Home > Travel > Travel – Auschwitz and Birkenau Nazi extermination sites in Poland

Travel – Auschwitz and Birkenau Nazi extermination sites in Poland

No words can fully explain the horrors and inhumanity that took place over three long years (1941-1944) at the two Nazi Auschwitz sites in Poland. I have decided to let my photos speak for themselves as, having visited this week, I am still trying to come to terms with the horrendous atrocities committed on the soil of Europe by a ‘Christian’ nation which had experienced both the Enlightenment and the Reformation.

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The stark juxtaposition of the bright clothing of the school parties and the sinister watchtowers and buildings of the Auschwitz 1 Nazi extermination site in southern Poland.

How was it possible that IN THIS PLACE – KL Auschwitz and KL Birkenau – 1.1 million people were gassed to death in truly hellish circumstances?

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These two camps are on a vast scale. Both were designed to kill as many people as possible as quickly and as efficiently as possible, Auschwitz 1 is on the site of an old Polish army barracks, with its large and substantial brick built buildings.

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Camp 2 at Birkenau, 2 miles away, was built on a far larger scale with hundreds of wooden buildings (resembling chicken sheds) in rows and rows stretching far towards the horizon. Now all that is left are the skeletal remains of the brick built chimneys and fireplaces, with the woodwork having long since rotted away.

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The Auschwitz complex had seven gas chambers and five crematoria. The first was at Auschwitz 1, operating from 1941. The gassing process (using Zyklon B pesticide) meant that it could take from between 15 to 20 minutes for these victims to finally expire, in a bare concrete room with a low ceiling, and with up to 2,000 souls packed tightly together as they died.

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WP_20150527_067What terrible things were seen from this actual window (below) in the early 1940’s? How must it have felt to look out at this fence and the guard post? Even today, the whole place has a dreadful sense of oppression, evil and malice.

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Personal possessions (below) – stripped and taken from those brought here for extermination – were collected, stored in huge warehouses (named ‘Canada’ on the maps) and then sold on by the Third Reich.

Here are some of the many, many enamel bowls and pots, suitcases, wicker baskets (my mother had one such) and the shoes stolen from the victims. The worst ‘exhibit’ was that of masses and mounds of tangled human hair, now grey and faded after all these years. I could not bring myself to photograph such a dreadful sight.

Each item represents a person, a family, a community. Weep as you view these pictures. This is truly awful.

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Birkenau camp is approached across the greenest of green Polish fields. The watchtowers give a sense of the horrors which lay beyond.

WP_20150527_107 (2)The entrance gateway to Auschwitz, known as ”Hell’s Gate’, and the electrified ceramic of the barbed wire fences.

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WP_20150527_096Birkenau was built by Adolf Hitler specifically as a place of extermination and execution. Victims came from over 20 nations (some as far away as the Channel Islands) – among them Roma people and Poles, but 90% of those murdered were Jewish. This is the horror of the Holocaust as commemorated so memorably at Yad Vashem in Israel today.

There is little left of the buildings today, but those that remain are a place of memorial. One can only imagine what life – and death – must have been like in the stench and filth of these dreadful huts.

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WP_20150527_094From the top of the entrance tower, some idea of the vast scale of this Auschwitz 2 camp can be viewed.

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WP_20150527_100The poignancy of this solitary silent railway track which, in 1944, led to the terror of the camp’s ‘unloading platform’.

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70 years on, let this sign at the Auschwitz camp speak as to the depths of the true horror perpetrated here, and of ‘man’s incomprehensible inhumanity to man’.

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For me, it was intensely moving to stand at the door of the tiny basement starvation cell (No 18) which had held the Polish Franciscan Priest, Maximilian Kolbe. I had read David Alton’s account of his sacrifice several years ago (Signs of Contradiction, Hodder 1996). Kolbe died in this prison cell after voluntarily taking another man’s place in a group of prisoners sentenced by the Nazis to starve to death.

David Alton also records, how to our shame, the British government in 1942 refused to grant asylum to 1,000 Jewish orphans, aged from 4 to 14. Denied sanctuary in the UK, all of them subsequently perished in Auschwitz. Alton goes on to say, ‘We are so familiar with the names of those who did speak out (like Kolbe and Bonhoeffer), it sometimes disguises the millions who did not. There were not many people prepared to be outlaws’.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. 

These photos were taken on a Nokia Lumia 920.

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  1. brian.butler@talktalk.net
    May 30, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Thanks for this, Eddie. I have read a lot on WW2 and am currently
    reading Michael Burleigh’s “History of the 3rd Reich” which catalogues
    in grim, detail the various programmes of death and oppression of the
    Nazis./ It is, as you say, one of the ironies and horrors of history
    that this was all perpetrated by a “Christian” Nation with a history
    of Reformation and Enlightenment. Your pics were excellent.

    Brian

  2. May 30, 2015 at 9:21 am

    Thank you for this Eddie.

  3. May 30, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    Thank you, Eddie : although of course one has seen many such images of these sights and views before, I have never read such a simple, personal and heart-felt account of a visit to these camps. Your photographs and brief captions are eloquent as much for what you do not say as for what you do. As you say, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. Thank you.

  4. June 5, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Thanks eddie what memories we went there some years ago my Polish uncle who was in the royal airforce his family died in Auschwitz and we saw a plaque on the wall were his father was shot it was so quiet and our hearts just cried out to God how could european people do this. and how we need a mighty revival your photos are good we were too emotional at the time to keep such a record thank you Alasdair

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