CONTRIBUTED BY TEANNA SIDLES
If you’ve never been to Auschwitz, I hope you’ve at least heard of it. After our trip there, my husband had guys come up to him asking him what Auschwitz was! Can you even imagine? I have middle schoolers who know what it is! So I guess the next generation isn’t hopeless.
But just in case, Auschwitz was a network of German Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp to staff an IG Farben factory), and 45 satellite camps. The camps were located approximately 37 miles west of Krakow, near the prewar German-Polish border in Upper Silesia, an area that Nazi Germany annexed in 1939 after invading and conquering Poland.
I don’t really have words to describe this place. Being here was surreal. We got up early-ish, headed out the door and stood in line for our tickets, I would suggest buying them online. The line was out the door and we missed the English tour by 5 minutes! So we had to wait another hour for the next tour. I was told you could buy it online, but we weren’t sure what time we were going to be there. It all worked out in the end. I think it was about $10, (Polish money is confusing to me).
Our tour group was pretty huge, but they broke us down into smaller groups. I think our group had about 20 people in it. Not too bad. We each got our own head set, I love it when tour groups have the head set. It makes it so much easier, I get to wander but I can still hear the tour group!
Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941, and Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazi as the “Final Solution to the Jewish problem”. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews 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 camp.
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. Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.
The first gas chamber is on Auschwitz I, where the Nazis first experimented on people. Our guide told us that it took days for the first round of people to be murdered. I couldn’t bring myself to go into the original gas chamber. It felt wrong to me some how, too much bad ju-ju for my liking.
After our tour at Auschwitz I, we were given the option to head to Birkeanu, it is included in the tour, but a lot of people chose not to go. We chose to go because of Birkeanu’s history. This is where the gas chambers and mass murders took place.
Auschwitz-Birkenau also contained the facilities for a killing center. New arrivals at Auschwitz-Birkenau underwent selection. The SS staff determined the majority to be unfit for forced labor and sent them immediately to the gas chambers, which were disguised as shower installations to mislead the victims. The belongings of those gassed were confiscated and sorted in the “Kanada” (Canada) warehouse for shipment back to Germany. Canada symbolized wealth to the prisoners.
The chief of construction of Auschwitz II-Birkenau was Karl Bischoff. Bischoff’s plans initially called for each barrack to have an occupancy of 550 prisoners (one-third of the space allotted in other Nazi concentration camps). He later changed this to 744 prisoners per barrack. The SS designed the barracks not so much to house people as to destroy them.
Birkenau is a death camp. Words cannot describe what it is like to be there. We didn’t take pictures of us while we were there, for some reason it felt wrong to stand in front of a place where millions were murdered and smile and pose for a picture.
Auschwitz is not for the faint at heart. It is a place that we knew we would have to see while we were in Germany. While we were there my heart hurt, but it is an experience that I feel everyone should visit if given the opportunity.
Note: Teanna originally posted this article on her website and has graciously shared it with Germany Ja as well.
Stanisławy Leszczyńskiej Str. no. 11
Więźniów Oświęcimia 20
GPS Coordinates: 19.20363 E, 50.0266 N
8:00 AM – 2:00 PM December
8:00 AM – 3:00 PM January, November
8:00 AM – 4:00 PM February
8:00 AM – 5:00 PM March, October
8:00 AM – 6:00 PM April, May, September
8:00 AM – 7:00 PM June, July, August
Other things to do in the area: Krakow, Poland
Should you bring your children? Children At Serious Museums and Memorials
Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds
Stolpersteine (Stumbling Blocks)
Berchtesgaden and Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus)
Memorium Nuremberg Trials