May 28, 2014
On May 28. 2014, Allan, Alex and I visited Auschwitz. Experiencing Auschwitz was intensely emotional and draining. Allan’s uncle, Norman Feinmehl, Grandma Lil’s brother in law, was survivor of the Holocaust. According to records, Norman was in both Auschwitz and Birkenau.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau museum, a UNESCO world heritage site, is about 60kms west of Krakow. We spent one night in Krakow, visiting Aucshwitz-Birkenau, Shindler’s Factory and the Salt Mines the next day. We made arrangements for a driver to take us to Prague when we arrived back at the hotel. We did not want time constraints.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is actually two distinct camps located about 2 miles apart. There is a free shuttle bus that regularly transports people between Auschwitz I and Birkenau. Auschwitz I is smaller, with big brick buildings, and more permanent architecture. Auschwitz I, the main camp, is the one with the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign over the entrance. It comprises rows of neat red brick buildings that, disconcertingly, give no outward sign of the horrors that took place there. The buildings have displays that tell us the story of this terrible place and show us the sad remnants left behind by victims — old suitcases, piles of shoes, mounds of hair, pots and pans, Jewish religious items. Auschwitz II, Birkenau, is massive with the infamous railway line leading into it. On both sides of the track, stretching as far as the eye can see, are the huts or remains of huts that housed hundreds of thousands of slave laborers. The platform where people were selected for labor or sent to the gas chambers is roughly in the middle and is still in its original, chilling state. At the far end are the preserved ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria, blown up by the Germans when they began to retreat.
From January 17 to 21, 1945, the Auschwitz administration evacuated about 58 thousand prisoners into the depths of the Reich. At the same time, the SS were burning the camp records. On January 20, they blew up crematoria and gas chambers II and III in Birkenau. Just after the end of the evacuation, on January 23, they set fire to Kanada II, the warehouse full of property plundered from the Jews. Three days later, they blew up gas chamber and crematorium V. When Red Army troops entered the grounds of the camp on the 27th, they found about 7 thousand prisoners there, most of them sick and at the limits of physical exhaustion.
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