Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Somber Day at Auschwitz

Ironically, it was a beautiful, sunny fall day when we journeyed from Krakow and made our way to one of the coldest and darkest places on earth: the Auschwitz concentration camp, a network of concentration and extermination camps set up by the Nazis during World War II. Greeting us as we entered, was the iconic sign Arbeit Macht Frei, which translates as Labor Makes You Free.

There was no freedom here for the 1.3 million who died, 90% of whom were Jewish.

Auschwitz I, the base camp, was the administrative arm of the complex with its brick barracks, storage warehouses, prisoner cells, and an area for "experimental" medical testings,

and Auschwitz-Berkenau was known as the extermination camp where most of the "final solution of the Jewish question in Europe" was carried out.

Between 1922-1944, transport trains dropped off hundreds of thousands prisoners to this location, where upon disembarking, doctors would separate them into two groups, the young and hearty in one group, and then the children, mothers, ailing, weak and elderly were sent to the other side

where many were exterminated immediately. Three-fourths of the total prisoners

were selected to die. Those who remained prisoners in the labor camps suffered severe hardships, and often died of starvation, illness, or from the freezing conditions.

The barracks contained long rows of wooden bunks where the prisoners were forced to sleep on top of each other, often lying on their clothes so they wouldn't be stolen.
Records show that 800-1000 were sometimes crammed into the compartments of each barrack.

It was with great sadness that we read the names of  many like Maria, who were killed.

Seeing the faces of the children was most difficult of all.

When the prisoners disembarked from the trains, they were told to leave their possessions behind,

many of their personal items being gathered up and sent to "Kanada," a warehouse that stored their earthly possessions, and then were sent back to Germany to be distributed.

Canada symbolized wealth to the prisoners. Toiletries, cooking utensils, clothing and even hair were saved and were on display at the current exhibition.

Sweet touchstones of innocent babies and children who died way too soon.

We witnessed sites of the atrocities, the hanging square,

the Black Wall, where SS guards executed thousands,

and what was left behind of the crematoriums. Heartbreaking stories of families torn apart by the atrocities inflicted upon them.

I was privileged to travel with Joan who had a personal connection to the camp. She was named after her Jewish great-grandmother who had died at Auschwitz. When her grandmother finished her schooling, Joan's great-grandmother put her on a boat to America, sending her away, and on that day gave her the earrings off of her ears as she departed. Her great grandmother and some of her siblings later were sent to Auschwitz. Joan's family line was thus spared when her grandmother left Europe, and she owns those very earrings and wore them in her great grandmother's honor, the day we visited the camp.

This story is one of millions more of the people whose lives were lost in one of the world's most awful atrocities. It was extremely difficult to experience the surroundings, but it was a vivid reminder of the evil that can occur in this world if left unchecked and not challenged. May the memory of those lost remind us of the common humanity of us all and our responsibility towards our fellow man.


  1. Debi, Of all your blogs over the years, I've had several favorites. But nothing tops this one. Beautifully done, my friend. I'm not being "dramatic" when I tell you I had tears in my eyes as I read this. It truly is a somber reminder of what mankind is capable of --- and that obviously, they are capable of huge cruelty.

    Joan's earrings will forever be a reminder of her family heritage. I will never forget one day when I was in my early 20's, I was at a shopping center looking for a dress. The saleslady who helped me had a thick German accent but I understood her fine. But what I saw on her --- and what I will NEVER forget --- were the numbers I saw tattooed on her arm. I knew exactly what they were and where she had been. That was one of those moments that I will never forget.

    Thanks again for writng such a moving story with your wonderful pictures.

  2. Beautiful post. My paternal grandmother's siblings perished there. The topic was never raised during our childhood. The fear was still too great. We must never forget, AND we must not allow the present state of Israel to use those horrors as an excuse to inflict suffering on others.

  3. You have done a beautiful job of sharing this dark history. I lived in Germany for many years... everyone was touched by those times.

  4. Beautifully written Debi, I feel as though I was on the trip with you. The story of Joan and the earrings brought a tear to my eyes ...hope out of tragedy. Thanks for sharing this day.

  5. Very thoughtful post, friend. I can only imagine how someone like Joan feels when walking those grounds. Though in reality all of us have been touched by this truly awful period of history and as you say we should remember "the common humanity of us all and our responsibility towards our fellow man." I know what your heart wanted to share in this post ... well done.

  6. My Dear Friend I totally did not expect this post when I came by here tonight. I can not imagine how you must of felt walking through these grounds.
    I cried seeing all of these pictures. It's a time in history that no one should ever forget.
    Thanks for sharing this with us

  7. I simply cannot understand the mind that would create such a thing. I just cannot. My best friend in the world is Jewish, and I just cannot see what this was all about.

    I don't think I could walk through there without weeping uncontrollably. Just looking at your personal photos of this place seems surreal, for I have only seen reproductions of this place in films. Oh dearest, thank you for sharing and thank you for coming to visit me on a lighter and frivolous note. I wish the whole world would just stop to MAKE JOY.

    Peace to you and you are a treasure. Anita

  8. When I was looking for antiques in England a few months ago, I ran across one of the little suitcases of this time, I presume. It had a name, number, and Star of David on it. A part of me wanted to buy it to give it a nice home to remember the stranger it belong to, but another part of me was horrified that it was even for sale (I didn't buy it). Being in Europe, this time is still a part of the people and the landscape. Good for you for going on a tour that I do not think I would be brave enough or strong enough to see.

  9. Very sobering post. Thank you for sharing.

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