It’s with a heavy heart that we create this blog post however, our travels have led us into the inhumane conditions of over a million people who were utterly mistreated and discriminated against. Many of which, we learnt were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time… Auschwitz has an eerie atmosphere from the moment you enter the gate which stands tall claiming that ‘work sets you free’, arbeit macht frei.
I think one of the hardest parts to learn was that hundreds of thousands of people believed that they were heading to a better place. This said, working 14-20 hours a day certainly isn’t a better place but instead a place of torturous conditions. The first part of our tour led us through the gates and we were told to focus on the double barbed wire fences, at the time these would’ve been pulsing with electricity, aiming to deter any prisoners from the thought of escape, however those who did try were punished unexplainably. Other prisoners were also murdered coldly if there were an escapee.
We made our way into ‘Block 4’ on the Auschwitz-I camp which gave us an insight into the mass genocide which took place under our feet. Here we learnt that Jews were moved to Poland (Auschwitz) as it holds a central position in Europe which allowed the easiest transportation process of prisoners. Originally over 140,000 Poles were deported and half perished throughout 1940 in the camp. In March of 1942, over 1.1 millions Jews were then deported into Auschwitz with 2 functions; firstly to be a concentration camp and secondly to become another site of the Holocaust.
After fully realising the extent of which mass murder was carried out, we headed into a part of the museum which brought to light that the Nazis’ burnt the bodies of their victims on a huge scale; they aimed to cover up their crimes and remove existence of everyone who wasn’t perceived as the ‘perfect’ human. We also learnt that German doctors literally selected those who would live or die after arriving from the train, those who were selected to live may have been subject to experimental doctors who aimed to create blue eyes in every human, they also studied twins with the intention to increase the German population as quickly as possible.
We then entered a room which held over 80,000 pairs of shoes, all of which at one time belonged to someone who was brutally killed within Auschwitz. For me, this really hurt to see, nothing has ever broken my heart as deep as this realisation did. All sizes were visible, from the tiniest of feet to bigger fully grown ones. We were then shown tonnes of human hair which was shaved from the prisoners and then they were forced to create rugs, coats and even uniform for German soldiers.
Walking from block to block, it is clear how huge Auschwitz actually is and to try and imagine that thousands of people were to live within such conditions, let alone the simple fact that people were literally required to live on top of one another.
We entered a block in Auschwitz-Birkenau which held 700 people at a time, the beds inside were 3 high from floor to ceiling and typically 6-8 people shared each of these beds. I’m finding it hard to try and call these beds as they were nowhere near what we would expect a bed to be.
We were made aware that this block was named by prisoners as the ‘death block’. This was because prisoners who arrived in this block lived for no longer than a week and were never seen again.
We were also allowed into the gas chamber which was excruciating on my heart. I wasn’t quite sure I even wanted to go inside. Upon entering there is an immediate sense of death; innocent death. Death which shouldn’t be there. Death which is irreversible and so undeserving. I cannot explain how it felt to walk into the gas chamber knowing how many people were squashed into the room, holding approximately 200 people, at the time, 800 at a time were stripped and sent into the chamber, to be led to their deaths within 20 minutes of entering.
We were made aware that it was impossible to survive the effects of the gas chamber. Those who went in, never came out. SS soldiers couldn’t bear the smell and noise of mass killings and so forth threw countless amounts of Zyklon B into the roof of the chambers and then ran, ordering prisoners to clean the remains of whoever they found inside, be it their wife, family, children or friends, they had no choice.
It is completely unthinkable to ever fully understand what went on within the walls of Auschwitz, we can only aim to cherish the memory of the victims whose innocent lives were taken from them. Words cannot explain nor allow anyone to take in the full extent to which over a million people were tortured. The cruelty that surrounds the Holocaust is never fully portrayed until you enter the museum walls of Auschwitz. This blog post doesn’t even begin to cover the feelings found within the walls of Auschwitz. Therefore, we would recommend that if given the chance everyone should be taken through the story of the prisoners and just to try and understand the agony which Auschwitz caused so many people.