Auschwitz- Birkenhau is the larger of the two concentration camps still standing in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship. My previous post; Angel of Death, describes the smaller camp that I visited earlier in the day, this post details Birkenhau, the Death Camp.
The first thing you see as you walk towards this area is a large imposing building and a set of train tracks running through it. This was the same train tracks that carried 1.1 million people to their deaths. They were crammed into small, claustrophobic train carriages and shipped across the continent to the extermination centre. After disembarking their belongings were confiscated for the war effort and then they were separated for selection. The old, the very young, and the weak were all sent away to be destroyed and the rest were sent into tiny barracks for use in forced labour.
Our tour guide then led us to the end of the train tracks to a large memorial for the victims of the Holocaust. There were tablets, in every language the victims spoke, in front of the monument repeating the same phrase; “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940 – 1945”.
We then headed to the former site of the gas chamber and you could see the remains of the changing rooms, the actual ‘showers’ and then the crematorium where the bodies were burned.
The final stop on this tour was one of the few remaining barracks still standing. It was colloquially known as the Death Barracks as it housed nearly 600 sick, ill, and often deceased women. they were made to sleep on straw bunks three stories high with some of them actually on the muddy, marshy, often flooded floor. It was here I really got a sense of the atrocities performed in this camp.
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”