Auschwitz / Birkenau Concentration Camp
The Sobering Site Of Humankind’s Most Extensive Experiment In Genocide
Birkenau Concentration Camp, Brzezinka, Poland. March 7, 2006.
Auschwitz / Birkenau in Poland was the site of the largest of the World War II Nazi concentration camps, death camps produced at the height of Nazi oppression in Europe with the aim of systematically eradicating the races of society the Nazis deemed ‘sub-human’. The camp, located 50 kilomtres from Krakow near the Polish town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz in German), is a convenient day trip from Krakow. I’ve just spent a chilling – both physically & mentally – afternoon at the site, now a museum to the victims who died there. Touring the site reminded me of my visit to the Cambodian Killing Fields some years earlier. While the intent in Cambodia was no different, the procedure was less methodical and on a smaller scale when compared to the Nazi genocide operation in Europe. I was initially aiming to tour the site independently, but in hindsight I was glad I signed up for the 3-hour guided tour on offer; it gives a good overview of the two camp sites – Auschwitz & Birkenau – and I received a better insight into the horrors that were perpetrated here than I would have received otherwise.
It’s hard to explain what it’s like to visit a concentration camp, let alone one on the scale of Auschwitz. Enjoyable? Of course not. Sobering? Of course. Take what you will from what follows, a pictorial look at my visit to the darkest remnant of one of the darkest periods in human history.
Auschwitz / Birkenau
In 1941, SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler singled out the town of Oswiecim as the perfect location for the site of the proposed eradication of, among other undesirable elements of society, the Jewish population. The motives behind his decision were made clear in a memo to camp commandant Rudolf Hoss.
Commonly referred to as Auschwitz I, this camp quickly outgrew its capacity and a bigger, purpose-built camp (Birkenau, or Auschwitz II) was soon created 3 kilometres west across town from here to meet the demands. Between 1940 and 1945, these 2 camps, along with a 3rd relatively unheard of camp (Monowitz) further west of Oswiecim, were the locations of the most extensive experiment in genocide in the history of humankind – it is estimated that 1.5 to 2 million people died here between April 1940 and January 1945, about 90% of which were Jews. The sites now house the State Museum in Oswiecim. First opened in 1947, it does a wonderful job detailing the horrors perpetrated here.
– Otto Thierack, Minister for Justice of the Third Reich