Sunday, January 21, 2018

20th January 2018 - Oświęcim

Today was Oświęcim.  Otherwise known as Auschwitz as renamed by the Germans at the time.  I’m never really sure how that works... How do we get Sweden out of Sverige (wish I could do phonetic stuff - but that’s not said how you probably think it is 😜)

I rugged up, expecting it to be really cold, and honestly I was glad to be going in Winter - somehow seeing the place of such atrocities first hand in happy sunshine didn’t seem appropriate.  I was picked up from the hotel pretty much on time.  I wish I could remember the driver’s name - I suck so badly at names! And then went to pick up the rest of our party, four youngish Brits who were all really nice.  I could tell by their accents they were from the south coast, but figured they were one county over (not that I could remember which county that was), based on their accents.  I was right - they were from Somerset.  

So the tour is in two parts.  First part is at Auschwitz  1 - the original camp and the second part is at Auschwitz II - Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is about 3kms away.  The entire complex is massive in every way.

The original camp (with the famously offensive “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate header (Work makes you free) (as if)!, was actually an army post that they took over, that had about 20 single-storied buildings.  So they added second stories to most of those buildings and then built a few more.

I don’t know if any of my German friends are reading this, but I do hope they know that I, and most of the world knows the very huge difference between Germans and the Nazi regime. So that’s my disclaimer, but honestly, if any of my German friends are reading this, they know me well enough that I am fully aware of the difference anyway.  (I’m also writing this after what, for me, is a goodly amount of alcohol - 2 drinks).

This could be one of those visits that I come back to in my head time and again over the next few days, as I process what I saw.  Nothing I saw was new news to me.  Nothing was anything I hadn’t read about or anything like that.  But seeing some very tangible evidence of the attempted annihilation of not just one race, but others (apparently they had targeted the Roma (Gypsies) as next, but didn’t get that far, along with anyone caught being gay, disabled or politically unsympathetic to the regime, was a very different matter.

When they show you a tonne of human hair - taken from the corpses post gas chamber, pre-oven - and say that it took approximately 40,000 people to create that much hair, and that 1.1 million people were killed at Auschwitz alone, you start to SEE the enormity of the Holocaust.  It’s really confronting to see that... to see the pile of glasses, the shoes, the suitcases with names on them....  really confronting.

So I really think today will be something that is not processed quickly.  And maybe because I feel that I KNOW the German people, I find this so hard to comprehend.  I know that they are, by and large good people. (Every race has it giant knob-jockies, we all know that).....  I know that they are not racist and don’t see Poles and Czechs as sub-humans.

Birkenau was completely different, less talking and information and more walking.  We walked from the train platform, where new arrivals were sorted (90% going straight to their deaths in the chambers) to those same chambers.... to show how little time people had to be alive, once they arrived.  It was maybe a 5 minute walk at most.... if you walk slowly.

Look, I get that it’s not a tour for everyone... but if you have a reasonably strong heart (emotionally speaking), I think it’s definitely something most people should see while it’s still there (the wet is getting to it and they aren’t really sure how much longer it will be able to stay open).  But if you’re notionally squeemish - possibly not.

I will post photos in one or more subsequent posts (as many as needed to post all the photos I want to) as this has been a long one as it is.

After my morning tour (and Marketa went to Wawel Castle) we met back at the room and went to tour Oscar Schindler’s Enamel Factory.  (Hint - it’s not his factory at all - it no longer exists - it’s a museum of the last 100 years of Polish history, pretty much).

I found it really difficult to see so much actual Nazi hatred in one place.  They had managed to save a lot of the proclamations, flags, even floor tiles.  Of course in a museum is the only place this sort of stuff can be displayed/owned in Europe - but I’d never actually seen it face to face... quite disturbing. I will be adding photos tonight and again tomorrow probably - I need to steal some from Marketa :)

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