Auschwitz, the living hell on earth

Auschwitz, the living hell on earth
A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Chapter IV Part II

City: Auschwitz
Country: Poland
Currency: Polish Zloty (€1=3.3zl)
Travel dates: 4 January 2008
Travel buddies: Egon, Rahma, Siddharth, Stella, Meghan, Kim

Caption: Auschwitz II Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp.

When travel is no longer merely just for fun, Jiann Chyuan learned that it could be deadly cruel and inhumane.

Genius readers must have noticed that this is a reversed chapter. After detour to Paris and Brussels for the past three weeks, it is time to leave the lovely sunshine and go back to the freezing snow. However, this time, the coldness of winter is masked by the deadly cruelty and inhumanity, the one that I call living hell on earth.

Auschwitz concentration camp never comes in second position in the Krakow package. The largest Nazi concentration camp during WWII might look just like another walking museum at the beginning. However, it certainly gives visitors a great depth of the Nazi history, and the hardship and inhumane treatments to the prisoners.

Visiting Auschwitz during winter certainly has “enhanced” its “attractiveness”. And if you happened to be as lucky as me, you will get a couldn’t-ask-for-more tour guide. (Tip: This is mandatory!) Armed with in immeasurable study depth of Nazi and first hand experiences with former prisoners in person, my unfortunately-name-forgotten tour guide was definitely a great story teller in the tour.

Caption: Death corridor in Auschwitz I (left) and death gate of Birkenau.

Consists of three camp sites, Auschwitz II, or better known as Birkenau, was the first one I went. Constructed to ease the congestion in the main complex, Birkenau is, defined by me, the best beginning point of the Auschwitz tour.

It was a sunny winter morning. However, the warmth of the sun failed to attenuate the fierceness of the lethally cold wind. It was perishing at the camp side. But this bitterly cold wind was the crucial factor that ultimately determining the charm of Birkenau.

Tumbled through my way to the living quarters of former prisoners, I could hardly hide my clumsy movements under my thick warm winter jacket. Stuffing my body with three shirts underneath the jacket, and double layers pants were pathetic in eliminating the intrusion of the wind into the tiniest pores of the fabric at that day.

Slowly scrutinising the triple-decker beds that were closed aligned in two rows with extremely narrow gap in the wooden plank building, I was hugging my body to the tightest, trying to keep myself from cold. Listening to my tour guide, I was thinking: It might be after all not a bad idea to have two or three people sharing the same single bed during winter time, especially when you have no blanket.

Caption: Living quarters in Auschwitz I (left) and Birkenau.

Walking through the gas chamber, the sanitary facility, step by step, I was brought back to 1940s. It was challenging not to have imaginations while listening to the tour guide. But those imaginations were often vague and maybe incorrectly illustrated. Therefore, after saying goodbye to the death gate in Birkenau, I was droved back to Auschwitz I, where all the imaginations were reinforced with genuine footages and photos.

It was a brilliant construction. The word brilliant is applicable to both the Nazi camp and to the arrangement of the tour. You first got a taste of the despicably life in Birkenau, and then you got back to Auschwitz I to learn how (mainly) innocent Jews were deceived by the German into believing that they had finally reached to a place where (literally) heaven was so closed, but then to only find out it was the ending phase of their lives in no time.

Caption: Gas chamber (left) and one of the streets in Auschwitz I.

It was the industrial booming period of Germany and raw materials were highly sought after. For these Jews, carried with them a simple suit case with their most important valuables, they had no time to enjoy their “heaven” when they first got out of the highly inundated train. Their suit cases were seized; they were separated between genders and age groups; they were brought to showers for sanitisation; they got their clothes changed; and they got their new hair do.

However, all these were done with purpose. Their suit cases were checked for valuables for industrial developments; they were separated so that it would be easier for the Germans to assign them with different laborious chores; they were brought to showers so that the clothes were seized for textile industry; their new hair do was to cut away hair that was later used as raw material in textile industry.

The every “welcoming” procedure was designed for its purpose. However, the Jews had no idea what was ahead for them. Still naively thinking they had finally reaching the safest place, they had no idea their lives were tickling down to the end.

Real life footages, artefacts and walks through the numerous chambers truly brought the cruelty back to life. Entering different rooms, seeing thousands of suit cases, hundreds of thousands of tooth brushes, millions of spectacles, and the uncountable amount of human hair through perfectly waxed glass, I really couldn’t help myself but desperately gasping for a room which stops this huge imposition of raw presentation.

Caption: Extermination and execution yard in Auschwitz I.

However, there was no space to waste and no time to spare, during the Nazi period and also in the Auschwitz tour. The blunt presentation trailing one after another in the camp was clearly accentuating the message that the cruelty of German was intolerable.

Walking through the last corridor in the whole tour, there was photos of the former prisoners hanging on the wall. Not all of course, but the literally thousands of photos were sufficient to drown you with intense sadness and stern stigma. All the smiling faces explicitly shows the innocence of these people. Were they really thinking they were finally safe from the violation?

What was more disheartening was that the arrival date and the departure date (to the genuine heaven) of these prisoners were recorded with the photos. Looked at the first one, three months of survival. The second one, 47 days. The third one, 29 days. I couldn’t look any further. I was mentally collapsed in the camp.

Auschwitz concentration camp, could the presentation get anything better? Or should I ask, could the inhumane treatments get anything worse?

Indoor pictures are lacking because it wasn't allowed to snap photos indoor.
Recommended reading include entry in Wikipedia.