Paying our Respects at Auschwitz

My husband's grandmother is a Holocaust survivor so our visit to Auschwitz from Krakow had personal significance. If things had turned out differently for her, my husband and all his family in this generation and the previous one wouldn't be here today. My own life would be very different as a result. We boarded a bus to Oświęcim for the 2 hour ride.

Auschwitz can be visited by guided tour only. We joined Agnieszka for an informative and heart wrenching tour. We passed under the sign at the entrance: Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes You Free) which mocked detainees as they passed underneath each day.

A guard tower stood above the entrance.

The perimeter of Auschwitz was lined with barbed wire conveying the hopelessness and despair of those trapped inside.

Some of the cell blocks were converted into museum rooms to tell the story of horror that went on over this patch of soil during World War II.

The sun shining on the brick buildings on this cold crisp day were in sharp contrast to what happened all those years ago.

Agnieszka was an amazing guide telling us stories of the history of this place and the death and torture that went on within these walls. I can't imagine how she delivers a 2+ hour tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau to groups everyday. It must be emotionally draining but I thank her for sharing the story so people never forget what happened.

We paused outside the execution wall where it's estimated that 20,000 souls were murdered.

Approaching the remnants of the crematoria, we saw a Halt! Stoj! sign with skull and crossbones, a grim reminder of the poisons within.

There is one remaining crematorium that the Nazis didn't manage to destroy before the Allied liberation at the end of World War II. I was appalled when people seemed more concerned about taking pictures inside rather than taking a moment to remember and reflect on those that lost their lives here. The gas chambers and crematorium at this one location had a capacity to murder and cremate 800+ people per day. There were actually only two places on the tour where photographs were not allowed mainly due to the presence of human remains. The scale of the monstrosity of the Holocaust really hit home when we were taken into a room where 7 tons of human hair was on display. The Nazis would use human hair to make crucial fibers and textiles during the war. This was but a small sample of what was taken. I chose not to take any pictures inside the gas chamber and crematorium out of respect for those that were killed.

Displays of worn suitcases, shoes, and brushes piled high again hit home the sheer scale of the Holocaust. There were pictures on display of malnourished men and women; some weighing less than 75 pounds who were rescued at the end of the war. Images of children, particularly twins and triples were haunting for they were used in cruel medical experiments and sacrificed in the name of science. It's really hard to imagine how one race of people could do this to another. It's inhuman.

We took a short bus ride to Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and reconnected with Agnieszka to continue the tour. Birkenau was created with one purpose in mind: to quickly and efficiently kill as many people as possible. It truly was a death camp.

Train tracks rolled right through the gate into the center of the compound.

Up to 100 people would be crammed into a single car for a journey that could take up to 10 days.

Upon arrival, those inside would emerge and file one by one past a Nazi doctor. Two-thirds of those people were dead on arrival. They were deemed not fit for work and sent directly to the gas chambers. The remaining third were sent to the barracks for hard labor. Again, I thought about my husband's grandmother at that moment of selection and how she'd managed to show her strength and will to live (she's an amazingly strong lady, even today at over 90 years old). If she had been sent the other way as many in her family were, what we know today would not be possible.

We toured the barracks and primitive toilets (a series of holes running through the center of the building). Prisoners were only allowed to use these toilets twice a day.

Many of the structures were destroyed by the Nazis when they realized they were losing the war. Considering that Hitler and his minions were so sure that what they were doing was right, I was amazed that they even bothered to destroy the evidence of what they'd done. Solitary chimneys stand at regular intervals.

The rubble of one of the large gas chambers and crematoria stand behind a somber memorial to those that were murdered.

The tour concluded at an international memorial erected in 1967.

For each person murdered in the Holocaust, this memorial is written in their language:

Forever let this place be

A cry of despair

and a warning to humanity

where the Nazis murdered about one and a half


men, women, and children

mainly Jews

from various countries of Europe

Auschwitz - Birkenau

1940 - 1945

As we walked back to our bus and ride home, we reflected on what we'd just seen. I expected the experience to be incredibly emotional and it was just not outwardly so. I brought copious amounts of tissues with me, fully expecting to cry nearly the whole time. I didn't. I think the scale of the massacre was simply too great to comprehend, too great for tears. It's only now as I proofread this post that I find myself crying at the horror of it all.

For more details on visiting Auschwitz, check out this detailed post on Born Globals.

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: Paying our Respects at Auschwitz
Paying our Respects at Auschwitz
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog
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