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It’s the bleakness of the place that startles you first.

Auschwitz II (Birkenau) – The "Gate of Death"

The gas chambers

 

There’s nothing more I can write about Auschwitz that hasn’t already been written: It really is devastating. Like the Killing Fields and Tuong Sleng Prison of the Khmer Rouge, Auschwitz is a depiction of humanity’s potential for pure evil.

Today I saw people step outside to cry, to smoke a cigarette, to collapse on the floor with their heads down, to take a breath, to take a moment of pause. Many people seem to come here more than just to visit a memorial or a museum, but rather take part in a pilgrimage and pay respects to loved ones, relatives and friends.

This place tests your resolve and your composure; you’ll feel a range of emotions while here, whether it’s hopelessness or anger. Ultimately, place shakes you, and it leaves you with nothing more than a better understanding of the limits of human atrocity.

 

We took the 8:20 am bus to Auschwitz (14 PLN fee). Instead of the 1.5 hour drive that Lonely Planet mentions, it’s rather a longer 2 hour journey; make sure you get to the departure gate at least 15 min early to get a seat. Since Auschwitz itself is an emotionally draining experience, muster up your energy as best as you can before you get there.

 

The infamous gate to Auschwitz I camp: "Labour makes (you) free"

Rows upon rows of blocks line the camp, each serving a different purpose (infirmary, medical experiments, failed escapees, etc.). Now each block is a memorial to the different groups of victims at the camp, each with their own character and way of paying respects to those who lost their lives:

The French victims memorial

The Belgium victims memorial

The Netherlands victims memorial

There are also the public displays of torture and execution:

"The post" — a form of torture by the Nazis

Where many were publicly hanged

Those who failed to escape were hanged here

The space between blocks 10 and 11 were where many were publicly executed

Block 10: The "Death Block"

The Auschwitz Gas Chamber

People stepping outside for a breather

About a 3km trek from Auschwitz is the Auschwitz II – Birkenau camp, which is even more staggering. About 3 times the size of Auschwitz, the place in itself is immense to take it all in. Pretty much every image you see below (let alone every image in this entry) bore witness to thousands of deaths.

The remains of Crematorium V

The sewage plant

Remains of another crematorium

Site where thousands of people unknowingly waited their turn in the Nazi gas chambers

Site where thousands of bodies were burned outside

There’s also Birkenau’s makeshift barracks, where people slept, lived, and died:

The latrines

These pictures speak for themselves. More than a memorial, Auschwitz presents as a stark reminder of what happens when evil men pursue blind extremism to the very ends of genocide. 

It’s a reminder of what happens when the world turns a blind eye to tragedy, and it’s a reminder of what happens when even good people fail to act in time on the behalf of millions who could have lived.

– At time of posting in Katowice, it was 42.8 °F
Humidity: 52% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: clouds and visibility OK