Auschwitz and Birkenau

When I initially booked Auschwitz I was intrigued to visit this place not only for myself and Richard but I was also itching to write a post on this place. I follow numerous travel blogs and after searching through what felt like hundreds of blogs I could not find one post on Auschwitz and very few on Poland, which took me by surprise! This also made me more eager to write about both Auschwitz and Poland.

Now that I have been to Auschwitz and I begin writing this post suddenly I am extremely nervous as this is such an emotionally powerful and sensitive place that I worry I will upset somebody and it suddenly hit me that maybe this is why I couldnt find any posts?

Richard had wanted to visit Auschwitz for many years, being a history teacher it was top of his list. I studied the holocaust whilst completing my college course and as horrific and tragic as it was I was intrigued to visit Auschwitz for myself. The weeks leading up to our trip were an emotional rollercoaster with the people I had spoken to who had been to Auschwitz telling me how ‘moving’ it is and as I am very emotional I wasn’t sure how I would handle it.

As we pulled up to the entrance of Auschwitz I was overwhelmed with emotion, intrigues as to what was to come, nervous about how I would feel, sadness for the loss of lives yet grateful for everything I have in my life. The feeling you get is almost impossible to explain.

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Then we reached the gates, with the words ‘Work results in Freedom’ standing tall above my head, I couldnt help but reflect on all the people who had entered these gates under false pretences, never to return. Suddenly the atmosphere went cold, the realisation of where you and the previous events that took place here hit you, hard!

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As you slowly wander over the cobbled streets with the red brick numbered buildings standing tall on both sides without the knowledge you wouldn’t believe that this place holds such tragic and horrific stories. Then you are confronted by the large electric barbed wire fences and the tall watch towers overlooking every section of Auschwitz and it comes to you that their isn’t an escape, they were trapped and the sheer size of the tragic events are apparent.

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If the outside grounds of Auschwitz didn’t hit you hard enough emotionally then some of the buildings, which once housed thousands of prisoners, now display pictures and items from the holocaust which make all of this so very real.

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I gasped as I walked into a huge room with a large glass wall separating me from all of the human hair taken from the prisoners of Auschwitz, this shocked me and sickened me at the same time but I was yet to know that worse was to come.

As I stood staring in horror at the thousands of shoes and hundreds of pairs of glasses I took a few steps into the next room and from floor to ceiling it was filled with suitcases. Suitcases belonging to the prisoners of Auschwitz with names, addresses and dates of birth written across many of them. I was taken back with emotion and if it hadn’t seemed real before then it certainly did now and I was frozen to the ground with water filled eyes and a lump in my throat just trying to take it all in.

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With emotion like I had never felt before the next place on the tour was block 11, otherwise known as the ‘Death Block’, unsure as to whether I should enter I realised that I would never get this opportunity again so I took a deep breath and slowly headed into the building. Rooms that had houses many bodies, meeting rooms where officers would decided penalties and then what appeared to be a small prison.

A section of the building filled with numerous cells some of which were used for different reasons, a starvation cell where many were murdered and a standing cell where prisoners were forced to stand for up to ten hours a day. Entering the cells is emotional and the torture and horror that this block holds is captured. You feel relief as you exit the building but this takes you through to the death penalty courtyard where many prisoners were hung or shot and suddenly you feel cold from head to toe.

Although you were able to take photos of these areas I felt that this would be disrespectful to all those who had tragically lost their lives and therefore I did not take any but as you can imagine the experience of block number 11 was an emotional and chilling one.

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As the stones under my feet crunched, large barbed wire fences stood tall on both sides of me and a large lookout tower stood in front of me I realised that this would have been where the officers would have walked on duty, monitoring the area and making sure no-one escaped. Many thoughts ran through my mind at this time, but the main question

How could humans have behaved this was towards other humans?

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All the emotion and all the questions running through my head but I was yet to experience the most emotion and eerie of all in Auschwitz, the gas chambers. As I stepped inside the dark grey underground building with its barred windows and large chimney towering over the top I began imagining what it would have been like for all those who lost their lives in such a horrific way and before I knew it I was in a very cold, very dark stone room with no windows and the only light from six small holes in the ceiling.

This was the place where thousands of people were murdered, this was where they had spent their last few moments, people of all ages, men, women and children. Emotionally this was all I could take, I needed to leave and I couldnt stand in such a dark and chilling place for a moment longer.

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The second part of the tour took us over to Birkenau which is very similar to Auschwitz but on a much larger scale making this all the more tragic. Birkenau although not as emotional as Auschwitz this opens your eyes to the large scale of the Holocaust and this deeply saddened me.
Birkenau also houses the train line that took the prisoners directly into the camp, this being a main feature of the camp and as you stand on the sandy platform next to the train line where prisoners were separated into different groups again the emotion comes rushing back and the sheer size of the tragic events of the holocaust are apparent.

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As I left Auschwitz and Birkenau my head full of questions and my body full of emotion I was unsure of the experience and how I would describe this. Still almost a week later I cannot put it into words and when my friends and family ask how was Auschwitz I find it hard to explain, the best word to sum up the whole experience, Emotional.

To all the men, women and children who lost their lives in the holocaust may you Rest In Peace.

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7 thoughts on “Auschwitz and Birkenau

  1. Although I went to krakow once, I gave Auschwitz a miss – I couldn’t handle the gloom and it’s something I could read about and see on tv. I felt the same way at the genocide museum and killing fields in Cambodia.

    Were you able to enjoy the rest of your time in Krakow or did this experience put a downer on the break?

    • Yes, it is very doom and gloom and if it wasn’t for Richard wanting to go then I wouldn’t have chosen to go. I am very emotional but I think studying the holocaust in college made me that little bit tougher but you would have to be very tough not to be moved by it all.

      I really did enjoy Krakow, luckily we were going to a lovely castle the following day so that shed a little happiness onto the break. I think that the only good thing about it is that it puts things into perspective and you realise how lucky you are.

  2. Auschwitz is somewhere I really want to visit, which seems a bizarre thing to say, but I think it really is important to visit. Like you said, it’s a complicated feeling thinking about going but I think it’s important to truly understand what happened.

    • You wouldnt believe how many people I have spoken to who want to go to Auschwitz, it interests so many people and thats why it is such a popular attraction, as tragic as it is.

      I have to agree it is complicated but you need to go to experience it for yourself. I now understand what everyone meant when they said this place ‘moves’ you!

      Lets hope you get the chance to visit Auschwitz yourself.

  3. Really great post. I went to Auschwitz and Birkenau in the summer and coincidently, it’s next on my list of posts to write. I too have been struggling to find the right words though. You’ve written this really well…hopefully I will be able to do the same! While it’s a difficult place for people to stomach, I think it’s really important people see it. As you say it puts things in perspective and we should never forget what happened there.

    • It is so difficult to put into words and its such a sensitive area that you have to be very careful not to upset or offend anybody. I wrote this as soon as I got back from Auschwitz while it was still fresh in my mind.

      I will look out for your post, I am sure it will be a great read! And will be good to see it from another perspective.

      I completely agree, it should never be forgotten and it is important for people to see it, as emotional as it is.

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