Saturday, May 25, 2013

Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum

The museum is located slightly out of Krakow town, to get there you can either sign up a tour or DIY where you may take the public transport from the city main train/bus station.

There are 3 types of public transport you can choose from:
1. Train which takes 1hr 45min, not too sure how much exactly but it is rather not that convenient because there is still a 15  walking distance from  station  to the camp
2. Mini van/bus at the lower level of the bus station plat form D8 which takes approximate 1hr 25min @ 12zl
3. Big PKS buses from the ground floor which takes approximately 1 hr 25min @ 14zl

main train station, follow the bus sign so it leads you to the main bus station
Way to the museum from the main road where mini van drop off
Purchasing of the museum entrance ticket, there are 2 types of ticket - group or individual  - get yourself in the correct line and then you are to sign yourself up with a tour depending on your preferred language which a colour sticker will be given to you upon paying up. The fee is 40zl per person which includes a full tour of both camp with guide and audio device.

The sticker for an English guided tour
After getting the ticket, you will be asked to sit and wait, then prior to entering the museum, a short video will be shown in their mini theater. 
briefing before the tour commences
The Auschwiz-Birkenau complex comprises of 2 concentration camps, this name Auschwitz aroused fear among the populations of the Nazi-occupied territories for 5 long years. 

It was established since 1940 for the Polish political prisoners. Originally it was to be an instrument of terror and extermination of the poles, however later on Nazis began to deport to the camp people from all over Europe.

The idea of setting up a concentration camp was proposed at the end of 1939 which was followed by the defeat of the Sept Campaign of 1939 when Polish soldiers had attempted to repel the German invasion. The order to proceed with plans to found a camp was given in April 1940 where Rudolf Hoss was appointed its first commandant.

Initially the camp comprised 20 buildings, additional buildings were then added to all ground-floor buildings plus 8 brand new blocks were constructed. The average number of prisoners fluctuated between 13-16k reaching at one stage a record total of 20k people. These prisoners were occupied in the available blocks, where even the cellars and lofts were utilized for this purpose.

Due to the increase in numbers, the area covered by the camp also grew, until it was transformed into a giant factory of death. In 1941, the construction of the 2nd camp Birkenau then began in some 3 km away from this 1st camp. In 1942, the 3rd camp was also constructed in Monowice where mainly in the vicinity of steelworks, mines and factories where prisoners were exploited as cheap labour.

Entrance to the Auschwitz camp I - through which prisoners passed each day on the way to work and returning 12 hours or more later, note the cynical inscription embedded above the gate says 'Arbeit macht frei' which translated to English would be 'work brings freedom'
Block of buildings in the camp
Our lady tour guide
the building blocks are numbered
Since 1942, Auschwitz became the biggest Nazi concentration camp for Poles and prisoners from other countries, it was the biggest centre for mass extermination of European Jews and majority of them were deported to Auschwitz were killed in gsa chambers immediately on arrival, without identification or registration, this is therefore very difficult to determine a precised number that was murdered here.

Most of the Jews condemned to extinction in Auschwitz arrived at the camp convinced that they had been deported for 'resettlement' in the Eastern Europe. Particularly Jews from Greece and Hungary were deceived this way - the Nazis sold them non-existent plots of land, farms, shops or offered them work in fictitious factories. For this deportees always brought their most valuable possessions with them. The distance between place of arrest and the camp is as far as 2,400 km, the 7 or 10 days journey was exhausting as the deportees were not provided food, in such condition, it is not surprising that some old people or children was already dead with the rest were in extreme exhaustion when they reaches the final destination.

Upon arrival at the camp, officer and doctors from the camp would immediately examine these new arrival, allocating those capable of work to the camp and those those considered unsuitable were taken straight to the gas chambers where they were told that they are allowed to have a bath. They were told to undress, after which herded into a second underground chamber resembling a bathroom.. Showers were fitted to the ceiling but they were never connected to the water supply. Into this apprx 210 sqm min area about 2,000 victims would be led, after doors had been been firmly shut, SS men poured the substance Cyclon B into the chamber and within 15-20mins all trapped would died. After gold tooth filings, rings, ear-rings and also hair had been removed from bodies, they were taken tothe incinerators in the ground floor or if these could not cope with with the mass of human flesh - cremation pits.

These are simply inhumane facts from the camp, hearing them giving me goose bumps.
The execution wall at Block 11 aka the 'death block' - prior to shot to death, prisoners will be asked to undressed
depending on reason for the arrest, prisoners were marked with different coloured triangles, which were sewn onto their camp cloths together with their number. These thin prison cloths (the so-called 'stripes') were never intended to give protection from cold. Underwear Underwear was changed  intervals  several weeks or even months; nor was it possible for prisoners to do their washing. This causes lots of disease outbreak especially, typhus, typhoid fever and scabies.scabies
note the 2 dates different would show how long the deportee survived in the camp
victims at young age
personal belongings found in the camp that never got returned to it's owner
The tour of camp I took approximately 1.5 hours, thereafter we proceed to take a bus to camp II which is at a distance of 3km from camp I.

Bus that took us to to camp side II
The Birkenau covering approximately 175 hectares (s 425 acres), it has over 300 buildings, of these 45 made of brick and 22 of wood have survived almost intact. 
Exterior of the wooden barracks
Entrance to camp II - Birkenau
In case of rain, it will get very messy, so umbrella and comfortable shoes would help
In Birkenau, we have the opportunity to view prisoners' living quarters as they really were, the brick barracks they lived in were without foundations directly on the swampy ground and most of these had no floor at all. In August 1944, the total number of prisoners reached approximately 100,000 people, there camp were plagued by a lack of water, terrible sanitary conditions and a huge number of rats.

The interior of the barracks, a similar type that previously served as field stable for 52 horses  after some simple modification made, they were used to accommodate up to 1,000 prisoners.
at the memorial
memorial plague for the victims, they are in all languages, this one is in English - the plague inscribed approximately 1.5million people were killed here 
Some of the barracks at the camp site
The map of Birkenau
The camp was then liberated by the Soviet Union on 27 January 1945.

Ruins of the crematorium IV that was partly destroyed by Jewish prisoners during the revolt on 7 October 1944
After the full tour at the Birkenau finised at approximately 1.5 hours, the group was then transported back to camp I for departure.
The museum main building where you purchase your entrance ticket
PKS bus stop across the road from the museum main building, do get in the bus early, other wise you would need to be standing the whole 1.5 hours journey back to Krakow

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