Sunday, October 31, 2010

Auschwitz and Birkenau

Yesterday we rode the train to Oswiecim. It was a 1.5 hour train ride and the kids loved it! The train was older and a little loud and bumpy. The weather was nice, so it was a good day to be outside. In preparation for our visit to we had found a book written by a survivor of Auschwitz. She was 9 at the time she went to the camp. Savannah was able to read this book and learn about the war and what happened to the Jews in the camps. Calvin read part of the book and so he understood a little of what we were going to see. I wanted the kids to have a foundation before going so that they would understand why this place is significant. It is important that we study the past so that we can learn from it and not repeat it.

Auschwitz and Birkenau were the largest concentrations camp in Poland and more then a million people were murdered here during WWII, most of which were Jews. At Auschwitz many building still stand, including a gas chamber and crematorium. The barbed wire fences still surround the complex. The inside of the buildings that visitors are allowed to enter are as a museum with large pictures of the era and people entering the camps. It also contains many personal belongings of the prisoners that were kept there. There are piles of eyeglasses, shoes, clothing, children's clothing and toys, kitchen items, toothbrushes, hair brushes, and piles of hair. The Germans used the hair to make things such as rugs. Since it set up as a museum all of these items are placed behind glass, but it quite striking the amount of these items that were found when the war ended.

It is just over a mile to the Birkenau complex and the museum provides a shuttle bus to that area. Much more of this area was destroyed by the Germans at the end of the war to hide what they had done there. Only the remains of the Gas chambers and crematoriums are left. This complex was huge. The fence is still in place and splits the camp into 4 areas. Through the very middle of the camp is the train tracks where they unloaded all of the people that were sent here, 75% of which were led straight to the gas chambers after being told they were going to take a shower to clean up. There are only a few other building left in comparison to what is gone. You could walk in to several that were left to see what terrible conditions they were forced to live in. They were only given platforms to sleep on the size of double beds, stacked 3 high. In each single platform slept 8-12 people. It was striking to walk these grounds and see row after row after row of remaining chimney's from the destroyed building where these people were kept like animals. To think this only happened 70 years ago. How blessed I feel for the freedoms we have. I could not imagine how terrible it would be to have those freedoms stripped away and treated so terribly and then to have so many killed. It is sad to think that such genocides still happen in places around the world today.

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