Experiencing Auschwitz

It was a little weird leading up to it, every person I talked to who I told I was going to Auschwitz today was a little uncertain what to say – “have fun?”, “enjoy?”, “good luck?”. I mean the purpose of going somewhere is typically to enjoy yourself, especially as you travel the world, but obviously a trip to Auschwitz isn’t going to be one full of giggles and fun.

I got in to the main train station in Krakow this morning around 6:45am. Sleep was “ok” at best, I woke up every 45 mins or so. The bunk was certainly not what I would describe as comfy, it was a bit warm in the room. I’m super glad I paid for the 2 bunk vs 4 or 6 as you don’t get a bigger room if you’re in a 4 or a 6, they just drop down the bunks above you! That would not have been especially comfortable.

Anyway arrived and found the hostel really quickly – it’s a 3 minute walk away from the station, perfect. Great hostel, free dinner every night, no bunk beds (!!!), power points by the bed (you’d be amazed at how important this is), and all sorts of other good stuff. Hung out in the common room as my room was not ready of course, and inquired about the Auschwitz tour. Obviously this was nothing new to these guys – I’m pretty sure it’s the biggest tourist draw to Krakow actually.

So a quick word of warning – obviously, this being Auschwitz I’m mentioning some things that might make someone uncomfortable. If that’s you, then this is all this particular article is really about, so you might just want to turn back 🙂

Setup the tour for 12:15pm, bus takes us there, a tour guide at Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 2 takes us around, bus takes us back. Total trip is about 6 hours, 1 hour bus ride each way. Full bus, 28 people I think, and with today being a holiday of some sort (everything was closed), I guess it was a good day for a tour.

Arrived at Auschwitz and went in as a group, got the little headphones so we could hear our guide better, and stepped out into the court yard. I won’t go into detail about every piece of the tour for you, personally I think you should visit yourself. I think every single person, certainly every world leader or person who has any type of authority over great number of persons, should visit this and spend the day.

I’ve been to many WW2 museums throughout the past year in many different cities, all talking about the horror of what the Nazis did. The terrible things done to Jews. And of course, mentioning Auschwitz. I felt pretty prepared for it – I had a good working knowledge of what went on beyond these walls. I can’t say I was shocked or surprised by any of what I learned really, I’ve heard it before in some form or another.

But I have to admit, seeing it, was very different.

The most… horrifying? thing… I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but we’ll go with it. The most horrifying thing for me was to see was the two tons of human hair in a display case. Think about that weight for a second – two tons. You probably know how this story goes – they would shave the hair off the corpses after gassing them and send the hair back to Germany to sell. Only towards the end they didn’t have time to pack this load up. Yes, this load. No, that’s not the entire amount. So it stayed behind.

They also had buildings that they called Canada Buildings. These buildings stored all the stolen items from the deceased, from everything in their suitcases upon arrival to their gold teeth, glasses, watches and shoes. They called these Canada buildings because at the time Canada was seen as a very prosperous nation, wealthy, a ideal place to be if you will. That threw a pit in my stomach.

In addition to the hair there are entire display cases of thousands of shoes left behind. Thousands of glasses. It’s a real life reminder that these things all belonged to people who were exterminated. It’s one thing to read about it, see the numbers, hear the horror – it’s another thing to see their hair. And their glasses. And their shoes.

I can remember thinking the last time that I saw a nazi hunter story that, you know, after all this time, maybe, maybe (I was tossing around the idea in my head, I wasn’t saying do it) it’s time to let it go. These guys are old – they’re dying as is. What’s the point in prosecuting them?

After this, I say hunt every single one of these guys down until the end of time. Only I strongly disagree with the punishment being dealt out – though I do like the irony of the first commandant being hung at Auschwitz 1 where the SS used to execute people suspected of collaborating with prisoners (a few meters away from his old house, where he lived with his family). These guys do not deserve to be executed. They do not deserve prison, where conditions are many, many times better than those at which they supervised here. They need to be chained up inside the camp for the rest of their existence on this planet, eating what they fed these people, sleeping where they made these people sleep, and serve as a reminder to every single person who comes through those gates that this hell that they unleashed upon the world is simply not acceptable. And it doesn’t matter if you’re the guy who delivered the mail inside the compound or the commandant of the camp.

Only around 12% were ever caught and brought to justice. And that’s just pathetic.

The other thing that bothers me so much is the amazing detail in the planning for this. The deception. You want to declare war on someone, I can’t say I’m a big fan, but you know, you say we’re going to war with such and such, and this is how it goes.

These guys brought millions of people in, told them that through work they would gain freedom. Sorted them, and the ones they didn’t like too much were brought in for a “shower”. To a building marked as a shower building. They were told to strip, and tie their shoes together – remembering what number peg they’re putting it on so theres no confusion later (also, Germans didn’t want to get mismatched shoes back home when they stole and sold them). They were brought into gas chambers where they still had actual shower heads, connected to nothing.

How cowardly and pathetic is that? It’s unreal. I mean I try to see things from all perspectives. And often times you can at least understand a bad person who has done bad things, see their motivation (not always). Understand how they came to be what they were. But this… I can’t. And I can’t understand how so many “normal” people were so freely able to participate in this madness. This genocide. This cowardly act.

It blows my mind.

“The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again”
– George Santayana

Anyway. It was an educational, interesting experience, despite my prior experience and general knowledge of the camp, and the events surrounding it. Both camps were pretty horrifying. And this is something you simply should do in your lifetime.