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Auschwitz - The Death Camps

August 1990

I spent about three weeks in Poland from August to September 1990. It was a depressing place at times - heavily polluted, and with communist style buildings everywhere. And it has a tragic history too - it was designated as the part of the Lebensraum ('living space') by the Nazis, who intended to empty it out and fill it with German colonists (Wikipedia for more details). An example of this was Zamosc, a beautiful Renaissance-era town, which was emptied out and renamed 'Himmlerstadt' ('Himmler Town') after Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS.

For anyone visiting Poland, a visit to Oswiecim is a must - renamed Auschwitz by the Nazis, it was the location of two of the camps built to kill Jews, Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Polish, Russian POWs, dissidents, and anyone the Nazis deemed sub-human or a nuisance. Those who weren't killed immediately, were used as slave labour until they died of malnutrition, disease or injuries.

A visit there is important, to bear witness to this horrific moment of the history of humankind - born out of racism and ethnocentrism.

I took this following picture in 'Auschwitz I', the smaller original camp.
crematorium at Auschwitz I

It shows the trolleys used for putting bodies into the crematorium. Although it felt voyeuristic and somewhat inappropriate, when I saw how it was so obviously made to put bodies in (note the shape and size), I felt that this photo could be a small way to show the truth to anyone who doubted it.

The camp itself was deceptively calm - red brick buildings and leafy trees (though the trees would be more recent).
fence at Auschwitz I

The exhibit that shocked me the most was this


and on top of the hair, I saw a blond plait (maybe this one, not my photo though)


It made me retch. It's one of the most horrible things I've ever seen.

At Auschwitz, they would use every part of the people they murdered - and this included making rough cloth out of the human hair. For that, hair was stocked - when the Russians liberated Auschwitz, they found 7 tons of hair, packed and ready to be shipped out.

A final note: while I was taking the bus to the camp from the train station, I started talking to an old man who spoke some German. I asked him how he knew German, and he said that he had had to learn it at school in Ozwiecim during the war; so I had to ask him - did he know what was happening in the camps? He shrugged and said Yes, everyone knew. How? I asked. He held his nose and said, 'The smell', waving his other hand to demonstrate the smoke wafting over the small town.

It's difficult, almost impossible really, to imagine what happened. But it did. And we should never forget it.

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xes on :

Would love to visit this place in the future!

julian on :

It's pretty horrific, but worth the visit...

James on :

It is an insult to memorialize the handful of anti-societal trouble-seeking JWs alongside the SIX MILLION Jewish Holocaust victims given that Jehovah's Witnesses view the Jews much as did the Nazis.

The WatchTower Cult teaches its own version of "replacement theology", which says that GOD rejected the Jews as His "chosen people", and replaced them with today's "Jehovah's Witnesses". In fact, the title "Jehovah's Witnesses" was originally applied to the Jews by the Prophet Isaiah, and is even quoted on the wall at the entrance to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. The WatchTower Society, in calling its own members "Jehovah's Witnesses" is attempting to steal that designation away from the Jews. The WatchTower Cult even teaches that all of the Bible's promises of restoration for the Jewish people now belongs to the followers of the Cult.

There were only approximately 6000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany during the 1930s-40s. While many of those 6000 German JWs were repeatedly arrested during the 1930s and 1940s, only a fraction were jailed or imprisoned for any significant length of time. Only about 200-300 German JWs lost their lives, and the majority of those died from any number of causes other than having been executed. Approximately 1000 JWs from other European countries lost their lives while incarcerated by the Nazis.

During that same time period, there were more Jehovah's Witnesses arrested and jailed in the United States than in Germany. In fact, from 1941 until 1945, approximately 4500 American Jehovah's Witnesses "elected" to go to prison rather than serve in the U.S. Military and go fight against those same Nazis who were committing those atrocities. Approximately 3000 of those 4500 American JWs were even offered "conscientious objector" status, in which they were offered "non-combatant" work as a substitute, but 99% of those JWs refused to even help that much.

julian on :

"The number of Jehovah's Witnesses who died in concentration camps and prisons during the Nazi era is estimated at 1,000 Germans and 400 from other countries, including about 90 Austrians and 120 Dutch. (The non-German Jehovah's Witnesses suffered a considerably higher percentage of deaths than their German co-religionists.) In addition, about 250 German Jehovah's Witnesses were executed -- mostly after being tried and convicted by military tribunals -- for refusing to serve in the German military." US Holocaust Memorial Museum

It's true that the Jehovah's Witnesses were not targeted for genocide in that way that the Jewish were. However, acknowledging the suffering of one person, or group of people, does not diminish the recognition of the suffering of another. It is not a zero-sum game.

For me, I am suspicious of **any** group claiming to be a 'chosen people' - as far as I'm concerned, that's the kind of idea that leads all too easily into racism, ethnocentrism and/or exclusivism; these are all too often the source of more suffering.

Beth Charette on :

Again, how would I comment on the Auschwitz story?

All I see is the name Julian with a date.

How does that relate to the stories upon which you would like comment?

Clearly I am not terribly smart, but if the numbers above refer to the story regarding the camps, shouldn't somewhere there be a label saying that in the drop down box.

I am appreciating this site. If I can get some navigational coaching, I will be able to give you more intelligent and relevant input.

julian on :

You have managed to comment :-) If you want to leave a general comment, rather than to a specific person, just choose 'Top level' in the 'In reply to' box.

The comments in a blog are always specific to the particular blog post beneath which they are placed.

jehnavi on :

By 1942, infamous selections were made in which incoming Jews were split as being able to work sent to the right and those who were immediately gassed by putting them in the group at left. This group of death included children, women, elderly, and all who do not seem fit by the doctors. This camp was the most horrible killer than any other.

becky feay on :

We are doing a school project on the Holocaust, and after research we came across your blog. It really is one of the most horrifying things we have ever seen.

julian on :

It is... I just saw a film recently called 'La Rafle', about the round up of Jews in France. It's well done, and displays the complicity of many French (and also the resistance of others) with the Holocaust.

jehnavi on :

Why does the death toll keep reducing. It seems when Eichmann was executed it was for his part in the murder of 4 million at Auschwitz. One wonders why here are deniers and the need to prosecute them for their beliefs mikebarnes, sutton surrey, 25/1/2010 11:13. The article says 1 million at the camp in Poland. There were more killed at other camps, totalling around 4 million.

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