There is an eerie grey about the air. Every place we pass has ghosts and haunted horror following us around. You can’t look out the window from the coach and not be reminded of the events of the holocaust and how it’s affected almost every Jew you meet.
Lurking in my mind, as always, is this desperate question I have, why did this process of killing the Jews, one by one, go on for so long? Surely red flags should have gone up as soon as the Ghettos were put in place, not six years later. I keep thinking that if all the train drivers refused to drive the trains, if all the gas men didn’t supply the gas, if the electricians didn’t fix all the electrical problems that so often occurred on the death camps, labour camps, concentration camps, so many lives would have been saved.
Today, we went to Auschwitz – Birkenau. It was different to Majdanek. It was absolutely huge I could never have imagined it. The amount of barbed wire surrounding the camp, the amount of barracks, watch towers, crematorium. Yuval explained the way the camp worked. The Germans send Jews there from all over Europe in hope to exterminate them all. They’d arrive by train – I say train but I really mean cattle trucks. In one tiny carriage would be one hundred people, sometimes even more. It would take days and days to arrive and the whole time never knowing where you’re going, not knowing your fate, not drinking or eating or stopping of any kind. They had to guess the hours and days, so many died amongst their own urine and faeces from hunger, disease, exhaustion, and this was just the beginning. I imagine them thinking that it couldn’t get any worse.
When they arrived it was only ever at night, another tactic the Germans thought up callously. They got off the trains and in their faces were large big white lights in order to disguise the on goings of the camp. All they heard was shouting in German as they were thrown off the trains and into the selection.
On the left hand side, they had all the strong and healthy looking people. For the people stood on the right, these would be there last moments in the world.
For those who stand on the left, they had a long, hard time ahead of them. We all walked the same way they walked to the room they were forced to undress, to be disinfected as if they were vermin, to have their heads shaved for two purposes; To completely strip them all of their identity and to use their hair for their own profit. Their identities would be completely rid once they were given a number tattooed, and their name taken from them.
Mala explained how terrible it was to step out of that room, in striped uniforms and no hair. Everyone they knew became completely unrecognisable. No one knew who anyone was, no one knew who they were themselves anymore.
They worked and worked and worked, and when one ‘batch’ died from it all, they brought a new ‘batch’ in, and off they went again. They were used to make things for the Germans in order to help their economy grow. They were slaves with no names. They were fed barely anything and they lived on top of each other. They were beaten, shot and scared. They must have felt totally alone in the world with no one standing up and fighting for them, and even if there were people, they would have no way of knowing that. They must have been wondering the whole time if there was anyone coming to save them, if they would live to see the end, if they were the last Jews left with no hope of Jewish revival, worst of all they must have all been wondering if they would be the next person to die.
Standing where they stood, when they saw the last glimpse of themselves, again made me feel sick and lucky all at the same time.
For those selected on the right, the SS felt they weren’t worthy of a life. They were taken straight to the gas chambers. Eighty five per cent of people that came off the trains were taken to their deaths that night. Because there were so many people a lot of them had to wait in turn on a patch of grass by the chambers. They were sitting, waiting to die. They knew what was coming, they could hear the screams, they could smell the burning bodies, they knew what was coming.
It makes me ill. After the already horrific journey where they were starving and thirsty, the last thing in their life they saw was their family and friends, climbing on top of each other in a cramped space, each trying to reach the top to avoid the gas and brutal murder. They must have been absolutely terrified in their last moments, in their previous moments, and forever after.
The bodies were dragged out of the chambers by inmates themselves, burnt in the crematorium by inmates themselves. The SS never lifted a finger, except to shoot, shove or to be violent in some form.
Going to Auschwitz One was very strange. The first bizarre thing was the shops within the site itself for the tourists. It angered me that food businesses opened up to make profit of all these visitors coming to pay respect to the disgust of the holocaust, but I didn’t have long to focus on that as I had a lot more to be angry and upset about as we entered the concentration camp.
It was very surreal once again. It seemed far too small to hold the hundreds and thousands of people that lived there.
The first significant house pointed out to us by Yuval was the whore house for the SS officers. They’d select the most beautiful women, of course they were allowed the privilege of keeping their hair, and they were used for sex and G-d only knows what else went on, but from what I already know I realise these women were in hells hell.
We saw the spot where a band would play during the marches they had to do round the camp. They really knew how to humiliate people at any given opportunity. How dare music play as skeletons drag themselves up and down the cold cobbled streets hanging on for dear life, purely for entertainment.
I learnt that there were ranks within the camp itself amongst the prisoners. Jews, African Americans, cripples, Gypsy’s, obviously Jews being the lowest of the low.
Going into the room with the mountains of hair, tons of shoes, thousands of personal possessions, was horrendous. The suitcases lined up, names and addresses plastered across them, it really hit home how they were each individuals, and they each had a house and a street and a family and friends. They all brought their favourite shoes, best shoe polish, most treasured jewellery, favourite books and family albums.
The room full of crutches and other such items killed me a little inside. Without these things certain people can’t do anything! They couldn’t walk or use their hands, they couldn’t live.
One of the most disgusting things I learnt was of the accounts the officers and commanders had where it showed how much money each ‘number’ was bringing in through their hard work. If someone wasn’t making enough it was to be the end of the line for them.
The most terrifying place on the camp had to be blocks 10 and 11. These were used as prisons and a court room. As if it wasn’t enough in the rest of the camp, there were rooms created to torture people further. There were tiny rooms called the ‘suffocation room’ where four people would have to stand all together, all night with no room to move or even breathe. It was unlikely that they’d all survive the night and even if they did, they were forced to go to work the next day, of course no food or liquids were given to any of them during this. There were other rooms used for medical research. In here people were tested on how to be killed the quickest and cheapest way, they tried to see if they could limit the amount of children a woman could have, they would take twins and do similar things to each one and see what was to happen.
At the end of this day, I feel distraught and angry. I still will never be able to come to terms with the humiliation they suffered on top of all the other things put in place. I can never forgive the Nazi’s for this.