Stammlager is the most visited execution camp in the world with 1.4 million visitors a year. Stammlager was originally built before the war as a Polish barracks, but after the occupation was taken over by the Nazis and turned into a concentration camp. First it was used to house Russian prisoners of war, but over time became the home to thousands of Poles, Gypsies, and millions of Jews.
The museum aspect of the camp today really takes away from the nature of what had occurred there 70 years ago. Our tour guide was a stern woman, bitter and unfriendly. Throughout the tour she seemed to be pushing an agenda of ‘Poor Poland, having to endure the Nazis and their legacy.“ When she bitterly asked the class, "Why did you came to Auschwitz over the other camps, why didn’t you go see Chełmno?” it was pretty satisfying to tell her we had. Another good answer to that question would be that it is a two and a half hour car ride from the closest city, making it not very accessible to the average tourist.
While the museum did take away from what the camp could be there are two moments in the camp that were very hard to bare. Unfortunately you were not allowed to take pictures in these two areas, making them hard to truly fathom. The first was a room, about 30 yards long and on either side was an exhibit of hair shaven off the heads of the dead. While the pile of hair looked like a snowbank about 5 feet all, you could still make out Orthodox Jew’s curls, and chunks of blond hair. They also informed us that the room of hair was only from the last three months of the camp, and from about 40,000 people.
The other moment at Stammlager that was upsetting was Block 11. Block 11 was the “prison within a prison.” The tour includes a trip into the basement where there were several holding cells. Some of them look like normal jail cells today. Two of the rooms were used as dark rooms, where prisoners would be locked into total darkness for days at a time. Also in the basement were the standing cells. Prisoners would have to crawl into a room about 16 sq ft with no windows or doors and share it with 3 other people. There is no room to sit so all four of you would have to sleep standing up if you didn’t suffocate first. I stepped into one where only the foundation remains with three of my friends, it is unremarkably small.
Also in that basement of Block 11, the first experimentation of using Zyclone B (Cyclone B) gas to kill people was conducted. The first experiment was actually with several Russian POWs and a few sick prisoners of the camp. The experiment lasted 48 hours before everybody in the cell died from the gas. They would eventually perfect the method of filling cup chambers with gas to kill a large amount of people at once. Also unlike the Hollywood representation they did not pump gas in to the room, but rather threw in pellets of the Zyclone B gas that would eventually release the gas into the air.
(click pictures for description)