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Today has been a difficult one. After a sobering experience visiting the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, I returned back to my room only to learn of the tragic passing of a dear friend and colleague. I mention Tom here because besides work, we shared a love of travel and Tom was a devoted reader of my blog. Like me, he loved the unusual, trying new foods and meeting new people. He only retired in January and set off almost immediately on an adventure to Guatemala. I know I sound like a broken record when I say just how grateful I am for the things I am able to do but I really am. When you hear things like this and see what I saw today, the reality that life can be short hits home. I will miss you Tom. So, it is with a heavy heart and a whole lot of gratitude, I share a little of my day.

Today I took a tour to Auschwitz and Birkenau (Auschwitz ll) located about 60 kms from Krakow. This was the largest of the camps and over 1.1 million people lost their lives there. Although Auschwitz l opened in 1940 as a camp for Polish political prisoners by 1941 the first exterminations had taken place. Auschwitz ll became an extermination center (death camp) and the final solution to the Jewish question.

Auschwitz l

The sign at the gates to Auschwitz, pictured above, reads "Arbeit Macht Frei" or "work sets you free". This is the first of many hypocrisies at the camp. The prisioners who worked 11 + hour days quickly learned that the only freedom was death.

I am not going to include the history of the camp. You can research that yourselves but here are a few pictures and comments from my visit.

click here for a link to the history

The camp is filled with photographs from when it was opened. I was most bothered by those of the children who were often ripped away from the parents or murdered immediately because they were not strong enough to work.


Cans of Kyklon B, about 11 cans would be used in the gas chambers for one group of prisoners. This was not an easy death, most suffered for 30 minutes before dying


There were many brick barracks at Auschwitz l but not all housed prisoners. There were barracks that stored all the valuables belongings to the prisoners. These were known as Canada barracks, because Canada was viewed as a land of riches. This was something I had never heard before.


Glasses piled high


Suitcases with the owner's names so they could quickly find them once released. One of many deceptions by the guards.


Shoes, as high and as far as I could see.


The most disturbing display room for me, contained a glass wall, behind which was 2000 kgs of woman's hair, braided, matted, piled high. Every part of the prisoner was used. Hair which was cut on arrival and after gasing, was used to make mats and fabrics. I was not allowed to take pictures here but here is a link where you can see it.
Click here

The walls are filled with pictures of prisoners. The nazis documented well and each picture show the date of birth, arrival and death. it was shocking to see that some lived only months.


The wall where prisoners were shot.


As difficult as I was finding the tour, I couldn't imagine how this this group felt.


The barbed wire fences were also electric


The home of the camp commander. So close to the gas chamber and ovens (used after gasing), that he often had human ash on his windows.


Gas chamber and ovens


Auschwitz ll - Birkenau


This camp was massive. There is no way to describe or photograph it, you simply have to go to appreciate the magnitude of this one camp and its atrocities . I was overwhelmed. Most of the Jews that were killed here were from Hungary and Poland. They began shipping them in from Western Europe as well. Here at the unloading station, where 75% of the arrivals went right to the showers to be disinfected, aka, the gas champers, were a group of Jewish men. They were huddled around the cattle car while their guide explained how their ancestors would have been treated. A powerful moment.


The huge memorial for all who suffered with a plaque in 22 languages


As the Germans learned they were losing the war, the began to destroy the evidence, including the gas chambers and ovens at Birkenau.


The barracks here were made of wood as it was faster and cheaper to build. The conditions were terrible and worst than at Auschwitz l


Actual drawings found in this barrack for woman and children


It has been a brutal day. So many lessons to be learned, yet so many not.


Posted by curlygirl 13:35 Archived in Poland Tagged auschwitz birkenau

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Very hard to read let alone to witness. You have had a day you will remember forever. Thinking of you my friend. Thank you for sharing. You were brave to do so. All to often we hide from such days. You made us all remember. ❤

by Nancy parsons

Thanks for sharing this Shelley. A very difficult day for you indeed - sorry for the loss of your friend, It must be a very emotional day on many levels.

by Agnes Penton

You are a very strong person Shelley to come
home after enduring such an emotional day, to sit and write this blog. Thank you for sharing this! I'm so sorry to hear the sad news of your friend's passing. Sending you a big hug!

by Jennifer

This place is just heartbreaking. Very emotional. Sorry for the loss of your friend Shelley.xo

by Bonnie

A difficult read, I can't imagine standing on the soil of this place. Your images and words made my wonder about these real people, their awful journey. I'm feeling heavy hearted tonight for these people and thankful for the country I live in and it's values. Thanks for sharing.

by Vardy

You Shelley you must have had a very hard day emotionally. I have read so much about Auschwitz and it is on my bucket list to visit. Just finished reading the book Mischling so I feel like I'm walking through with you....your write up is wonderful!

by Rebecca

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