Wednesday, October 15, 2008
"The history that does not remember is bound to live through it again." - George Santayana
I went to Auschwitz today. I was worried about how it would affect me. I have a low threshold for handling human suffering probably a result of spending the summer watching over a sick Grandmother. Though, I am glad I went. I understand why it is important for everyone to see. It made the idea of the present day genocide in Darfur more real to me and makes me want to learn more about how I can do my part to help. I transcribed my notes on Auschwitz below.
The concentration camp was founded in June 1940 in the suburbs of the city known as Oswiecim, which Germans occupied during World War II. The Germans changed the name of the city of Oswiecim to Auschwitz and gave it the same name as the concentration camp.
The camp was divided into 3 parts:
Auschwitz I -Earliest Section
Auschwitz II (Birkenau) - was later built when I ran out of room
Auschwitz III (Monowitz)- built when II was filled. It was completely destroyed by Nazis before the liberation by Soviets.
Auschwitz (as a whole) Has over 40 subcamps. Poles were the first to be imprisoned and perished in Auschwitz. Polish prisoners were political prisoners mostly the Polish intellects were kept. They included doctors, lawyers, writers, and even priest. 7,500 Poles were killed. 23,000 Romas were prisoned and only 2,000 survived. Later the camp imprisoned Soviet prisoners of war, Roma (Gypsies), and other prisoners and nationalities. The Jews were the last to be prisoned here.
There was a prison set up for certain prisoners. One of the punishments was to be starved to death. A man was sentenced to starvation. He pleaded for his life and a Polish priest said he would take his place. The guards agreed. According to survivors the priest lasted for two weeks. The guards got impatient and shoot the priest. The man who was supposed to be in the starvation prison survived the camp and lived up until 13 years ago. There are memorials all over the camp for the priest.
Extermination of Jews
Began in 1942, Auschwitz became the largest mass murder in all of human history, which was committed against European Jews as part of the Nazi's plan for complete extermination. Nazis murdered 6 million Jews. Their goal was to kill 11 million. 1944 was the biggest year of extermnation. 8,000 people arrived everyday and were killed.
Nazis burned all the records before the liberation. They tried to destroy all evidence of their crimes. Auschwitz was liberated on Jan 27th, 1945.
Museum opened July 2nd, 1947. Since Poland entered into the EU for years ago they get over a million visitors a year.
The first thing you see when you enter Auschwitz is a giant that says in German,
"Work sets you free." This was only one of the lies that the people entering into Auschwitz were told.
Prisoners had several jobs including preparing food, burning dead bodies, and sorting luggage. No matter what conditions the prisoners worked 11 hours a day and were allowed to use the toilet twice. Their meal consisted of cold coffee for breakfast, soup with rotten vegetables for lunch, and a small piece of bread for dinner. Hunger and hardwork primarily were the main methods of death of the prisoners.
Hitler was elected in a free election. He had the first camp called Dachau built outside of Munich. Auschwitz was not first a extermination camp. It started off as a concentration camp, which means the prisoners were workers. Then later became a extermination camp. There are 6 extermination camps in Poland. By the time they had Auschwitz built the Nazis were very knowledgable about running concentration camps.
Nazis wanted to create a master race by getting rid of what they thought were inferior people. Jews were the first in line then would come the Slavic people. The Jews were deported from every European country. 1,000,100 Jews were sent to Auschwitz and 90% were killed.
There were only a few photographs taken. The purpose of these photographs were unknown. The Nazis wanted to keep the extermination a secret from the rest of the world. 200 photos were found by survivor named Lilie Jacob Meire (Meyer). She accidently found the photos after her liberation while searching for clothes to wear.
Jews were deported to concentration camp from all over Europe. People transported from Greece took up to 17 days without food or water. The people were told to bring their most valuable possessions and the items needed to survive.
Women and children were seperated from men then the guards determined who was fit to work and those who weren't were exterminated. In the beginning those unfit went to the gas chambers. They were told they were going to take showers. The Nazis had set up fake waterheads and water pipes to convince the Jews. This wa done so that there wasn't mass panic. They were told that they were going tobe safe and would be with their families after they were clean. The gas chambers held 1,500 people at a time. Then the Nazis dropped 5-7 kilograms of Cyclone B in 8-9 canisters into the room. 15 minutes everyone was dead. The death was very painful. The Polish Jews were the only ones that knew what was really going on. They knew because of rumors and were the only ones who tried to fight.
The bodies were shaven and all the gold teeth were removed. Then the bodies were burned. They burnt the bodies in an open air cremation because cremation units were very inefficient. The human hair was used in the textile business to make outfits, uniforms, and wigs. After liberation Russian soliders found 7 tons of human hair.
Allies knew about Auschwitz since 1944. They had aerial photos of the camp. Some prisoners who escaped had told the allies. The allies didn't do anything at all. Russian solidiers found a lot of proof of extermination. Rooms in the exhibit halls were filled with 80,000 shoes, glasses, prosthetic legs, bowls, brushes, etc.
200,033 children were sent here and must of them were executed. There were even medical experiments on the children. If the child had blue eyes and blonde hair they were brought to Germanization centers. Later to be adopted by families from Germany.
Camp uniforms were marked with different triangles to identify what group of religion or race the prisoner belonged to. Jews had a red/yellow triangle. Most of the Polish prisoners were not Jewish. In one exhibit there were pictures of the first to come to Auschwitz. This record indicated date of birth and date of death. German criminals were used as the supervisors. These criminals were mostly convicted murderers. Only 400,000 prisoners were registered , 200,00 were Jews fit for work. Most the otheres were Polish political prisoners. Everyone that was registered was murdered.
The Nazis wanted to find the most efficient way of execution. The first people to be tested with Cyclone B were 600 Russian prisoners. It took over two days to get the right amount of the gas to work during the trial. May 27th, 1942 - 168 Polish actors were executed by firing squad.
(Here's an interesting link http://blog.washingtonpost.com/the-trail/2008/05/27/obamas_uncle_and_the_liberatio.html)
Roll call was done twice a day. It was another form of punishment. Sometimes it lasted 19 hours without food or water.
8,000 guards served at Auschwitz. Most of them were German and Austrians. There were some who were Yugoslavian, but they were on watch on the outside.
The mass exterminator incharge of the cremators was Rudolf Hoss. He lived right next to the cremators with his wife and children. His wife was reported to have described Auschwitz as paradise because they were not risking their life from the war going on outside. Hoss was executed as a war criminal. He was hung infront of the cremators.
In 1943 the gas chambers were turned into bomb shelters for the Nazis troops.
When the liberation finally happened in 1945 there were only 7,000 prisoners. The reason there were such few prisoners was because most of them were transfered to other German concentration camps. The Germans knew that the war was coming to an end and thought they could use the prisoners to help them win. Most of the solidiers were forced to walk and most died. This was called the "Death March."
17 days after the liberation of Nazi Germany, Poland was invaded by the Soviet Army. Only 15 years ago did Poland gain its independence. 30,000 people were killed after WW2.
Genocides are still going on in present history. Bosnia, Rwanda, Argentina, and currently in Darfur.
Here's a link to more information about
and the history of genocides: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocides_in_history