Arbeit Macht Frei, work sets you free. We arrived as soon as Auschwitz opened, 9am. Very few people were around at the time and we were yet to see the queues of tourists that would arrive shortly afterwards. My first impressions of this historically poignant place were the absolute silence, the freezing cold that even I could feel wearing 5 layers and the magnitude of what actually happened here.
It was worthwhile joining a tour about an hour later so that we could find out the history behind Auschwitz Birkenau. It was actually divided in to two places; the concentration camp known as Auschwitz, and Birkenau which is described as a death camp. The difference being that in the former the prisoners are incarcerated and forced to work, and in the latter it is a built for purpose camp used to murder people, and in this instance mainly jews.
A watch tower cordoned off by double barbed wire
Above, a site where SS officers hanged victims as an example to others
It was hard to comprehend the sheer number of people who were murdered in Auschwitz Birkenau in a space of 4 years. It was officially reported that 1.1 million people died, mostly Jews. They say the number unofficially could be as high as 1.4 million people. 1.4 million.
There were thouands upon thousands of pairs of shoes, prosthetic limbs, human hair, shaving brushes, suitcases, glasses and pots and pans. They were never told where they were going and so packed their belongings with such care, and such love, never to be needed again.
Above it showed the date they arrived, and the date they were murdered. Very few made it longer than 3 months with the average I could see probably being closer to 3-4 weeks..
These were the double barbed wire walls which lined the edges of the concentration camp. Separating the Nazis and the prisoners.
Birkenau was located around 3km from Auschwitz. What shocked me the most about the death camp was just how huge it was. 175 hectares.
The conditions terrible, cold and a deprivation of even the most basic human rights.
A memorial to the victims of the Nazi regime. A plaque with the same message written in a dozen different languages. English as below.
“Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity. Where the Nazis mirdered about 1.5 million men, some and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe”