The journey to Auschwitz
Chalkmarks Auschwitz

YOU’D think we would’ve stepped off the bus in silence. But we didn’t. People were asking for the toilets. They were hungry because it was early and they hadn’t had breakfast. They wanted coffee.

This is how I arrived at Auschwitz.

Barely 80 years ago, others arrived. They stepped off cattle trains, not buses. There was no coffee or bathroom breaks. They were ordered to strip – believing they were to simply take a shower. Men, women and children were separated. Some were selected for hard labour.

Those sent here were Poles, Jews and Soviet prisoners of war. Their heads were shaved and their hair used to make socks and textiles.

In contrast we’re given ear pieces to listen along to.  The guide leads us under the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes You Free) sign towards the red-brick accommodation blocks.

It was June and the sun was shining: one woman said she hadn’t expected it to be so nice.

This isn’t Machu Picchu in Peru or the Acropolis in Greece where you wander around the ruins of an ancient civilisation and enjoy the scenery.

This former Polish army garrison that the SS took over in 1940 looks much as it did when it was renamed Auschwitz I and became the largest Nazi death camp.

This is where 1.1million people died in five years. Some died of hunger, others were beaten or froze to death. But most were gassed with Zyklon B, with the smoke billowing out of chimneys all day long.

Our group walks across to Birkenhau (Auschwitz II) to see the gas chambers and the children’s camp where their names remain, scratched into the walls. Very few survived.

The buildings were open to the public just after the war. It’s meant to be a reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust and a memorial to those who died.

Every year on the January 27th anniversary of liberation, survivors return.

I expect they arrive in silence. And are not demanding coffee and cake.

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