Friday, August 10, 2012

I Survived Auschwitz

And it really was a day full of challenges and discomfort.  However, the challenges did not so much come from experiencing the horrors that the prisoners endured in the concentration camp, but from the logistics of getting to and from Auschwitz.  The train ride to the town of Oświęcim (Polish word for Auschwitz) is about two hours long, so I had planned accordingly with the train schedule.  I was standing on the platform where the train was to leave, watching and waiting for the train to arrive.  After a few minutes, I heard movement behind me, and saw a train pulling away on the track on the other side of the platform.  I had missed my train standing right there next to it.  Thus began the first challenge of the day.  I felt like the biggest idiot that ever lived.  I had to take the next train--an hour and twenty minutes later.

Once I was finally on the train, I had to use the facilities.  Now, I really wasn't expecting much--something like an airplane or bus potty, but when I hit the flusher, a hole opened up in the bottom of the bowl which went right down onto the tracks!  I literally exclaimed, "You've got to be kidding me!" out loud.  I had just used a chamber pot.

When I arrived in Oświęcim, the next challenge was finding my way to the actual camp.  I ended up walking the roughly 2 km from the train station, but the locals' directions were dependable.  One thing I quickly realized after arriving at the main building was that my visit was not going to be an intimate, reflective journey through the concentration camp.  There were so many people!  Ironically, on many parts of the tour, I felt like the prisoners must have felt, jammed up against each other in small spaces and herded like cows.  Still, it was a sobering experience, especially through the torture and death barracks Block 11 and the gas chamber and crematorium.

 The infamous front gate which reads "Work Makes You Free."

 A can (in the back) which contained the pellets (in front) that reacted to form Cyklon B, the gas used to kill prisoners.

 Eyeglasses taken from the dead bodies.  There were so many personal articles taken from the people and "recycled" for various purposes.

 This is the wall were prisoners were lined up and shot in the head.

These are some of the ovens where the dead bodies were burned after the gas chambers.

Strangely, Auschwitz now is quite pretty; it has beautiful birch and willow trees and grass, and the buildings honestly don't look that menacing from the outside, with their red brick and peaked roofs.

We were not allowed to take pictures of a few things, but they are worth mentioning.  First, there was a room full of human hair cut from (mostly) women and to be used for making fabric.  I don't remember if they took the hair when the people were still alive or not.  Also, we saw the torture chambers were prisoners were starved to death and the standing cells.  These are tiny spaces, about 3 feet by 3 feet, where four prisoners were shoved in for many nights in a row.  They were unable to sit down or move.

I got a small taste of what that may have been like on my way back to Krakow.  I took a bus, because I didn't have enough time to get back to the train station, but they let so many people on the bus that I (and others) had to stand for the entire trip.  Was I ever happy to find Andy back at the main station!  I had survived.


Sarah Black said...

That sounds horrific. I got chills reading about it.

You have to go to Zakopane and Wieliczka!

I've wondered abt the train toilets myself, but I never see anything on the tracks. No. 2 must break down on impact and then it rains and it's all organic anyway. ;) I think people mostly do no. 1. ;)


Neal said...

Wow. Isn't it amazingly surreal that such horrific places look so commonplace and even pretty? Kind of like how on 9/11, the sky was so beautifully blue.

ReadingMama said...

I once heard a holocaust survivor on TV respond to someone's remark about the lovely grounds. She said, "If there had been grass here then, I would have eaten it."

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