auschwitz poland

If I had the power, I would add an 11th commandment to the already existing 10: “You should never be a bystander”.
—  Roman Kent, Holocaust survivor, in his speech on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. January 27, 2015.
And when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with Him.
—  Edith Stein was a German-Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism and became a Discalced Carmelite nun, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD. She was taken from the Echt Carmel on August 2, 1942, and transported by cattle train to the death camp of Auschwitz, the conditions in the box cars being so inhuman that many died or went insane on the four day trip. She died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. She was canonized as a Saint on October 11, 1998, by Pope John Paul II and the Feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is celebrated on August 9.

Hungarian Jewish men and boys from Carpathian Ruthenia (now, largely in Ukraine) arrive by cattle car to Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp and await selection. Those deemed unable to work due to age, infirmity, or due to labor quotas already filled were sent directly to the gas chamber to be killed. Those selected by SS doctors as fit for labor were sent into the camp, where they were registered, deloused and distributed to the barracks. Auschwitz concentration camp, Auschwitz (Polish: Oświęcim), Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Poland. 27 April 1944. Image taken by either SS photographers E. Hoffmann or B. Walter.

Auschwitz survivor Miroslaw Celka walks out the gate with the sign saying “Work makes you free” after paying tribute to fallen comrades at the “death wall” execution spot in the former Auschwitz concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp on January 27, 2015. Seventy years after the liberation of Auschwitz, ageing survivors and dignitaries gather at the site synonymous with the Holocaust to honour victims and sound the alarm over a fresh wave of anti-Semitism. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN

A young, handicapped, Hungarian Jewish man from Subcarpathia (now, largely in Ukraine) born with dwarfism, sits in a wicker chair at Auschwitz-Birkenau during selections, in which camp officials would decide which arrivals would be gassed and which would be kept alive for slave labor. Although most arrivals with disabilities were immediately selected for the gas chamber, some were spared immediate death for grisly experiments performed at the camp by SS-Hauptsturmführer and camp physician Dr. Josef Mengele. The fate of this young man is unknown. Because he was photographed by camp personnel, it is likely that he was singled out for Mengele’s experiments. Mengele used Auschwitz as an opportunity to continue his anthropological studies and research on heredity, using inmates for human experimentation. The experiments had no regard for the health or safety of the victims and most died or were killed. He was particularly interested in twins, people with heterochromia iridium (eyes of two different colors), individuals with forms of dwarfism, and people with unique physical abnormalities. Auschwitz-Birkenau, Auschwitz, Province of Silesia, Germany (now and prior to the German occupation of Poland: Oświęcim, Lesser Poland, Poland). May 1944. Image taken by either SS-Hauptscharführer Bernhardt Walter or his assistant, SS-Unterscharführer Ernst Hofmann.

10

Auschwitz-Birkenau

On October 31st, I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau on a bus from Krakow. In Poland and many other countries throughout Europe, November 1st is a day to remember and honor the dead. I thought it would be appropriate to go around then.

There is no appropriate time. 

I do not know how to describe what my experience was like. I have heard stories, seen films, met survivors, and studied what occurred many times. But there is nothing like being there. 

I have never felt air so heavy.

I was alone in a group of strangers, and I think this was one of the hardest experiences of all of my travels. We were shown where the prisoners slept, where they ate, where they went to the bathroom. We were shown where the officers slept, where they ate, where they went to the bathroom.

We were shown where the prisoners worked. 

We were shown walls and walkways where buckets of unnecessary blood was spilt and has slowly faded away over time.   

We were shown mountains of shoes, hair, clothing, and belongings. All stripped away from their owners upon arrival. 

By the time we arrived at Birkenau, where many of the prisoners had “lived,” night had fallen and it only made the experience more eerie. In the distance I could faintly see the train tracks fading away, lined by watch towers lightly drawn in shadows against the deep blue sky. 

It is one thing to hear stories and read about it. But to see where the most gruesome violence occurred puts it all into perspective. 

No- actually nothing can put something like this into perspective. I will never understand. I will never understand how one human could believe what they were doing was okay. How could a human believe another life was not worth theirs? One human, hundreds of humans, thousands of humans, millions of humans believed it was okay. 

We say to remember what happened. To never forget. We do not want history to repeat itself. 

But this was the hardest part for me. It seems the world has forgotten. Genocides are happening all over, right now - in Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Myanmar, and the Sudan. In sadness, I am sure my list is not comprehensive. 

The atrocities during the Holocaust were enormous and very efficiently carried out. They were systematic and they made a gigantic impact in the western world. 

And we talk about it. 

But what about current genocide. What are we doing about it?

What makes one life worth more than another? (I do not believe anything should).

And why is it still happening. 

Former Auschwitz guard Reinhold Hanning convicted

A 94-year-old former guard at the Auschwitz death camp has been sentenced to five years in jail.

Reinhold Hanning was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of at least 170,000 people.

He was an SS guard at Auschwitz from 1942 to 1944. He has said he knew what was going on at the camp but did not act to stop it.

The Nazis killed about 1.1 million people - mostly Jews - at Auschwitz in occupied southern Poland.

The verdict came after a trial lasting nearly four months in the western German city of Detmold.

Observers said Hanning, in a wheelchair, remained silent and emotionless for much of the trial, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the courtroom.

It could be one of the last trials of Nazi officials involved in the Holocaust.

There were just four people in the courtroom today who perhaps truly understand the significance of this verdict. Hedy Bohm, Erna de Vries, William Glied and Leon Schwarzbaum sat, straight backed, in the front row surrounded by friends and family, and listened intently.

Each of them endured and survived the unimaginable horror of Auschwitz. By giving evidence during the trial and describing some of their experiences in harrowing detail, they helped to secure this conviction.

Mr Glied, a dignified man with thick white hair and a ready smile, now lives in Canada. He was accompanied today by his daughter and granddaughter.

Before the verdict he told me that the actual sentence was immaterial. “What matters,” he said “is that he is convicted by a German court for what he did.”

At the trial, about a dozen elderly Auschwitz survivors testified against Hanning, giving harrowing accounts of their experiences.

Prosecutors said he met Jewish prisoners as they arrived at the camp and may have escorted some to the gas chambers.

Hanning’s lawyers had argued that he had never personally killed or beaten anyone.

He told the court in April: “I want to say that it disturbs me deeply that I was part of such a criminal organisation.

"I am ashamed that I saw injustice and never did anything about it and I apologise for my actions. I am very, very sorry.”

German prosecutors were required, until recently, to provide evidence that defendants were directly involved in the killings.

That changed with the 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk, when a judge concluded that his activities as a camp worker in Nazi-occupied Poland amounted to complicity in mass murder.

Last year a German court sentenced Oskar Groening, 94, to four years in jail as an accessory to the murder of at least 300,000 people at Auschwitz.

Known as the SS “book-keeper of Auschwitz”, Groening was allegedly responsible for counting banknotes confiscated from prisoners.