Museum “Auschwitz-Birkenau”. Truthfully speaking, I was a little afraid of facing this place. But always felt I had to go and see it.
The museum is situated in the Polish town Oświęcim, that translates to German as Auschwitz. In the history books in school we often read “concentration camp Auschwitz”. And thereafter the word “Auschwitz” became connected with the “death camp” inside my head, establishing itself as a noun with its only meaning. You hear “Auschwitz-Birkenau”, you think “death factory”.
But Oświęcim is a regular Polish town. People, cars, shops. Clean as everywhere in Poland, green and cozy.
By accident we came to the museum “Auschwitz-Birkenau” on a day, when 77 years ago concentration camp first took in a batch of prisoners – on the 14th of June 1940. A horrid anniversary.
It’s difficult to describe the emotions. There was no horror or fear. More like a numbness. It felt impossible that on these sun-drenched backyards, with green lawns, under the blue sky something so terrible and inhuman happened.
An excursion lasts for three and a half hours. It begins with the concentration camp Auschwitz I. The foundation of the first part of the camp were Polish, and primarily Austrian barracks. After the construction of Auschwitz II (Birkenau) the first part became the administrative center of camps system.
Gas chamber and crematory No. 1 were preserved in the Auschwitz I. It is indeed a frightening place. Inside I felt the urge to cross myself even though I’m not a deeply religious person.
Compared with Auschwitz I, Birkenau is an immense monster. It is the “death factory” mentioned before. There were 4 gas chambers and crematories working on its territory. Its magnitude is unfathomable. When retreating, Nazis bombed the buildings. Only ruins can be seen now. And they are enough…
A separate branch line leads up to the central gates of Birkenau, specially constructed to transport carriages with prisoners.
A railroad car on the unloading platform of Birkenau camp. We walked from there to the ruins of the 2nd crematory. That same road was taken by prisoners. For many it was the last one.
Chimneys and stone basements are all that’s left from the wooden barracks of Birkenau. By the way, brick chimneys look like a mockery too, because there was no heating in the barracks. Furnaces were built only because they appeared in the construction technical documents. There was a shortage of bricks to build the barracks, so they were from wooden boards.
Brick barracks in the Birkenau camp. Women’s sector.
German pedantry shows here in the most perverse form. Beginning with the perfect symmetry in arrangement of buildings and ending with horribly cynical and thought through process of destroying people.
A lot of expositions, unique photographs, documents and evidence of crimes are now shown in the barracks of Auschwitz. I was very touched by a documentary showing peaceful life of Jews in different European countries. Display takes place in dark room, images of the past are projected onto the walls: people rest, dance, celebrate weddings, go to the concerts, pray. Chronicle’s characters surround you from all around and you feel accompanied by them, you understand – they are us.
Another impressing exhibit is “The Book of Names”. It stretches along the entire room, pages containing information of victims of the Holocaust, whose names could be restored from the extant documents.
I won’t load this post with data and numbers. All this information can be drawn from more competent sources. I wanted only to show the little part of what we could see. I think that this place should be seen. To assess the magnitude of atrocities against the humanity. Today many like to discuss about the historical truth. You don’t want to do that in this place.
Here the fragility and preciousness of the human life is best realized. And that one doesn’t need much for a happy life. Peaceful life and all its privileges are the true wealth. Segregation of people by any attribute isn’t acceptable. There is no superior nation or superior religion or superior culture. There are only people, amazingly similar and united despite all differences.
The official site of the museum offers detailed information about its opening hours. It’s recommended to book a tour through the on-line registration system. We didn’t manage to do so beforehand. But we purchased the tickets on the spot (35 zlotych) into the group with a Russian-speaking guide. We visited the museum with Ivan (10 years), although it states on museum’s web-page that it’s not recommended till 14 years of age. But the decision is always behind the parent. A child took the excursion well. He wasn’t in fear or depressed. I did the introductory lecture about what is that place, and what happened there.
Museum “Auschwitz-BIrkenau” is a place one must see and feel.