We were in luck with our guide, a well-educated 34 year-old Polish man, Jurek. The motto on the top of the entry gate at the Auschwitz extermination camp that says in German, ‘Work Brings you Freedom’. Of course, the German sign is a lie, as were the stories being told to the more than six million Jewish people rounded up for ‘resettlement in the East’. At the end of the War, when the Russian Communist Army took over this land that had already been through such suffering, to ‘liberate’ it from the Nazis, instead, they brought with them a total absence of freedom. What a dichotomy!
A point of history: The Master Plan of the Third Reich called for expansion of the boundaries of Germany. They envisaged a new civilisation of a superior Aryan race for the whole of Europe for one thousand years. The invasion of Poland was not simply for domination. In their view the Jews together with the Polish people had to be exterminated as they were considered to be sub-human. Some able people would be spared for a time to be the ‘slave workers’ in this vision of an expanded Germany.
One of the first steps was to remove the Leaders in Poland. This included the elite, intellectuals, and also the handicapped, clergy, and other minorities, who were all rounded up and killed. The remaining Polish people were then subjugated, oppressed and put to work like slaves.
Auschwitz was not just one camp – it had five satellite camps with the largest being at Birkenau. The shocking, grisly revelation was learning that 75-80% of the arrivals at the railway siding in Birkenau, Nazi Officers stood and made a ‘Selection’ – those who could work were separated into one group. Women, children and elderly, under the impression they were going to the showers, were marched to buildings in the nearby forest and told to undress. They were then herded into a large room, two thousand at a time, when Nazi officers would drop cyanide gas pellets in from above, until they died.
We walked along the same railway tracks, and inspected one carriage that has been restored as a monument by the Lowy family of Australia in memory of their father, Hugo Lowy. Hugo’s daughter, Edith, lived next to me in Sydney. I was very familiar with her stories of loss and suffering right up until she lost her mind.
I will not go further into the stories of the Extermination Camps. A few pictures will give you some idea of what else we witnessed.
Finally, Freedom!Click to see the photo album of our visit to Auschwitz / Birkenau Extermination Camps