Monday, February 01, 2010

Field Trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau

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Auschwitz-Birkenau
Gate into Auschwitz "Work Makes You Free"

On Saturday the 29th, just two days after the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration/death camps, we took Dominic and Joshua on a historical tour of the camps. We spent two days in Poland to satisfy our Ukrainian registration requirements and used the time to give the boys a very real and invaluable lesson in history. Dominic and Joshua had watched several documentaries about the camps, but actually being there made it real. It was an extremely moving and surreal experience to witness the evidence of human cruelty at its worst.

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The numbers speak for themselves

One of the most difficult parts of the tour was hearing that about 70% of each incoming group, mostly women and children, those deemed unfit to work, were immediately sent to the gas chambers or shot. Others were later tortured to death through starvation and slow suffocation.

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Looking into Auschwitz

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The view from behind the barbed wire

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"On the Way to Death"

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Children's belongings

The Nazis utilized everything they could from the victims including their hair to be used in textile production. The victim's belongings were sorted and shipped to Germany. Some of the stockpiles of personal effects escaped destruction by the fleeing SS guards and were discovered by the invading Soviet Army. These items of the dead were subsequently put on display. What we saw there was horrible, but it should also never be forgotten.

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Joshua looking at the many pairs of children's shoes

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Eye glasses

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Prosthetic limbs and walking aides

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Chamber pots

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Over 40,000 pairs of shoes

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Brushes

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The rail yard at Birkenau was the final destination for this luggage

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Fabrics made from human hair along with hair from the camp victims

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No man's land

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Zyklon B used to gas the camp prisoners

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The crematorium is located next to the gas chamber that were made to look like showers. The zyklon B pellets were dropped through hatches in the roof resulting in deadly gas.

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Some of the ovens were used to cremate as many as 9,000 bodies in a day

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Joshua after coming out of the gas chamber/crematorium.

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Inside Birkenau just a few minutes from Auschwitz I. This is where the new arrivals were brought and selected either for work or for death.

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Joshua and Dominic looking over Birkenau from the main tower.

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View of the rail yard where the fates of the new arrivals were determined.

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The line between certain death and uncertain life

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Inside one of the wooden barracks designed to hold 700 people (30 people to a bunk with 10 on each level). In winter snow came through the roof and there was no fuel for heating.

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The infamous train tracks leading into Birkenau

Another sad fact in the history of these death camps was made known to us by our guide. When Germany invaded Poland, the Soviet Union also invaded, and by agreement dived up Poland. It was only after Hitler broke his agreement with Stalin by invading the Soviet Union that the Soviets later "liberated" the Polish people. Many of the survivors of Auschwitz were arrested as political enemies of the Soviet state and sent to Soviet labor camps. Many did not return. Our guide told us that Poland's liberation came in 1989 when the Kremlin backed communist government lost its grip on the country.

"The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again." -George Santayana
(on the wall leading into block 4 at Auschwitz I)

8 comments:

MoonDog said...

oh what a horrible heartbreaking field trip! thank you so much for sharing it. I will likely never get there to see it, but I know I will never forget. and the pictures you shared showed it was even more horrendous than I had imagined.

erin said...

Thank you for sharing the pictures. It is heartbreaking and fascinating at the same time. I am going to share them with our older kids.

beth said...

incredibly impactful. i don't think i could go through it without crying. and, yes, let us remember, lest we forget and doom ourselves to live through a repetition of something like that.

Greg and Edna Silva said...

I'm glad I could share what we saw with everyone. It's really only a fraction of what we saw. I had to keep reminding myself to take pictures. It was very difficult at times and I wish I could forget the images of the children being led to the gas chambers.

-Greg

Anonymous said...

That was awesome and moving . . .Thanks for sharing . .Taffy

Carochka said...

GREAT photos! Difficult to see and hear about, but so necessary. I knew a woman that had been imprisoned there. So when I went to Poland I wrote two essays about going to the camps at my "other" blog :) www.anewwayofseeing.blogspot.com, if you're interested. Praying for you guys as you prepare to be stateside.

Greg and Edna Silva said...

Thanks for the prayers, Cara! Hopefully we will see you sometime in California!

Edna

Anonymous said...

Very moving.