In 1945 the retreating Nazis destroyed part of what was their largest concentration camp, but what's left of the death factories in this quiet rural area is more than enough to show the magnitude of the holocaust. Four million people, 2.5 million of them Jews, were killed in Auschwitz and the linked complex at nearby Birkenau. The stories which live in the gas chambers, crematoria, barracks and barbed wire make this a haunted and shocking place.
It is commonly thought that Auschwitz was just one camp but there were actually several. Auschwitz I was originally a Polish army barracks. Although many people died here through starvation, executions and gross cruelty it's actual purpose was as a concentration rather than death camp. However, a system of punishments were aimed at the annihilation of prisoners and 'crimes' could be picking fruit, relieving oneself during working hours, extracting one's own gold tooth to barter with, or for working too slowly.
Punishments took many forms: flogging, hanging, confinement in air-tight blocks or blocks too small to sit down in, or reduced food. A refusal to follow a guard's order was punishable by death.
As harsh as Auschwitz I was, a second camp was built and called Auschwitz II - Birkenau. Prisoners came to be seen as economic assets and the camp was dedicated to their murder in the purpose built gas chambers and disposal in the crematoria. Upon arrival at the camp, those fit to work were immediately separated from the rest of the arrivals. These were brought into the camp while the others were herded along to the gas chambers.
11 Mar 1999 - Auschwitz, PolandAuschwitz I is remarkably well preserved and as you walk though the barracks, prison block, execution yard and view the belongings of the prisoners is an unbelievable experience. It is almost impossible to believe that such atrocities occurred in a place that you can freely walk around. The guided tours are of a very high quality and our Polish guide was extremely informative and was able to answer questions thrown at her.
Without a guide you will only see the physical evidence of what remains and miss out on hearing what everyday life was like for a prisoner. Only then will you understand the horror of what it must have been like here.
Before the camp was liberated hordes of belongings were sent to Germany for re-use and recycling. Most of the Jews condemned to die in Auschwitz were convinced that they had been deported for resettlement. Many were often sold fake plots of land and fictitious jobs arranged for them. For this reason the deportees always arrived with their most valuable belongings.
Much remains that didn't have time to be transported out and is sorted into displays. These storage rooms hold mountains of shoes, suitcases, pots and pans, spectacles and even one room full of human hair.
Auschwitz - Camp 1 (I)
A view to one of the guard towers.
Auschwitz - Arbiet macht frei
'Work sets you free', is the sign above the camp gates.
Auschwitz - Camp 1 (II)
Other than the trees, the camp is the same as what it was when it was in use.
Auschwitz - Camp 1 (III)
A view from the upper floor of a similar block,
Auschwitz - Camp 1 (IV)
The view from them execution wall across the prison courtyard. To the right are more camp barracks but the windonws are blacked. To the left is the camp prison and interrrogation centre. The stakes to the right were for hanging prisoners by their arms.
Auschwitz - Camp 1 (V)
The execution wall.
Auschwitz - Camp 1 (VI)
Guards often ordered prisoners to overstep a line near to the electrified fence. Doing this would then result in them being shot and a reward for the guard. The death's head sign is the warning not to cross.
Auschwitz - Camp 1 (VII)
The forbidden area and electrified fences.
Auschwitz - Camp 1 (VIII)
On the left of the fence is the prison guards accomodation.
Auschwitz - Camp 1 (IX)
This picture is reminiscent of achive footage from the end of the war which shows children walking through fences just like these - maybe even the same spot.
Auschwitz - Camp 1 (X)
This was an ammunition bunker and is located outside of the camp. It was in this bunker that the Germans began experimenting with gassing prisoners. At the back of this bunker are furnaces which were used for burning the bodies.
Auschwitz - Camp 1 (XI)
This is inside the ammunition bunker and converted gas chamber.
Auschwitz - Camp 2 (I)
This is the Birkenau extermination camp from the guard tower over the railway tracks that brought Jews from all over Europe. Each of the brick towers that can be seen is actually a chimney from long destroyed barracks such as the ones that can be seen in the photo.
Auschwitz - Camp 2 (II)
Inside one of the barrack blocks.