Auschwitz camps became the most proficient killing facilities/machines of them all.

Auschwitz - No Man's Land Between Cell Blocks

No Mans Land Between Cell Blocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Medical Experiments

During my visit to this place I felt I was treading on the grounds of a very sacred and holy cemetery while at the same time I could not believe the horror that took place here. While the murders committed here were especially horrific, German doctors also performed a wide variety of experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz. Among other experimentation, SS doctors tested the efficacy of X-rays as a sterilization device by administering large doses to female prisoners, injected Chemicals into women’s uteruses in an effort to glue them shut, deliberately infected prisoners with spotted fever for vaccination research and exposed them to toxic substances to study the effects.

Poland, Auschwitz - Birkenau Medical Experimentation Cell Block

Main Entrance to the Experimentation Cell Block

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most infamous doctor at Auschwitz was Josef Mengele, known as the “Angel of Death”. Particularly interested in research on identical twins, Mengele performed cruel experiments; such as inducing diseases in one twin and killing the other when the first died to perform comparative autopsies. He also took a special interest in dwarfs, and he deliberately induced comas in twins, dwarfs, and other prisoners to study the effects.

In one instance, twenty Jewish children from Auschwitz were relocated to use in pseudoscientific medical experiments at the Neuengamme concentration camp. In April 1945, these children were killed by hanging to conceal the project.

Extermination Cell Block

Extermination Cell Block

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Auschwitz I Cremation Furnace

Auschwitz I Cremation Furnace

There was a single gas chamber in Auschwitz I. However, it was small in comparison to the huge killing complexes built in Auschwitz II. Prisoners that were killed or died in Auschwitz were taken to the cremation furnaces pictured above.

Cell Block11 was the punishment cell block. Initially the punishment cell block was used to test gases that would later be used in the main gas chambers. The tests were conducted in the basement on Polish Prisoners of War. This cell block was used to separate camp trouble makers and camp dissidents from the rest of the camp population. This cell block contained cells that were in total darkness and prisoners were packed so tightly into these cells that everyone had to stand, in some cases to the point of suffocation.

Doorway to Death

Doorway to Death

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribunals were also held in this building. A door from this cell led to a courtyard. At the end of the courtyard was the “Wall of Death“. Prisoners found guilty of any camp infractions were taken through the “Doorway of Death” to the wall and executed. Usually with a bullet.

Wall of Death

Wall of Death

Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Remnants of Birkenau Barracks

Remnants of Birkenau Barracks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Construction on Auschwitz II-Birkenau began in October 1941 to ease congestion at the main camp. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, head of the Schutzstaffel(SS), intended the camp to house 50,000 prisoners of war, who would be interned as forced laborers. Plans called for the expansion of the camp; first to house 150,000, and eventually as many as 200,000 inmates. An initial contingent of 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war arrived at Auschwitz I in October 1941, but by March 1942 only 945 were still alive, and these were transferred to Birkenau, where most of them died from disease or starvation by May. By this time, Hitler had decided to annihilate the Jewish people, so Birkenau was repurposed as a combination labor camp / extermination camp.

The End of the Line in Birkenau for Millions of Jews

The End of the Line in Birkenau for Millions of Jews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The chief of construction of Auschwitz II-Birkenau, unike his predecessor, was a competent and dynamic bureaucrat who, in spite of the ongoing war, carried out the construction deemed necessary. The Birkenau camp, the four crematoria, the technically complicated central sauna, a new reception building, and hundreds of other buildings were planned and realized. Plans initially called for each barrack to have an occupancy of 550 prisoners (one-third of the space allotted in other Nazi concentration camps). That was later changed to 744 prisoners per barrack. The SS designed the barracks, not so much to house people as, to destroy them.

Inside a Birkenau Barrack

Inside a Birkenau Barrack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first gas chamber at Birkenau was the “red house” (called Bunker 1 by SS staff), a brick cottage converted into a gassing facility by tearing out the inside and bricking up the walls. It was operational by March 1942. A second brick cottage, the “white house” or Bunker 2, was converted some weeks later. These structures were in use for mass killings until early 1943. Himmler visited the camp in person on July 17 and 18, 1942. He was given a demonstration of a mass killing using the gas chamber in Bunker 2 and toured the building site of a new  plant being constructed at the nearby town of Monowitz.

Poland, Auschwitz- Birkenau-Birkenau - Crematorium I

Remnants of a Birkenau Crematorium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In early 1943, the Nazis decided to greatly increase the gassing capacity of Birkenau. Crematorium II, originally designed as a mortuary, with morgues in the basement and ground-level incinerators, was converted into a killing factory by installing gas-tight doors, vents for the Zyklon B (a highly lethal cyanide-basedpesticide) to be dropped into the chamber, and ventilation equipment to remove the gas thereafter.  It went into operation in March of that year. Crematorium III was built using the same design. Crematoria IV and V, designed from the start as gassing centers, were also constructed that spring. By June 1943, all four crematoria were operational. Most of the victims were killed using these four structures.

Remnants of a Birkenau Crematorium

A Replica of a Nazi Transport Rail Road Car

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There seems to be electrified barbed wire everywhere in both camps.  Even when looking up, there is electrified barbed wire.  I can’t imagine how depressing it was to live in these horrible conditions every day knowing the only way out was through the crematorium.   As a species,  we will probably never understand or eradicate horrible evils like this from the face of the earth. For those who believe, this will not happen until the second coming of Jesus when God will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away and we will all be made new.

Poland_Auschwitz_ Birkenau_ Auschwitz I - Electrified Barbed Wir

Looking Up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poland, Auschwitz- Birkenau-Birkenau - Electrified Fence III

Electrified Barbed Wire Everywhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and tens of thousands of people of diverse nationalities. Living conditions were brutal, and many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.

The information I found contained this list of the Nazi extermination camps. The extermination camps were set up specifically to kill and remove all traces of those that were executed. Although other types of concentration camps not listed here also proved to be efficient killing machines.

Camp                          Location                              Camp Type                                                         People killed
+  Auschwitz-Birkenau         Poland                         Extermination and labor                                        1,100,000
+  Bełżec                                    Poland                         Extermination                                                               434,508
+  Chełmno                              Poland                         Extermination                                                               152,000
+  Janowska                            Ukraine                        Transit, Labor, & Extermination                              40,000
+  Jasenovac                            Croatia                        Extermination                                                               100,000
+  Majdanek                            Poland                         Extermination                                                                  78,000
+  Maly Trostenets                 Belarus                        Extermination                                                                 206,500
+  Sajmište                               Serbia                           Extermination camp                                               23,000–47,000
+  Sobibór                                Poland                          Extermination camp                                                      200,000
+  Treblinka                            Poland                          Extermination camp                                                      870,000
+  Warsaw                               Poland                         Labor and Extermination camp                                   200,000

Conclusion

In my investigations, I came across several articles that discussed the possibility of just letting the Auschwitz Museum go away. There is discussions around the land it sits on and the cost of upkeep of such a large museum. What happened here was not the result of the ravages of war. It was genocide with all the horror, pain and terror that that implies. It was the systemic attempt to eradicate an entire race of people from the face of the earth. And while many knew these atrocities were taking place, most turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to this monstrous behavior. I am sure those that perpetrated this crime against humanity and those that turned a blind eye would rejoice if it just “went away“. I for one believe it should not go away. It needs to remain as a reminder of what happens when we humans fail to treat each other with the Dignity, Respect, and Love the most high God gives to us. God created us ALL in his image and likeness, not just an elite, chosen few. “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Nowhere, I believe is that truer than here in Auschwitz.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is a memorial and museum in Oświęcim, Poland, which includes the German concentration camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. It is devoted to the memory of the murders in both camps during World War II. A lot of the information presented here came from my actual visit to the museum, as well as, various internet information sites.

Equipment

All of the images here were taken with a Canon SX 210. It is a 14 megapixel point and shoot camera that I try to carry with me at all times. It has a 14X zoom and image stabilization. (I have just replaced the SX 210 with a Sony RX 100. The optical zoom is 28mm to 70mm but over the years I found that 98% of my photos are taken within the confines of that zoom.) The SX 210 served me very well. The 2 draw back to it are sensor size and megapixels. But then again, the ultimate answer is to carry an interchangeable lens camera with a selection of lenses. However, my lifestyle does not afford me the ability to do that.

Processing
All images were processed digitally using both Lightroom and Nik softwares.

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