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Friday, 3 June 2016

Auschwitz

There are few words which encapsulate so much horror, terror, and evil as does the word 'Auschwitz'.  These two syllables evoke images of gas chambers, of miserable, naked wretches in striped, filthy, louse-ridden uniforms waiting to die or be killed, of sadistic SS guards and vicious German shepherd dogs, of their high-ranking overseers, ensuring the extermination operations were proceeding efficiently, and of the ovens that burned men, women and children in their thousands every day.  As I entered Auschwitz today, I couldn't help thinking about the millions of families who arrived, herded here in cattle trains, and who parted from their loved ones forever.  I thought of the arriving children crying as children do, not understanding what was happening, and I thought of their parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents who didn't understand what was really happening either.
During the war, there was a total of four camps in use.  Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau) were the main ones.  It is these two that together constitute the Auschwitz Memorial Museum today.  We paid for a guide and visited both.  The above famous photo is the entrance to the camp at Birkenau.
The infamous 'Arbeit macht frei' (work makes you free) sign above the main gate at Auschwitz I.  The sign was meant to bluff and control the arriving prisoners.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was a concentration camp and an extermination camp.  Most who died here were Jews.  Today, Jews come from all over the world to honour and remember the large numbers of people who died.
Jews especially come from the State of Israel like this man above in Auschwitz I...
...and this may be the same man in Birkenau...
This photo depicts a selection process.  Jews have arrived by train; now some will be selected to work, the others will go to the gas chambers.
These are empty gas canisters containing 'Cyclone B' gas, which was used to murder Jews.  'Giftgas' means poisonous gas.
This is a pile of exterminated people's spectacles.
These are items taken from exterminated disabled people, who were usually selected to die.
Many people arriving at Auschwitz brought items such as pots, bowls and the like.
This endless pile, perhaps stretching for 20 metres, of shoes was taken from those who perished.  A similarly endless pile of human hair, which visitors are not allowed to photograph, was not far away.
This is a pile of exterminated people's brushes.
This hall contains the names, faces and identification numbers of a small number of the dead.  Identification numbers became useful because the initial photographs of inmates proved useless when physical appearances changed due to malnutrition and other conditions.
Some of these young people lived only weeks or months.  Angela Mirga, a Pole, survived for five months, much longer than so many others.
This quotation can be found at all former concentration camps.


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