When I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau for the first time in 1998, I told my Jewish tour guide that I would like to return some day to visit the Auschwitz II (Birkenau) camp again. She warned me not to come during the time of “The March of the Living” when Jewish teenagers from Israel would be there, marching with flags of Israel, from the Birkenau camp to Krakow, to honor their ancestors who were killed at Auschwitz. This woman was Jewish herself and she told me that it would be dangerous for a non-Jew to be anywhere near the Birkenau camp at that time.
My photo above shows the former SS headquarters, built in 1944 at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was converted into a Catholic church and a school after the camp was liberated.
The building, shown in the photos above, is located about a quarter of a mile north of the red brick gate house into the Birkenau camp, which is on this same road, but on the opposite side of the road. The road in the photo is used today by the Polish residents of the village of Birkenau.
In the photo above, the road in the foreground is inside the former Birkenau camp. A barrier gate prevents cars from driving into the camp, but tourists can walk into the camp on this road.
The road in the photo leads to the gas chambers in Krema IV and Krema V.
Before Krema IV and Krema V were put into operation in the summer of 1943, trucks brought the Jews from the Judenrampe, where they got off the trains, down this road to the “little red house” where the first gassing of the Jews allegedly took place.
The road shown in the foreground of the photo directly above goes past the section of the Birkenau camp that was called “Mexico”. The section called Mexico was never finished; before the Nazis abandoned the Birkenau camp in January 1945, they took down the wooden barracks buildings in the Mexico section and moved them to the Gross Rosen concentration camp.
The following quote is from the news article about the Ride for the Living:
The Russians’ arrival in Auschwitz on January 27, 1945 meant that Marcel Zielinski was free. But the 10-year-old’s mother and father had already departed the concentration camp on a forced march while children and sick prisoners were left behind. So with a group of children and teenagers, most older than him, Zielinski walked Krakow to search for his parents and his old home.
On Friday, the 80-year-old Zielinski embarked on the journey from Auschwitz to Krakow once again, this time on a bicycle and accompanied by his son and two granddaughters. Seventy years after he set out on foot from a camp set up to exterminate the Jews of Europe, he and about 85 others were taking part in the second annual Ride for the Living.
Organized by the Jewish Community Center of Krakow, the event is about remembering the darkest period of Jewish history in Poland, but also about celebrating the growth of a young community now flourishing in Krakow and across the country.