I have been trying to write this post on and off all day. No words seem to be weighty enough to describe yesterday’s visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau nor evidence of the events related to this atrocity. Everything I have written at the very least, seems shallow, and weak. Sadly, I will have to settle for this anemic attempt.
Most of us who hear the word “Auschwitz,” internment camps or even the word “Holocaust” may feel emotions of some type—perhaps a saddening, sorrow, or even a moment of pause. One thing is for sure, we will all feel something. These terms have become symbolic with terror, extermination and genocide, where greater than 6 million European Jews from 1942-1945, along with other European people groups were murdered.
Though it is too big to get my arms around, I am compelled to attempt to put some form to this life-altering experience.
Day two: Up late last night agonizing over this post. After a fitful night, awake early with an angst to get my thoughts written in a readable form. I am now thinking that the photos need to tell the story.
Gate to Auscwitz heralding the message–“WORK SETS YOU FREE.” Sick irony.
It is so tragic to think about what it would have been like to have been abruptly abducted from your home, and along with your children, thrown into a small 20 x 10 foot box car with 75 to 100 people packed so tightly, there was no room to even change positions, all the while being told they were being moved to “camp,” offering hope to those who would most likely be executed on arrival. A cruelty that knows no bounds.
When massive groups being deported arrived at Auschwitz, the so called, “Nazi Assessors” would evaluate the physical ability of those exiting trains—if you looked strong, you were selected for hard labor in one line. Women, children, the elderly or disabled, were selected for immediate execution in a second line.
This second group were told they needed a shower and disinfecting before going to camp. Rather they were instructed to disrobe, sometimes outdoors, walk to the gas chambers where they suffocated when gassed with Zyklon followed by the incineration of their bodies. If all of their bones did not disintegrate, they took the bones out to the fields, pounded them until they were powder, then spread them over the fields for fertilizer. During the outdoors trek, our guide, Sabina, points to the vast grasslands, and added, “These fields were found to be full of human DNA.”
Below are some off the crematoriums/incinerators used for murdering the masses in Birkenau (on left below). When they had too many bodies to incinerate, they burned bodies in the fields (on right below).
There was another classification of people who avoided immediate termination—musicians—especially accomplished ones. The orchestras were designated to play in the morning when the prisoners were leaving for work to regulate the workers Nazi-form of marching cadence. The orchestra would also play designated music when the men returned after 12-14 hours of physical, back-breaking labor-carrying large boulders, and axe-chipping large, stone structures. The Nazis wanted the laborers to maintain their marching tempo in formation to keep them moving despite their physical exhaustion.
Extreme cruelty and inhumane treatment is a common thread in their treatment of Jews, and later additional people groups such as the Romani, Soviet POWs and prisoners from other countries. When deported they were allowed 50 kg of the possessions of their most treasured valuables, to take with them to “camp.”
Among the valuables confiscated were clothing, shoes, housewares, glasses, purses/baskets, crutches/protheses, Jewish prayer shawls, and the empty Zyklon tins, which were stored for Nazi gain, some of which yielded great profit. An example of this is difficult to even put words to. Prior to the “death walk,” of the selected women, children, elderly, sick and disabled, their heads were shaved. The hair was stockpiled (see pic) made into cloth–“hair cloth” and sold for profit. During the early 40s, there were over 40 plants manufacturing hair cloth in Germany. Total travesty- AND a very lucrative endeavor.
I have no words.
Above pictures–evidence of the precious possessions of the murdered people groups brought to “camp.” The Nazis stock-piled everything for potential gain.
The photo below, took my breath away.
A prothesis worn by someone who couldn’t otherwise walk. I do not know what else I can say.
PRISON LIFE. The inmates were awaked at 4-4:30am and were given a short time to make their bed, clean the barracks, dress, use the toilet and wash. There was one long sink, 5 toilets, no soap, or toilet paper, only dirty water shared by 1000 men. They were then to report for duty while getting into formation to march to their labor site without having anything to eat.
For lunch, the prisoners were served a watery soup made from rotting vegetables, and a piece of bread for dinner. This meal was aptly called the “Starvation Diet,” as evidenced by the 70% of the prison population who succumbed to death by malnutrition. Also because there was no heat or insulation, bedding was dirty and damp, and the same clothes were worn for sleep and work. Resulting diarrhea, lice and disease were rampant.
If a prisoner became ill, they would conceal their illness to avoid going to the “hospital.” Those who were found to be sick were sent to the hospital and a trip to the hospital could mean the prisoner would never return.
Below is a picture of the “Selection Yard” between two hospital buildings where it would be decided which patients would recover enough to work, and those who were not likely to recover. The “unlikely to recover group” would be killed on the spot, via Phenol shot into the heart or kept alive to be used for medical experimentation.
I am writing this last section of my journal because this issue is near and dear to my heart. Having had some medical experience these past few years, this is a horror that honestly, is the most degrading, sadistic and brutal treatment known to mankind.
During the assessment or sorting, twins, triplets or those with disabilities were also used for medical experimentation. They would be injected with bacteria—something like Typhoid, given drugs to see how long it took the body to succumb to the disease or illness. Patients would also be injected with various medications to see the impact of the intervention. When experimenting was completed, their bodies were dissected.
From April 1943 to May 1944, Dr. Carl Clauberg, a German gynecologist, conducted sterilization experiments on several hundred women prisoners, He injected chemicals into young women’s wombs which would render them sterile, then reposition them in front of the x-ray machine for examination. The radiation burns would be so severe, recovery was unlikely and they would be executed, or they would be murdered so that autopsies could be performed on them.
I do need to pause briefly in remembrance of those who supported the Third Reich movement, and especially those who carried out heinous crimes against the human race. I have to believe that some of these men in leadership had their own kind of soul-suffering—-having treated innocent, defenseless people, with vile hatred, and living with those reminders, with no real way to undo their actions. Even if these men experienced some level of forgiveness, it would seem the memories would follow them to the grave. All levels of sad.
There is nothing I can say that would bring any closure to this uncapturable historical tragedy.
6 thoughts on “AUSCHWITZ AND BIRKENAU”
Hi Sherry! It’s hard to believe you and Rick have been gone for 3 weeks! Seems like you just left a few days ago… sure time if flying for you as well, but these blogs are a wonderful capture of all you’ve encountered and enjoyed. I so appreciate the time and care you put into writing about your experience at Auschwitz. As you said, “there are no words”.
On a lighter note I enjoyed reading about your visit to the chocolate museum 🙂 I am living vicariously through you having chocolate every day! Both you and Rick give such wonderful recaps of your travels and sights seen. Thank you for taking us along on this journey with you.
Please say hello to Rick for us, I’ve read his blog as well…beautifully written as well. On to your next stop!
Hey Nolann! So good to hear from you!. Thank you for your encouragement regarding the blogging. Honestly, I did not plan to do so much writing on this trip. However, it has been a great way to process, document for reflection down the road and as an added bonus, has become one of our rhythms. Thanks so much for taking time to reach out to us! Hope all is well on your end. Love, Sher
if I know you, you probably had tears in your eyes through the whole tour. That would be tough to see. Years later it’s still hard to believe it happened. What I can’t understand are these people today that say it never happened when there is all this evidence and and places to visit. I don’t know if I can have any empathy for the persons who carried out such atrocities. You are a better person than me. I am thrilled you are able to see so many unexpected things on your big adventure.
Hi Terri!!!! How are you? We miss you!
Yes. This trip has been the experience of a lifetime and we are deeply grateful.
I agree with you. The situation at Auschwitz is truly TRAGIC on a zillion levels.
Honestly, I do not really know what I am supposed to feel for the men who submitted to
such horrendous, degrading, shameful acts of violence, abuse, torture, etc. . .My hope and
prayer is that there would be those men, who would take a bullet and give their lives rather
than obedience to the devil himself.
Sherry, I know this was difficult for you to see and write about, but thank you for doing it. There are no words, you are right, but you found some and wrote about your experience beautifully. Thanks for taking the time to share all of your trip with us. Love you much and look forward to your return.
This must have been hard to see having read so much about that period of history and seeing in person evidence of the atrocities. So many emotions…thank you for trying to capture it all! Love you! ❤️