Glenn Beck is planning a trip to Auschwitz in the near future. I assume that his trip will be a big production with video cameras following his every step; the trip will probably be made into a documentary. I assume that he will be guided by Holocaust experts who will direct the trip. I don’t know if he will have any input himself, but if he does, I have some suggestions.
First of all, there are TWO Auschwitz camps: the main camp and the Birkenau camp. [The third Auschwitz camp, Monowitz, is no longer open to tourists because the factories there are still being used.] I’m not sure if Glenn Beck knows that. The main camp has the exhibits of hair and shoes and the famous black wall. When I visited Auschwitz in 1998, the main camp was the only part that was shown on the guided tours. I had to hire a separate guide to take me to the Birkenau camp because the regular guide told me that there was nothing to see at Birkenau.
I learned later that Raul Hilberg, who wrote The Destruction of the European Jews, had seen only the Auschwitz main camp on a 1/2 day tour before he published his famous book in 1961; he wrote a two-volume history of the Holocaust without ever seeing the Birkenau camp where the Jews were gassed.
When any well-known person makes a pilgrimage to Auschwitz, the usual procedure is to place flowers at the famous “black wall.” This will be Glenn Beck’s first photo opportunity. However, the black wall was the place where political prisoners were executed after a short court trial that was held in the building shown on the right in the first photo above. Only a few Jews were executed at this wall. Glenn Beck should save the flower ceremony for Birkenau where the Jews were gassed. You can read more about the black wall here on my web site.
The photo above shows the International Monument, which is located between the ruins of Krema II and Krema III, the two largest gas chambers. You can read about the Monument here.
The Birkenau camp is huge and it is a long walk to the Monument, which is at the western end of the camp. I would seriously suggest that Glenn Beck and his entourage take a couple of golf carts to ride around Birkenau, which is a 425 acre site.
The first stop at Birkenau should be the gate house, where visitors can climb up into the tower and look out over the vastness of the camp. To give you an idea of the size of the camp: you literally can’t see from one end of it to the other. To see everything at Birkenau requires a 5 mile hike. Not that Glenn Beck can’t walk that far, but if he is there for only one day, he will have to conserve time in order to see everything.
I’m sure that Glenn Beck has read Night by Elie Wiesel, but if he hasn’t, he will undoubtedly read it in preparation for his trip. The photo below shows the road on which Elie and his father saw the two burning pits where Jews were being burned alive when he arrived at Birkenau. The photo at the entrance to the road is a famous photo from the Auschwitz Album; this photo, which was taken by the Nazis themselves, shows a woman and two children walking to the gas chamber.
The road shown in the photo above goes through the center of the Birkenau camp, from south to north. When the death camp was in operation, there was another road midway along this road, which went west to the gas chambers in Krema IV and Krema V and also to the Sauna, where the prisoners who had been selected to work, took a shower. The photo below shows the other side of this intersection where the entrance to the women’s camp is located. There are other ways to get to the women’s camp, and tours do not go through this gate.
The buildings where the clothes were deloused are located in the section shown in the photo above. I was told that these buildings were “off limits” but I went through this gate anyway and photographed one of the disinfection buildings which you can see here.
The Sauna is not to be missed. That’s why I am seriously suggesting that Glenn Beck take a golf cart to get there. Most tour groups don’t go to the Sauna because it is such a long walk. You can see photos of the Sauna building here.
Glenn Beck mentioned on his show last Thursday that he had seen the movie Schindler’s List. The building shown in the photo above is where the Jewish women on the List were taken when they were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau; there is a very dramatic scene as they wait for the gas to come out of the shower heads; then they are overjoyed when water comes out instead. After their shower, the women exit the building and look across the road where the Krema IV and Krema V gas chambers were located. This scene in the movie is hard to understand because Jews are shown walking down the steps into the gas chamber, but both Krema IV and Krema V were above ground. It was Krema II and Krema III that had stairs down into underground rooms.
On the road to the Sauna, you will be some large round brick structures, which are shown in the photo above. This is the water treatment plant. Birkenau is located on very wet ground and the water was not fit to drink; the water had to be purified in these large tanks.
Behind the Sauna is the ruins of the “little white house” where Jews were gassed while the gas chambers were being built in Krema II and Krema III. You can read about “the little white house” here.
The Birkenau camp was in the process of being expanded when it had to be abandoned because the soldiers of the Soviet Union were in the area. The photo below shows the new section, called Mexico, which was never completed.
Notice the houses in the background. These are new houses that were built after the war. There were seven small villages that were torn down to build the Birkenau camp. Birkenau is like a bog garden, which is the name for a place that is always wet and plants that love water grow there. The photo above shows the spot where there was a barrack and the location is now filled with standing water. This means that Birkenau was a very unhealthy place. (What was Himmler thinking when he chose this place for a camp!)
The big attraction at Birkenau is the ruins of the two largest gas chambers, Krema II on the left side of the main road through the camp and Krema III on the right side. These two buildings were mirror images.
The photo above shows the ruins of the Krema II gas chamber with the International Monument in the background. I took this photo in 2005; I’m not sure, but I think that this place is now fenced off and guarded to keep people from climbing down into the very room where the Jews were gassed. You can read about Krema II here.
If Glenn Beck and his entourage go all the way around the Birkenau camp, they will return to the entrance on the road shown in the photo below. This road was heavily traveled by local farmers when the Birkenau camp was in operation as a death camp. The small hole in the foreground of the photo is a one-man air raid shelter. The Nazis expected that Auschwitz might be bombed. There was a lot of talk about bombing the camp to destroy the gas chambers, but the Allies decided against it. The Auschwitz III camp, aka Monowitz, was bombed instead because there were factories there.