After visiting Auschwitz, my next stop was Birkenau. As I walked though the Birkenau Extermination Camp at dusk, it hit me like a freight train once again how depraved the human race is.
Birkenau Extermination Camp, A Photo Essay
The scary thing is how efficient the operation was, like a well-oiled Mercedes Benz. As you cross under the iconic arch and into the camp, you realize that the railroad tracks you are standing on were specifically laid to transport men, women, and children directly to slaughter. Most were gassed. Many were worked to death first. Some became medical experiments. Others were brutally tortured…for sport.
Why? Even before the Jews and other persecuted minorities were killed, Nazi Germany cultivated a concept called Lebensunwertes Leben (“life unworthy of life”). This program included eugenics, forced sterilization, and eventually a euthanasia program personally ordered by Adolf Hitler meant to rid the German race of so-called impurity. Like many things, it started on a small scale and grew to something far more destructive and pervasive.
This cavalier perspective on human life helps to explain why Birkenau came into being and how, after years of laying the groundwork, so many could be so complicit in murdering human beings. Deep down they knew it was wrong, but had been programmed to believe it was life unworthy of life or that the rights of others were more paramount. Men do a wonderful job at suppressing their conscience and disregarding the universal value that human life is sacred.
Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II and part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, is not within walking distance of Auschtiwz. Instead, the two are 3.5 kilometers apart, a drive which took about seven minutes.
Give yourself several hours here to walk around. We entered around dusk and were not chased out, but could have used a lot more time. Walking through the quiet barracks and ruins of gas chambers under the shadow of a full moon, however, was a poignant reminder that even in the stillness of the night there is a deep sense of unease while standing in a place that was a hub of great evil.
The remains of a gas chamber and crematorium: