I have visited the Auschwitz, Poland death camp twice. Both created the unsettled, fearful feeling which I still have from the visits.
Auschwitz, Main Gate
Auschwitz Concentration Camp
The Great Lie of Auschwitz is above the main gate to the camp, ARBEIT MACHT FREI. Literally, these words mean WORK MAKES FREEDOM, or "work sets you free". The "freedom" of Hitler's places like it was only death from great suffering.
The name Auschwitz is commonly given to a conglomeration of about 40 of Hitler's Nazi concentration and and extermination camps in southern Poland, including a great extension of the original Auschwitz death camp, Birkneau,next to the original camp. Birkneau was a work camp in which most of the inmates died because of their terrible living conditions, as well as a death camp, with multiple crematoria in which dead bodies from the gas chambers there were cremated.
Originally, Auschwitz was a Polish army camp composed of the two story brick buildings in the picture above. From another aerial picture of the camp that I found online, there seem to have been 14 of these relatively large brick buildings. As a death camp, the site was first used to house political prisoners which were taken to Auschwitz in 1940. From the beginning as a concentration and death camp its culture was established early as extremely cruel and inhumane, with a reputation for people being tortured and killed for unbelievable trivial reasons.
The first gassing of Soviet and Polish prisoners took place about August 1941. The building of Auschwitz II (named Birkneau) began in September of that year. From 1942 until 1944, about 1.3 million Jews from all over Europe were transported in rail cars to Auschwitz. About 1.1 million were killed there. Inmates died of disease, starvation, and beatings and executions, or medical experiments.
The Soviet Red Army entered the camp and liberated the prisoners still alive there on January 27 1945. January 27 became a Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005.
Auschwitz Death Wall at Block 11
One of the somewhat peculiar facts about the Nazi regime during World War II is that it used an enormous amount of time, effort, and money compiling records , including making films, of their Holocaust activities. This is abundantly clear at Auschwitz. Some of the buildings there are filled with records of what they did there, buildings containing pictures and names and other information of the inmates killed there, including the dates of their deaths.
Some of the buildings contain belongings of the inmates, including a building of suitcases, many with names and addresses of the people who were transported there to die. Other building contained thousands of shoes, pieces of jewelry, eye glasses and other personal items. The most moving to me were the children's items, testifying to the unlimited, almost unbelievable cruelty, of the heartless Hitler regime.
The photo above is of a very important place at Auschwitz, between Blocks [Buildings] 10 and 11. The building to its left is Block 10, to the right Block 11. Block 11 was a place of almost unimaginable torture. In it were cubicles, not rooms, one meter square, in which four people were placed in such a small space that they could not have done anything but suffer for the nights of their punishment there. Inmates were sentenced up to twenty days at a time, while being forced to work during the days that they were being punished there. In the center of the picture is the Death Wall, which was reconstructed after the war where people by the thousands were executed by being shot,
Reconstructed Crematorium at Auschwitz
An estimated 1.3 million people were killed at Auschwitz-Birkneau, of whom about 1.1.million of whom were gassed, The others died of illnesses, starvation, medical experimentation and other causes. This number was around one out of every six of the Jews who died in the Holocaust.
The picture above is of the reconstructed crematorium at the original Auschwitz death camp. The Nazis attempted to destroy some of the buildings of their Holocaust sites to cover up their heinous crimes against humanity, as they were leaving them, as if there would no one around to tell the truth of what had happened there.
The original crematorium at Auschwitz I, of which there were several at Auschwitz camps, was in the basement of Block 11, the infamous torture building next to the Death Wall discussed above. 700 people could be killed in the death chamber there at one time, using the poison Zlykon B. The usual death time for inmates in the poison gas chambers was 10 to 20 minutes of agonizing suffering. Two of the three ovens in the reconstructed crematorium were built of their original materials after the war.
I have also been to Dachau outside of Munich, which also has the ARBEIT MACHT FREI, twice, and Majdenak Camp outside of Lublin in Poland, as well as Auschwitz twice. I was overwhelmed by a sense of emptiness and loss, cruelty and inhumanity expressed by these places. I shall never forget then, nor the millions of people who died in them.
Sources: Personal Photos, Various Facts from Wikipedia, My two visits to Auschwitz