“..In addition to Auschwitz there existed ..following extermination centers for Jews ..Culmhof ..Engine exhaust gases ..Treblinka ..Engine exhaust gases ..Sobibor ..Engine exhaust gases ..Belzec ..Engine exhaust gases ..Majdanek Zyklon B. I ..have ..seen Culmhof and Treblinka. ..Treblinka I saw ..whole operation. ..several chambers ..holding some hundreds of people ..built directly by ..railway track. ..Jews went straight into ..gas chambers without undressing.” Rudolf Hoess.
The hustle and bustle of modern living hides the depths of despair that once resided here. There is a growing awareness, however, from those who venture through this enormous Cemetery for the 1,100,000 Jews Murdered here, that a place of such evil exists and it has been an accomplished Genocide in out not so distant past.
“..whole complex had forty-six retorts ..each with ..capacity for three to five persons. ..burning in a retort lasted about half an hour. ..it was theoretically possible to cremate about 12,000 corpses in twenty four hours ..4,380,000 a year. ..well-constructed crematoria fell far behind at a number of camps ..especially at Auschwitz in 1944. In August ..total cremation reached a peak one day of 24,000 ..still a bottleneck occurred. Camp authorities needed an economic and fast method of corpse disposal ..dug six huge pits beside Krema V ..reopened old pits in ..wood. ..late 1944 ..pit burning became ..chief method of corpse disposal. ..pits had indentations at one end from which human fat drained off. To keep ..pits burning ..stokers poured oil ..alcohol ..large quantities of boiling human fat over ..bodies.” Filip Muller.
In 1941, on September 3rd. Zyklon ‘B’ was used at Auschwitz to murder Infirm Jews and Russian POWs. Later, in the month of October, we see the establishment of a facilty at Auschwitz Camp II, known in infamy as Birkenau, which is erected for the sole purpose of the extermination of the Jews of Europe. It must be remembered also, that Gypsies, Poles, Russians, and others from many nations were also murdered at this Death Camp, a Factory facility of Mass Murder. In 1944, on November 2nd. the last gassings at Auschwitz were undertaken. Finally, in 1945, on January 27th. the Auschwitz complex was liberated by Russian soldiers and the World became witness to what Hitler and his Nazis had resolved to commit! This is a date for the Calender and January 27th. has been written in all of History as a place in time which can now pin point that essential need to Commemorate not only all those Jews who were Destroyed here and elsewhere, but has rightly accused that inability of this World to alleviate, to comfort or even to save those 6,000,000 Jews from Annihilation!
Birkenau is enormous! It is huge. It is easy to see how 1,100,000 Murdered Jews could be consumed within its perimeter. The landscape seems to go on forever. There are Trees which bind in the outer reaches of this site of Destrcution. There is an awful connection to what we are looking at and to what was taken away. The emptiness is given over to a sense that we are isolated here. Driven by thoughts which cannot ever imagine the pain and the suffering that went on! But we put a further step forward and retrace the path etched by those went before us and will follow long after we have left. This place will stand as a Monument to Ignominy, to Mankind’s reluctance to search out Intolerance and measure a person’s worth with actual Tolerance!
“..Somann (SS Security Chief Breslau) told me ..death ..by gas poisoning was painless. ..gas van death was very quick ..but actually death came ..slowly ..accompanied by great pain. ..Somann told me about ..Auschwitz ..where ..gassing ..was carried out. ..the dead ..were burned in special furnaces ..200 bodies ..burned simultaneously.” Standartenfuhrer Heinisch.
Travel arrangements made, no comfort was afforded those Jews due for ‘resettlement’ East.
Originally known as Auschwitz II this sub camp was certainly more synonymous with the destruction of the Jewish People than her sister camp at Auschwitz I, though the collective identification of Auschwitz as a killing center has a resonance which educates to this day. Barely 4 kms from the main camp at Auschwitz I, an additional spur was added to the railway line, which delivered the Jews who now approached Auschwitz II, Birkenau, much closer to the detail of their own destruction.
We tread the same path but it is immeasurably different. At the end of our slender journey we will all make our exit and know We have traversed a Devastated land so steeped in the Blood of 1,100,000 Jewish People, it is almost a feeling of intruding upon a grief that, while it should always belong to the whole of Humanity, it is specifically a Jewish Graveyard. The Grey Ashen Path does little to remind us of what happened during the period of The Slaughter, until I arrive back at my Hotel.
I notice! My previously polished and glistening Brown Boots are covered in a Grey Film. It is reminiscent of the Ashe one would find alongside any Crematorium not able to control what exits its exhaust system. It is clearly a reminder of why I was there! To remember, and then to come away and remind the World and any of those who know my work, that life as it happened here was extracted from The Jewish People and the residue of that Destruction is a Grey ash that fertilised and covered the Countryside that sprawls before us!
“..I walk in Auschwitz ..in ..tracks of ..abandoned shoes ..of ..extracted teeth ..of ..cut off hair ..of ..misplaced baggage in order to find ..last moments of my family ..The Schneider Family.” Yossi Sarid.
This death factory nestles precariously beneath the totality of the assault on the Jews of Europe, with upward of 2,000,000 Jews, on Hoess’s earlier estimate, who could have been murdered here. We accept, however, that the likely figure is around 1,100,000 Jews of Europe, Men, Women and Their Children, Murdered here.
As I look back along the railline that brought those Jews from Auschwitz, I realise that the fading landscape which those Jews observed in their final moments, more than suggests there can be no way out for those who were forced to disembark alongside the ramp toward Destruction.
“..Standartenfuhrer Blobel ..authorized to ..obliterate all ..mass graves. His department ..’1005’. ..work ..carried out by ..Jews ..shot after each section of ..work ..completed. Auschwitz ..continuously called upon to provide Jews for ‘1005’.” Rudolf Hoess.
It is perhaps ironic, that as we were set to leave Birkenau somewhere in the far corner of The Camp, someone was Burning rubbish and once more the mind drifts back to an awful time! The Book by Seweryna Szmaglewska, Smoke Over Birkenau immediately springs to mind. But not just the title of a Book, but an experience that was presented to those of us who watched and reflected on many years ago, the billowing smoke was the product of a process which Cremated the jews who entered here, never to emerge until the Smoke brought a film of ash which is ever present in the Soil of Brezenzka and its surroundings.
ALWAYS to REMEMBER, NEVER to FORGET!