Poland

Auschwitz – Birkenau

The main gate to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The trains full of Jews and others from across Europe would stop either outside this gate or pass through to unload their unfortunate passengers.

The main gate to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The trains full of Jews and others from across Europe would stop either outside this gate or pass through to unload their unfortunate passengers.

In my previous post, I shared some photos and thoughts about Auschwitz I, the well-known “original” Auschwitz concentration camp. Auschwitz II (or Auschwitz-Birkenau) is located just 3 kilometers from Auschwitz I and was designed more specifically as a death factory and for some, a slave labor camp. More than 1.1 million people passed through here, about 700,000 of which were immediately sent to the gas chambers. When the Soviet Army liberated the camp in January 1945, only 7,000 inmates were left alive.

Guard towers along the 12 kilometers of fence at the camp.

Guard towers along the 12 kilometers of fence at the camp.

The camp could hold about 100,000 people at any given time. Below I provide some images in more or less the order of the process of events that happened to those who suffered this terrible fate.

An example of a freight car that would bring the prisoners to the camp. The prisoners would unload at this spot after long and cramped journey, and after a quick examination, most would be herded to the gas chambers.

An example of a freight car that would bring the prisoners to the camp. The prisoners would unload at this spot after long and cramped journey, and after a quick examination, most would be herded to the gas chambers.

The road from the train unloading area to the gas chambers and crematoria where hundreds of thousands walked to their deaths.

The road from the train unloading area to the gas chambers and crematoria where hundreds of thousands walked to their deaths.

After walking the long road, the victims would wait in these peaceful woods for their turn in the gas chambers.

After walking the long road, the victims would wait in these peaceful woods for their turn in the gas chambers.

A photo of the victims waiting patiently in the woods for the end.

A photo of the victims waiting patiently in the woods for the end.

A picture of the crematoria where the bodies would be burned after gassing.

A picture of the crematoria where the bodies would be burned after gassing.

The ruins of Crematoria II. The building was blown up by the Nazis to try to cover up its purpose.

The ruins of Crematoria II. The building was blown up by the Nazis to try to cover up its purpose.

A plaque noting the pond in the background, where the ashes of thousands were dumped from the crematoria.

A plaque noting the pond in the background, where the ashes of thousands were dumped from the crematoria.

If you were "fortunate" enough to be selected for slave labor, you were processed through this building where you were stripped, shaved, tattooed, showered and given your prison uniform. All of your remaining  possessions were taken away.

If you were “fortunate” enough to be selected for slave labor, you were processed through this building where you were stripped, shaved, tattooed, showered and given your prison uniform. All of your remaining possessions were taken away.

Many women were housed in these brick barracks, with 8 prisoners to a "shelf" covered by rotting straw in a swampy area with no actual floor other than hardened dirt.

Many women were housed in these brick barracks, with 8 prisoners to a “shelf” covered by rotting straw in a swampy area with no actual floor other than hardened dirt.

Most men where housed in these wooden barracks, some of which were horse stables originally.

Most men where housed in these wooden barracks, some of which were horse stables originally.

Inside the wooden barracks. 1,000 men would be housed in a building that previously held 52 horses.

Inside the wooden barracks. 1,000 men would be housed in a building that previously held 52 horses.

The latrines in the barracks. I can't imagine the horror of the living conditions.

The latrines in the barracks. I can’t imagine the horror of the living conditions.

The literal end of the rail line, between Crematoria II and III. On this spot there is now the International Monument to the Camp Victims.

The literal end of the rail line, between Crematoria II and III. On this spot there is now the International Monument to the Camp Victims.

Practical Information:

I would highly suggest starting your visit at Auschwitz I and then driving over to Auschwitz II to continue your tour (lots of parking available outside the camp). The excellent map and guide book you can purchase at the first camp will provide a good overview and directions at Auschwitz II, which is a huge site (425 acres, 98 buildings with ruins of 300 more–be prepared for a lot of walking). Also, Auschwitz II is very well sign posted (as is Auschwitz I), providing information (and some photos) in English, Hebrew as well as Polish and German.