Auschwitz, 10th of May

Arbeit macht frei
The infamous sign over the gates of Auschwitz read ‘Work gives freedom’. This is a replacement – the original was stolen a couple of years ago and although it was recovered it was too badly damaged to be put back up.

Today I visited Auschwitz. It was extremely incongruous to see such a place on a sunny summer’s day, and the sheer scale of the events that occurred there are overwhelming. I’m not sure I can easily describe the experience – the data is available for anyone to look up, but seeing where such things happened is a different matter. Even after seeing Auschwitz and Birkenau in person, it’s hard to grasp the extent of what happened there.

Suitcases in found in Auschwitz
The suitcases of people sent to the gas chambers. To maintain the illusion of safety, victims were told to write their details on their luggage so that they could find it again afterwards. However, there was no afterwards…

Huge mounds of clothing, shoes, and other personal effects from murdered victims make for very sobering viewing, and my mind recoiled in horror at the sheer numbers involved. Particularly tragic were the shoes and clothes of children sent to the gas chambers, and the mounds of hair collected from women after their deaths. Also staggering are the lengths to which the Nazis went to conceal the truth of what they were doing, both from the victims and from the world at large. Auschwitz is as a terrifying monument to just how appalling humans can be to one another.

Zyklon B canisters
Canisters of Zyklon B used in the gas chambers of Auschwitz Birkenau.
Auschwitz map
A map of Europe and surrounding countries, showing just how centrally Auschwitz was located and how far some prisoners were transported to get there.
Huts in Auschwitz
The huts of Auschwitz.
The gas chamber at Auschwitz
The only remaining intact gas chamber, at Auschwitz I. It was only used a few times to test the process. Trees were grown over one end to hide it from the prisoners in the camp.
Train tracks, Auschwitz Birkenau
The train sidings where new prisoners arrived in Auschwitz Birkenau. The lines stop at the trees. Prisoners were sorted on arrival into two groups – those who would be kept to work and those who were to be sent to the gas chambers.
Auschwitz toilets
Toilets in Auschwitz. Prisoners were only allowed two toilet breaks a day, once before and once after work.
Beds in Auschwitz Birkenau
Beds in the men’s camp in Auschwitz Birkenau. They’re set at an angle so that another bed could be fitted in.
Auschwitz Birkenau
The wooden sheds of the men’s camp at Birkenau. The original sheds were burnt down by the Nazis when they fled before the liberation of the camps.

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