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one thing that i have always wanted to do in my life was visit the auschwitz-birkenau museum and memorial, which is the entire reason we came to poland from the czech republic. i am having trouble explaining how i was impacted by this experience, so i’ll stick to the facts and the very few photos i took.

first, we visited auschwitz, which is the museum portion.

“arbeit macht frei” — “work makes you free” — one of the messages to mock the prisoners. another was “keep your head covered — one louse can kill you.” it makes me so sick to think of people thinking those messages were funny or clever.

it was a rainy and dreary day. this woman carried a bag full of flowers to leave. in the museum were photos of victims, and some of them had flowers placed on them from relatives of the victim that visited.

photos are not permitted inside the museum, but i saw some startling things: almost 100 lbs of eyeglasses. 460 artificial limbs. over 2 tons of human hair, shaved off the bodies of women killed with cyclone b. over 80000 shoes. approximately 3800 suitcases (most of the jews that were there in the beginning were tricked — they had been forced to live in jewish ghettos in krakow, unable to go to work or leave their neighbourhood at any time — and so they all given train tickets and told they could start a new life in the east. but of course, their train line stopped at auschwitz and their posessions, families, and lives were all taken away.)

you can’t see the barracks here anymore, but there used to be sooooo many buildings. in 1944, the camp had more than 121 000 prisoners. honestly, i don’t know how poland can be such a wonderful, welcoming country. first, they were invaded and occupied by the germans. then, just shortly after being liberated, they were invaded and occupied by the soviets. during that time, the people were so poor, the government allowed everyone to take the wood from the barracks to heat their homes, and that is why all the wooden barracks are gone, only a few brick buildings remain.

for over a year that the prisoners (primarily polish and hungarian people worked here — all jews, sick, elderly, and young children were immediately sent to the gas chambers) were there , they had no washrooms. the women built this washroom. you can’t even see how long this room is in this photo, but there were more than 60 toilets in here. there was a separate room with a long sink like this. there was no soap, and only cold water.

each level of these “beds” (wooden planks) slept 6 women. the huge room had one small furnace. the weaker women would have to sleep on the bottom level, and they had it the worst because no one was allowed to leave the guarded barracks at night. they would often vomit, urinate, or have diarrhea… but could not leave their “bed.”

on the 27th of january, 1945, 7000 prisoners were liberated. a minimum of 1.1 million people had been killed during the less than 5 years the camp was operating.

it’s taken me so long to write the little bit i’ve said here. i have so much i want to say, but honestly, i don’t know how to express with words what it was like to be there. i was ashamed to be a human being, capable of such cruelty. at least 3 prisoners escaped and contacted north american media to tell what had happened to them. no one believed them. the nazis put on a good show when people would go look at the place — they would dress up the healthiest prisoners and have them sort of on display. they said all the “workers” were able to write to their families, and showed the mock post office they had built. they would have their musicians who normally played death marches, play classical music in the main area. and no one realized. it was very difficult to be there, and more than once, i thought i was going to be sick. but i’m so glad i went. i just think it’s important.



  1. Kristel…. What can I say??
    WOW!! You’re amazing!!!
    You’re forsurely doing my wedding when I pick the date..

    Trish W.

  2. I agree, that there are no words to describe the feelings you experience when visiting the concentration camp museum.
    It makes you think about what happened there, but also wonder what is actually going on in certain places in the World today… 😦

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  1. By question #9 « kristel wyman photography. on 09 Dec 2008 at 9:26 pm

    […] the liberation of the prisoners at auschwitz concentration camp in oswiecim, poland. even before my visit, this would have been my […]

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