Auschwitz and Auschwitz II – Burkina are the 4th and 5th concentration camps I have visited and the shock, horror, and palpable suffering of these monstrous places never diminishes. The ladies and I were in Krakow over the weekend primarily to tour this most heinous of places, and at the risk of getting too political, the timing could not have been more appropriate. They came for me at my destination.
It is places like this that remind us to love each other, stand up for what is right, and choose compassion, understanding, and empathy over hate, bigotry, and blind, unquestioning consequence.
This first set of pictures is from Auschwitz. What you might not know is that this camp was originally built for Polish prisoners of war and as such, the dormitories were relatively decent. The camp is also quite small. So small in fact, that soon, a larger facility was required to house the displaced Jews and other undesirables.
This was how Auschwitz II – Burkina came to be built. In time Auschwitz III and additional subcamps were added as well. As is the case with all concentration camps, the perimeter was heavily fortified with two sets of electrified barbed wire.
Guard houses were interspersed at regular intervals and armed men would be housed in them, always watching. Something particularly sinister about this camp was that a group of prisoner musicians was required to play upbeat nationalistic music here by the entrance day in and day out.
In a moving series of exhibitions, the visitor gets a visual slap to the face regarding the number of people who died here. It is one thing to hear that 1.5 million victims died here, but to see the mountains of brushes, glasses, suitcases, and shoes is truly staggering.
The most horrific example I saw was the unbelievable piles of human hair. We were asked not to photograph this exhibit in respect for the victims, but believe me when I say it was by far one of the most terrifying and deeply saddening things I have ever seen.
Piles, easily 10 feet high and 15 feet wide composed entirely of a disturbing multicolor quilt of a human hair (some in braids others in tails), were displayed like the most macabre haystacks ever known. And this, of course, was only a small percentage of the hair collected.
As we listened to the guide tell us these things what came to the forefront of my mind was how the Germans, who despised the Jews and thought them so far beneath them, we’re able to use not only the stolen personal property of the Jews (things like their underwear) but were able to wear the Jews themselves. The hair was knitted into socks and blankets.
How incredibly chilling
Photographs like this of Junkie Freedman show how little time the victims were here at the camp. Originally the SS photographed the victims like criminals for record-keeping, but the number of victims quickly became overwhelming and the practice stopped.
The photographs also made you realize that in those pictures of the victims finally being liberated; those poor, starved, and sick individuals were the “lucky” ones who had only been deported to the camp in the final month or two of their existence. It was clear from the photographs that very few people lived past a month in the camp.