Today, after breakfast at the hostel, I headed off at 11:45am with a tour group to spend the day doing a tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau. I joined a french guy, Mohamed, who was from the same hostel as I. It took just over an hour by bus to get to Oświęcim which the germans called Auschwitz. There was a bunch of senior girl guides on the bus who we ended up chatting to for most of the way. We arrived and then had to wait for about 45 minutes while our tour guide waited for several more bus loads. Thankfully when we went inside and got our head sets we were sorted into smaller groups for offical Aushwitz guides. We set the channel on our headsets to 6 and were able to hear the guide who had a microphone without her having to raise her voice at all. As the tour itself took about 3 hours it is pretty hard to cover the day with any kind accuracy. We went through the gates under the signs "Arbeit Macht Frei" meaning "work will make you free".
The origins of the camp and how it came to be were explained to us. If I remember correctly the camp was originally used Polish army artillery barracks and then turned into a concentration camp after the germans invaded as it was very easy to hide and all the buildings were already there. We were then taken into a series of barracks which showed the how the Jews, gypsies and some polish were brought in by rail carrages, processed etc. Some had spent 8 to 10 days in the carriages without food or drink. They were ordered off the trans and sorted. All luggage was to be left behind and some went to the gas chambers imediately and some went to the labour camp. We were shown how the jews bellongings were processed with stock piles of everything setup in storehouses including their hair which was shaved off so it could be used for textiles. The next barracks showed the toilets, and bedding situation and the photos of the first victims to be brought and photographed. There was one persons photo who stood out for me above all the rest which had a huge smile on his face. Most died or were executed within a year. A lot didn't make it past 3 or 4 weeks. We moved on to the last barrack on that road to be shown where the men and women sentenced to death by the SS were led out through a door to a wall where they shot. Inside that barracks was where the SS commander/judge made his rulings as to whether people would be shot, starved to death, suffocated or other sentences. There was another room which had boxes in it which were just big enough for 4 people to stand up in. They would be forced to work all day, then stand all night in this box which they had to crawl into and then work again all day with the possibilty of this going on for up to 10 days. We were led to the spot where the jews were grouped and roll called every morning and evening and where hangings were carried out. And then finally we were led to and through the gas chamber were a hugh amount of jews were killed.
This was the end of our tour of Auschwitz I, so after a 20 minute break we jumped onto a shuttle bus and headed over to Birkenua which was also known as Auschwitz II(the final solution). It was many many times bigger then Auschwitz I. Once again we were shown through the barracks and toilet blocks. They were only allowed to go to the toilet twice a day, once before work and once after with many hurrying others up so they could go. They had barracks enough to hold 90,000 people which they crammed in 200,000. The beds in the barracks were 3 high and cramed next to each other. Each bed heald 10 jews. The top bunk was generally wet from the leaky roof and the bottom bunk was where you were attacked by the ferocous rats which woul deat living and dead people.
There were i believe 4 gas chambers. They were led into the changing rooms where they all had to strip and then crammed into the gas chamber which was disguised as a shower room complete with dummy shower heads. It took an hour to get 2000 people into one and then they closed the doors. An SS officer wearing a mask would open and drop the contents of several cans of Zyklon B which was a granulated substance down the air vents. As soon as it mixed with oxygen it reacted and became cyanide gas. It took 15 minutes to end the lives of those 2000 souls. They were then incinerated in the the ovens by other jews who had this job. These jews also had to strip any remaining valubles from the corpses. The four gas chambers were destroyed by the germans who left just before the allies arrived. over 20,000 jews could be gassed and incinerated in a day. After walking around the remains of a couple of the gas chambers it was time to head back to Krakow.
I went for a wander around the town square and listened to a few pepole who were busking. There was one guitarist who could really play! Later in the evening I caught up with Mohamed for a drink in the town square. We headed off to a italian restaurant for dinner where we had a selection of breads, pasta and wine for only 38 sloty which equates to about CAD$15.
After taking a few shots of Krakow after dark I head back to the hostel for a much desired sleep.