Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the terrible happenings at Auschwitz-Birkenau. No history book or movie could prepare us for the actual experience of being in Auschwitz. We were a bit hesitant to visit, but thought that it would only provide us with more insight and information as to what happened in this concentration camp. We arrived to Auschwitz and booked into a 3.5 hour English speaking tour which visited both the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps. We spent the first 2 hours of the tour at Auschwitz where they have created an exhibition in some of the barracks which helped explain the purpose and the happenings of the concentration camp. We then took a short bus trip over to Birkenau which was built after Auschwitz as that camp was not big enough. It actually became 3 times larger than Auschwitz during WWII.
Auschwitz & Birkenau was the largest concentration camp in Europe with no fewer than 1.1 million people being killed here. Jews were mainly taken here, however there was a minority of people with political power who were also sent here such as doctors, lawyers, politicans, etc. Auschwitz was built for the Polish army so the barracks used were already constructed. The sign at the front of the concentration camp at Auschwitz stands for “Work will give you freedom”.
Many of the prisoners in Auschwitz were responsible for the construction of the Birkenau concentration camp. This commenced in 1941 due to issues with the Auschwitz camp no longer large enough to hold prisoners. It was built from wood to enable quicker building and therefore quicker expansion.
The Jews would arrive to the camp by train. The Jewish people were told that they were “moving to the East” and were allowed a 23kg piece of luggage. The trip could take a few days to 2 weeks depending on where you were coming from. There would often be 70-80 people in a wagon and they could only take food & water to last 3 days. Auschwitz was chosen as the location due to the excellent rail connections from various cities and countries.
The details below were provided to us by our tour guide.
- Coffee was served for breakfast
- Lunch consisted of soup & bread
- Dinner was 2 slices of bread
- Prisoners would work 11 hour days
- Prisoners were only allowed to use the toilet twice a day. If they used it more than that, they were punished by standing up for 3 nights
- Children the age of 3-5 would clean barracks
- The Wall of Death was where many of the prisoners were executed. Reportedly 25,000 were shot and died at this spot
- 800 people tried to escape but only 5 survived. The surrounding area was bare and there were 2000 SS guards around the place
- Less than 10 people survived the whole 5 years the camp was running
One of the main causes of death in these concentration camps was to poison the prisoners using hydrogen cyanide mixed with haemoglobin. The Germans were unaware of how much was necessary to kill and at first released a small dose which made people suffer and die after 3 days. Other causes of death included starvation and death due to medical experiments.
In remembrance of those affected.