Reflections on a trip to Auschwitz

Railway line leading to Gas chambers at Auschwitz Berkanal

Railway line leading to gas chambers at Auschwitz Berkanal

Recently myself and my husband, along with his family, had the opportunity to visit the Nazi concentration and death camps; Auschwitz One and Auschwitz Berkanal. (Auschwitz is not just one camp, but a number of camps spread across the same area.) This is not something I would have chosen to do, but I went as my husband particularly wanted to. I found the trip quite difficult, but I really feel it is something I would like to share, despite not being the kind of thing I would usually blog about.

I had obviously studied the holocaust whilst in school, and had since read books, seen movies and watched the BBC documentary, but absolutely nothing prepared me for visiting.

Just seeing the entrance to Auschwitz one, the sign saying “work makes you free” left me in tears. I could not believe a place of such horrors could possibly be real. I think through reading fiction and watching movies it is easy to think that it wasn’t really as bad as it actually was. After all, the characters in these stories are usually the lucky ones, they survive. The vast majority to do not. Whether they died from a painful internal suffocation in the gas chambers on arrival, starvation or illness, being shot in the head or were suffocated in the suffocation chambers: approximately 1.5million Jews, Poles, Gypsies, Soviets and others were murdered there. It is impossible to say how many, exactly, because it is impossible to keep a record of so many deaths.

The thing that probably shocked me most was seeing the huge tank filled with two tonnes of womens hair, some still in plaits, which had been shaved off the heads of women and girls after being gassed. When Auschwitz was liberated, ten tonnes of hair was found. There were also hundreds of shoes. Each of those shoes belonged to someone who wore them, up until their death. Someone who probably had no idea of the pain that was awaiting them.

The way in which the Nazis tortured and humiliated these people is almost impossible to imagine. Mengele, the evil doctor, performed medical experiments on twins, injecting one with an illness, when that child had died he would also kill the other so he could study both of them. Children were punished by being left to stand, bare foot, in the snow, all day. People also were forced to stand, in cells all night, and still go to work the next day.

The sheer size is so hard to comprehend. A lot of people do not realise that Auschwitz is not just located on one site, but across several with forty five satellite camps in the surrounding aiding in the production of armaments and other goods. Hundreds of people were made to sleep in small buildings, where there was barely any room. They were fed meagre portions of festering food and not able to clean themselves adequately, and were forced to work excruciatingly hard. it is no wonder most prisoners only survived several months even if they avoided one of the five gas chambers at Berkanal.

One of the lakes where ashes were thrown

One of the lakes where ashes were thrown

Many, many, other atrocities took place, women were raped and forced to be prostitutes, used as incentives for male inmates. Jews were forced to work as part of the sonderkommando, sorting through and burning the bodies of those who had been murdered.

it is so hard for us to understand how the Nazis could inflict so much pain and suffering on innocent people, but it is something which we must never forget. We must always remember them, our Jewish brothers and sisters, God’s special people.

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