Wednesday, September 21, 2011 – Day 3

Auschwitz

Complex of camps, 3 camps all together, main camp is number 1, the concentration camp, number 2 is Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death camp where we will be going later this afternoon. Now we are on our way to the main camp Auschwitz

On the way to the camp we watched a movie, testimony of a sur vivor named Obadiah Baruch. He survived Auschwitz, married the woman he met in block 10 in the camp (where German doctors led by doctor Mengale did medical experiments on inmates, specially women) and with that woman he had 2 children, grandkids and grand-grandkids. At the end of his testimony he says: “this is my victory, I won the entire Natzi armi with their generals and doctors, I stayed alive, I sur vived, I had a family and now with my family I visit Auschwitz to make my statement: they didn’t manage to kill me !

This testimony was vert touching, very emotional and made us all think of what we are going to see in Auschwitz

Entrance to the camp, standing in a circle, reading and listening to a reading part written by a survivor, we join more than 1 million tourists per year, in the museum and memorial.

Auschwitz begins as a concentration camp for the elite polish people, not for Jews, it is built after Dachau, and we are standing at the entrance where the selection took place, this was the command room where Rudolph Hess was, the commander of the camp. Camp in total has only 28 buildings in it. First 30 preasonrs here were criminal inmates from Germany, they became the Capos here. Each person who gets to this camp, gets a number and becomes part of the complex of Auschwitz, from camp 1 to camp 2, Birkenau and to the rest of the working factories and camps in section 3 of the camp

Buildings here are the original buildings, the outside of the camp didn’t look as it looks now, today it’s a museum, with green grass and all, there were no seating banches in the camp, this is what survivors say, camp didn’t look then as it does now, people ate the grass as well, there was nothing green in Auschwitz.

“Auschwitz is not another planet, people here didn’t have names, logic here is different, when you arrive to the camp, you are a person with a name, when you are inside the camp, you are just a number, you have no rights, you are not aperson any more. if you don’t understand this, you die”

Arbeit Macht Frei” – the sign at the entrance to the camp, this is what you saw as you entered the camp, “Work will set you free“. This is not the original sign, the original sign was stolen around 2010 and was found later.

Group in a circle looking at the entrance sign and gate

“If you were in Auschwitz, you will never leave the camp, if you were not there, you will never fully understand it”

Electric fences, signs to warn people from getting anywhere near the fence. Sometimes people just jumped at the fence to die and end their life when they couldn’t take it any more. People here were prisoners and we have lots of documents here since Germans documented everything in very detailed way.

Each morning when inmates went out to work, the band played music as inmates were passing Hess the commander of the camp like an army parade. People saved their life playing music as entertainment for the Germans, the orcerstra also played as people were shot to death.

The fence around the camp:

The minute you entered the camp through this fence, you had to change your view of life, you had to get used to live to survive, only to survive, not enough food, no human dignity, no rights, you have to think of yourself only and to do all in your power to stay alive.

Inside block number 4, symbolic grave with ashes from Birkenau

The ashes here is a symbolic remembarance to all Jews who were killed here. Behind the window lots of hair taken from the prisoners to fill carpets and matrices. Hair looks gray cause it was taken from people who were gassed to death, their hair changed color due to the sianid water in the gas of cyclone b.

Factory like solution, Jews must pay for their deportation, must pay to be killed, must pay to be fed and kept by the Germans, they pay working for Germany and pay when they die, gold tooth, hair, bones, all are materials for the German war effort.

We are in block number 5 now. Most blocks here were residential buildings, others were used for special purposes: block 10 was for medical experiments on the inmates, run by German and polish doctors, block 11 was a jail inside the camp and 21 was a hospital. Germans kept everything from the people they killed, even suitcases, tools, shoes, jewelry etc, it was all taken from the bodies and transferred back to Germany.

Each shoe here is a complete life story, a person, with full life.

In Auschwitz there was a water pool. Close to the fence, behind the blocks, the pool was a water reservoir and was built because of the claims from the insurance company. Germans actually insured the camp, each worker here was worth 6 marks per day for the Germans, his life meant nothing, but he was making money for the Germans and lots of money to.

Block 10 is the place where German and polish doctors did experiments on women. Young Jewish women were held here and they were used for medical experiments. Led by Mengale, Clauberg and others, the German doctors did crazy experiments on people. Doctor Shmuel was a jew who was forced to help the Germans but he also did his best to help the Jews, didn’t operate on them and saved some of them.

The wall of death where inmates were executed. Block number 11 was the in-house jail in Auschwitz, inmates who smoke during work, stole food etc, were executed in front of this wall:

One of the capos here was Jacob Kozaltchik who was a boxer before, he got to the camps and cooperated with the Germans and for many years later, even when he lived in israel, he was not liked. As it turned to be, after years, they realized that he was helping the Jews here, tho he was the capo.

Square where Rudolph Hess, camp commander, was hanged on April 1947. He had 5 children, his youngest daughter was born in Auschwitz, and he wrote her a letter before he died here.

Rudolph Hess was hanged here on this spot:

Room where they burned people after they were gassed, 30,000 people were killed here and their bodies were burnt

Auschwitz 2 Birkenau

All Jews who arrived here came to the Jeden ramp at the entrance to camp. We are now sitted in front of the train rails.

March 1941 this camp was built after a direct order by Himler himself, he needs to increase the speed of building more camps in preparations to taking Russia after the Barbarosa operation will begin. Germans take the village here, build a camp and call it Birkenau meaning “building” in german. This camp was built by 10,000 Russian war prisoners, they took down the village houses and used the bricks to build the camp. 45 original blocks survived here.

Most of the camp was destroyed after the war by the polish local people who rebuilt their village here.

This camp changes from a war prisoners camp into a death camp. This is a factory for death, this becomes the most efficient camp when it comes to killing Jews. All the Jews from Europe arrive here, they are selected here to death or work, and many of them are killed here using 6 destruction facilities, killing many Jews in a factory style solution, in an industrial way.

“Take me with you, says the little child to the train, each time we separate there is a little taste of death” – these words of a song talk about families separate, mothers see their loved ones sent to death from the ramp in this camp. Elite of European Jews got here from Europe and died here – end of the world is here.

After separating men from women, some of the Jews were selected to work in Auschwitz 1. The rest, most of the Jews who arrived here, were sent to death here. Even these who were selected so called to live, were actually selected to die. The lucky ones were sent to death right away, but out of these who were sent to work, only 10% survived, they were lucky, most people worked till they could not work any more and then died.

Entering the camp, they take away your self respect and your identity, you are no longer a person, you become just a number, you start with 5 weeks of getting used to life at the camp, enclosed in this wooden blocks, moving stones from place to place and just being in the blocks. If you survived that, you would start working in the camp waiting to be put to death. This is the biggest death camp for European Jews.

These blocks were meant to be stables for the German horses, but they were used to keep 500-700 inmates in a place meant for 52 horses. No privacy, toilets in the middle of the block, not enough water. The people who had to clean these toilets were called the “scheise commando”. As one of the survivors said, even the horses were suppose to have better conditions than the Jews who were kept in these blocks.

Remains of the camp after local polish people took all the bricks:

We are now on the ramp at the entrance to camp, this is where the selection took place, if you were too young or too old, if you looked not healthy enough, you would be send to death immediately without even get inside to the camp.

As we go towards the inside of the camp, kids carry Israeli flags, sort of the “march of the living” in a place that symbolizes death:

Inside the block, beds in 3 levels, wood only, crowded, total of around 600 people per block, 10 women in one bed, older women 40-45 in lower level, younger on higher levels. Wake up time in summer is 5am and in winter is 6am, you would get some hot fluid and go to work, either outside or as part of destroying bodies and taking their property, life at the camp were hard, if you didn’t have a certain position, you were at the bottom of the group, people did their best to get better position and survive better this way. Life in the camp were like in the jungle, if you are strong you will survive.

If you were not strong enough in the camps, you will be selected to die, they would take you and put you in a separate block, keep you there naked waiting to be sent to die. Women would try to look better when they knew selection is on it’s way, they would paint their lips, pinch their skin, maybe this way they would survive for another few weeks.

The destruction stops on November 1944 and the Germans leave the camp on January 1945, on their way on the death marches towards Germany. They walk all the prisoners from the camps back to Germany, huge distances, no shoes, in the snow, where people die in the long hard journey. There were 4 crematoriums here, death machine, women with kids, elderly people and children under 14 will go to death. This is crematurim number 2 in the photo, 2000 people at once, will be killed using 7kg of cyclone B gas, it’s heated so the gas will operate better, it takes 20 minutes to die, then the “zonder commando” people will clean the bodies from everything including gold tooth and property and take them to burn then. The ashes where then thrown into the pool. This was crematorium number 2:

When you are in Auschwitz, near the crematorium and close to the pool of ashes, the quietness of the place catches you, it’s so quiet here, so green, here where people died. I am saying here the kadish, the Jewish prayer for the deads, in front of the crematorium:

Click on this to listen to mi saying Kadish, the Jewish prayer for the deads

We end our visit to the camp with a ceremony planned and done by the kids, they prepared the entire ceremony themselves.

Short movie with part of the ceremony

End of the visit with the singing of Hatikva, group of Israeli kids on polish land, in the camp where their people died – this is our victory !

Group of Americans we met going out from camp made an interesting remark as they saw us coming out: “we are so happy to see so many Jews going OUT of the camp, all alive and proud with the Israeli flag in their hands …”

Abigail my daughter on the way out from the camp

In the evening we have a group meeting, reflecting on how we felt during the day. This was a vert emotional day for all of us, lighting candles in Auschwitz in memory of all these who were killed there, carrying the Israeli flag and being here with a group of young people who will be soldiers next year, specially with my own daughter, this was special for me and for all the kids on the trip. Hearing their reflections now makes me understand that they can’t bring themselves to think that they could be there, they are so safe in their life, in their country, that it doesn’t even get to their minds, they know what happened, they understand, but they can’t put themselves there, this is another planet, it didn’t happen in their world, it happened in another world, a world they can’t fully understand.

Next day: Thursday, September 22, 2011 – Day 4

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One Response to Wednesday, September 21, 2011 – Day 3

  1. waterteacher says:

    Our youth in America are very similar in their reactions as your teenagers were, the way you described at the end of this day. When they visit the museum where I work and we teach them about World War II, they try to understand but can’t truly think of giving up basic needs on a daily basis and certainly not going through the terrible ordeals that Jewish people did in the concentration camps. Our children have also grown up comfortable in life. But it is very good for them to visit places like this so that the memory becomes a part of them. Each experience does change them as a person. Thank you for sharing this whole experience in your blog. You are truly an excellent teacher of history.

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