I debated whether I wanted to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau on this trip. I went in the end and it was such a sobering experience. Auschwitz and Birkenau were the largest of the Nazi concentration camps built during WWII. From 1942-1944, transport trains brought Jews from all over German-occupied Europe to these camps. At least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz with most of them being Jewish. The surviving prisoners were finally liberated in 1945 when Germany surrendered and WWII ended.
Auschwitz is a chilling reminder of what happened and how brutal human beings can be. But at the same time, it also shows how resilient the human spirit is. It really puts things into perspective and reminds us of how fortunate we are. We purchased the book written by Holocaust Survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl called “Man’s Search for Meaning”. It is a very quick read but gives insight into life inside the camps and how human beings are able to find meaning in the midst of extreme suffering and how these faint hopes can affect one’s survival.
Do purchase the simple guide and map at the entrance and walk around yourselves instead of joining the English language tour. Walk around and take it all in.
“Arbeit Macht Frei” means work makes you free. Many Jews were led to believe that if they worked hard at the camps, they can eventually leave.
A chilling reminder of what happened. There were rooms full of different items such as luggage, shoes, reading glasses, etc.
Auschwitz II-Birkenau is located about 2km away from Auschwitz I and was built strictly as a concentration camp with gas chambers and crematoria. The trains come directly into the camp and the prisoners are “sorted” at the platform where most of them were directly sent to the gas chambers.
These are not pleasant sites but their existence and preservation act as a memorial for those who perished here during WWII. It is a place for contemplation and understanding that despite how terrible things were and how cruel human beings can be, there were some who found the strength to survive it.