Scrapbookpages Blog

July 11, 2016

a devastating three-hour guided tour, the only way summer visitors are allowed in the camps.

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 8:08 am

The title of my blog post today is a quote from a recent news article: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/10/touring-auschwitz-the-week-after-elie-wiesel-s-death.html

The following quote is from the news article:

Begin quote

This week, just after the death of Eli Wiesel, I traveled with my family to Auschwitz, the largest crime scene in world history.

 Nowadays it’s a gruesome but essential tourist destination in Oswiecim, Poland, an hour and a half west of charming Krakow. A visit to Auschwitz (the German name for the area) includes a devastating three-hour guided tour, the only way summer visitors are allowed in the camps.

Wiesel’s classic book Night, which went from selling 1,000 copies when first published in the indifferent 1950s to more than 10 million today, offers a shattering supplement to the experience.

End quote

I am very glad that I took the opportunity to visit Auschwitz three times in the past, before it was over run by tourists.

The first time that I visited Auschwitz, in 1998, I was the only tourist there; I was accompanied by a private tour guide from New York City, who met me in the train station in Warsaw, and drove me from Warsaw to the camp on several successive days.

My tour guide showed me the “ash pits” where the ashes of the Jews had allegedly been thrown, after the Jews has been gassed to death. Before I went to Poland, and saw the evidence, I truly believed that the Jews had been gassed. The ash pits started me down the road to Denial.

The Germans were the first people to become concerned about the environment. Yet they threw ashes into a pond. I don’t think so.

A large ash pit at Auschwitz-Birkenau

My photo of a large ash pit at Auschwitz-Birkenau; the Sauna building is in the background

My photo of the ash pit near Krema III gas chamber

My photo of the dried up ash pit near the ruins of the Krema III gas chamber

Markers show the location of the ashes of Jews killed in gas chambers

My photo of markers at the location of ashes of Jews killed in gas chambers

My photo of markers at the ash pond near Krema II

My photo of markers at the ash pond near the ruins of the Krema II gas chamber

The building in the background of my photo, directly above, is the ruins of the Krema II gas chamber. The German people were the first to worry about the environment, yet they allegedly dumped ashes into ponds.

The following quote is also from the news article:

Begin quote

Our guide started by explaining that Auschwitz, where more than 1.1 million Jews—plus two hundred thousand Poles, gypsies, homosexuals and others—died between 1940 and 1945, is actually three large sites, now known as: Auschwitz I, the original camp commandeered from the Polish Army by the Nazis, where the mocking ARBEIT MACHT FREI (“Work makes you free”) sign greeted Polish inmates who were quickly worked to death; Auschwitz II, better known as Birkenau, the sprawling extermination camp built from scratch by inmates three kilometers away and named for the surrounding birch trees, where once stood scores of wooden barracks, four gas chambers and four crematoria; and Auschwitz III, also known as Monowitz-Buna, an I.G Farben rubber plant that employed slave labor and where another factory sits today.

Wiesel spent time in all three at various times in 1944 and 1945, with Auschwitz-Birkenau the first and worst. 

End quote

January 10, 2016

Letter written by Holocaust victim moments before she entered the gas chamber

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 9:38 am

There is a common mistaken perception that the German people are cruel and hateful.  After all, they did kill 6 million Jews — for no reason at all.

But in my personal experience, I have always found the German people to be extremely nice and always helpful.  To give you an idea, I have traveled extensively in Germany, in my old age, and I never once had to throw my suitcase up on a train.  The person behind me, man or woman, always grabbed my suitcase and threw it onto the train for me. And this was not a heavy suitcase; I could have handled it myself, in case the person behind me was not German.

This morning, I read a news story about a woman who was gassed at Auschwitz, but the Nazis were kind enough to allow her to write a letter to her family, just before she boarded a truck that would take her to the gas chamber.  That letter survived the war.

To me, this proves that the Germans are nice people, always considerate and helpful.

You can read the story of the letter in this news article:

http://www.wpbf.com/news/holocaust-letter-presented-to-us-holocaust-memorial-museum/37300788

Begin quote:

PALM BEACH, Fla. —Frank Grunwald is a Holocaust survivor. He was separated from his family when he was 12 years old.

Grunwald and his father survived. His older brother and his mother were never to be seen or heard from again.

Grunwald always wondered what happened to his mother, and it wasn’t until his father passed away years later that he discovered a letter that explained it all. He found a note written on July 11, 1944, hours before she [his mother] was killed in a gas chamber.

Grunwald wanted the letter to be preserved, so he is donating it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

At the Temple Emanu-El of Palm Beach on Wednesday night, museum officials accepted the letter and shared the story of Grunwald.

End quote from news article

In the video that is included with the news article, a woman explains that the Nazis allowed the Jews to “keep pencil and paper” in case the Red Cross made an inspection of the camp.

So it was only because of the Red Cross that this woman was able to write a letter while she was on the truck taking her to the gas chamber.

Wait a minute! Where was this “gas chamber” located?

Was it at the far end of the the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, over a mile from the entrance to the camp?

SaunaBldg.jpg

The building called “the central sauna” is shown in the photo above

Was this woman actually on a truck that was taking her to the Sauna for a shower.  The Sauna building, where the clothing was disinfected and incoming prisoners were given a shower, was at the far end of the camp, about a mile from the entrance gate into the camp.

This woman might have been confused about where the truck was taking her.  Her 12 year old daughter was not being taken on this same truck.  This should have alerted the woman to the possibility that she was not on her way to the gas chamber.  The daughter survived, although the alleged policy of the Nazis was to gas everyone under the age of 15.

August 31, 2010

Why was there a Sauna at Auschwitz?

Filed under: Health, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 8:18 am

This building at Auschwitz-Birkenau is called “the Sauna”

One of the remaining brick buildings at Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau, is called “the Sauna.”  I walked past this building on my first trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1998 and I wondered why the building was closed. The Sauna had been closed to tourists during all the years since the camp was liberated by the Soviet Union on January 27, 1945.

My tour guide told me that this beautiful brick building was where the Jews, who had been selected to work, took a shower and were given uniforms.   The building seemed too big for just a shower room, and I wondered why it was called “the Sauna.” I assumed that the name was a Nazi joke, and it was coined because the water in the shower was so hot that it created steam, like in a steam room, which we call a Sauna.

The Nazis had named this building “die zentrale Sauna.” (the central Sauna)  The CENTRAL Sauna?  How many Saunas did they have?  The Nazis were always making cruel, insensitive jokes — like putting up a sign that read “Arbeit Macht Frei” over the gate into a death camp where the only way out was “through the chimney.”

The central Sauna building is now open to tourists

When I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau again in 2005, the Sauna building was open to tourists and I finally learned why the building was called “die zentrale Sauna.” This was the largest building where the clothing of the prisoners was disinfected in steam chambers; there were other smaller disinfection buildings, which also used steam and hot air chambers, as well as Zyklon-B poison gas to disinfect the clothing.

The Sauna building is shaped like the capital letter I and the two sides of it are mirror images. The center part of the Sauna building has two long hallways. Steam chambers are located against the wall that divides the hallways; on each side of the wall are doors into the chambers.  The clothing was put in on one side, and after it was steamed, it was taken out on the other side.

Steam chambers in the Sauna building had doors on both sides of a wall

The steam chambers were manufactured by the Topf company, which also provided the crematory ovens at Birkenau and other Nazi concentration camps. At the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, the Soviet Union charged the Nazi war criminals with killing Jews with steam at the Treblinka death camp.  The clothing at the Theresienstadt ghetto was de-loused with steam.

The central Sauna at Birkenau is located directly across the road from where a group of wooden warehouse buildings used to stand. The prisoners called the warehouse section “Canada” because of all the riches that could be found there. This was where the clothing of the Jews was sorted and packed for shipment to Germany. During World War II, factories in Germany concentrated on making uniforms for the soldiers and civilian clothing was in short supply.

Steam chambers for clothing in the Sauna building

Back in the old days, when people used to go to a health spa, there was no steam room or Sauna.  Instead, people sat inside a steam chamber (sauna) with their head sticking out of the top of the chamber, which resembled those in the photo above, except they were square and made out of heavy cloth.

Close-up of a steam chamber for delousing clothes at Birkenau

The shower room, shown in the photo below, is located in the part of the building that is closest to the road. The prisoners were not given towels after their shower; they had to stand in the shower room, which had floor-to-ceiling windows, until they were dry.  Notice that the shower heads have been removed from the shower room.

Shower room in the Sauna building at Birkenau

Visitors must walk on a glass floor that has been installed in the Sauna building, so as to preserve the original concrete floors. A railing, which can be seen on the right-hand side in the photo above, prevents visitors from walking on the floor of the shower room. The photo on the wall in the background shows a group of women prisoners in the shower room. The shower room is surprisingly small, considering that this is such a huge building.

After their shower, the incoming women prisoners would be given clothing that had been taken from the victims who had arrived on a previous transport. This clothing had been deloused in the steam chambers in the building and most of the dresses had suffered damage from the hot steam. As a result, the women prisoners were typically dressed in tattered clothing.  Only a few of the women prisoners were given a uniform to wear.

The two photos below show original signs on the wall which can still be seen in the Sauna building. The first sign says “Desinfizierte Wäsche.” Before their shower, the prisoners had to first be submerged into a tub of disinfectant to kill any germs or lice on their bodies. The second sign says “Brausen” which means Showers in English. The yellow and black stripes alert visitors that the doorway is very low.

Sign reads Disinfection Wash in English

Sign reads “Showers” in English

The incoming prisoners entered the Sauna building through a door located at the northern end of the building, the same door that tourists now enter. Inside this door is a huge waiting room where the new prisoners were first registered and then told to undress. Then they were herded naked down the long hallway in the center of the building, where you can see the steam chambers on each side.  There are also a few hot air chambers.

Hot air chamber for de-lousing the clothing at Birkenau

At the end of the hallway was a small room where the women had all their body hair shaved off by male barbers while the SS men assigned to this building watched. This was an effort to control lice which hides in body hair. The barbers also shaved the men’s hair in this room, according to a sign in the building.

After having all their hair cut off, the prisoners proceeded into the next room, called the Untersuchungsraum. This was where they had to undergo a humiliating search of all their body cavities by an SS man. The search was for hidden diamonds or gold which some of the victims tried to smuggle into the camp, thinking that they could buy more favorable treatment. From this room, the prisoners proceeded to the disinfection tubs which were right next to the shower room.

After their shower, the victims then entered another hallway that was on the other side of the hallway where they had entered. At the end of this hallway was another large waiting room. On the north side of the waiting room was a little room where the women were given their prisoner clothing. On the south side of the waiting room was the room where the men received their new clothing. The prisoners then exited the building through two doors which were on the east side of the south wing of the building.

According to Elizabeth Mann, an Auschwitz survivor who spoke to visitors at the Museum of Tolerance in the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, when I visited, the female prisoners at Birkenau were given a shower periodically in the Sauna, but they never knew whether gas or water would come out. According to Ms. Mann, prisoners were sometimes gassed in the shower room of the Sauna.

The Sauna building now has a display of photos that were found in the suitcases of the incoming prisoners and saved by the Nazis.

Display of photos in the Sauna building

In the photo above, the photos on the display board and the windows on the right hand side, are reflected in the glass floor of the building.

All the photos in this post are copyrighted by scrapbookpages.com and are not in the public domain.