The point of my trip to Poland was to visit the Auschwitz Concentration Camp and Birkenau Extermination Camp, also called Auschwitz II. This post includes a photo essay and reflections on my visit to Auschwitz.
Auschwitz Concentration Camp, A Photo Essay
Auschwitz was established in April 1940 and first served as a quarantine camp for Polish political prisoners. In August 1941, the first prisoners were executed via gas chamber: Soviet political prisoners. Even as construction began on Auschwtiz II (Birkenau), killings continued.
Odds of survival for those sent to Auschwitz were very poor:
Of the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, 1.1 million were murdered. The number of victims includes 960,000 Jews (865,000 of whom were gassed on arrival), 74,000 ethnic Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and up to 15,000 other Europeans. Those not gassed were murdered via starvation, exhaustion, disease, individual executions, or beatings. Others were killed during medical experiments.
The Soviet Red Army liberated the camp on January 27, 1945.
I warned my friend I might get emotional and I did. It hit me in a room in which there were hundreds of pictures of children who were executed in Auschwitz-Birkenau. To see their faces–their hopes and dreams–sacrificed on the altar of a cowardly, racist, fear-driven pogrom is one of the hardest things to see of all. And those survivors, some of whom I have had the great honor of meeting, live for the rest of their lives with the memory that they faced the kind of extermination that we reserve for rodents and insects.
Perhaps what annoyed me more than anything was all the people taking selfies under the Arbeit Macht Frei (work sets you free) sign at the gate of the camp. Like so many killing fields around the world, this ground is stained with blood. It is not a tourist attraction like the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine or Krakow Old Town, but a living memorial to the death of millions of people who were brutally murdered.
It’s one thing to read about death. It’s another thing to see it. To touch the ovens or stand in the gas chamber. Visiting Auschwitz is a must.
I prefer the black and white effect on the photos, but here is the same essay in color: