Near Krakow is the town of Oświęcim, infamously known for the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration and death camp complex run by the Nazis during World War II. This was the largest death camp run by the Nazis. The museum at the complex includes the bunk houses, gas chambers and cremation facilities, in addition to many shocking items “harvested” from victims, including hair (tainted with Zyklon-B), glasses, prosthetic limbs, clothes, suitcases, etc. Another shocking part of the site is the size. While many of the wooden structures at Auschwitz II-Birkenau are gone, the foundations and perimeter fencing of the massive site remains.
Auschwitz I was originally a brick barrack garrison for the Polish army, which the Nazis first used for imprisoning Polish intellectuals, POWs, resistance members and homosexuals. As the Nazis continued with their twisted plans, Jews and gypsies were added to the camp from all over Europe. The original brick camp was expanded because the gas chambers and crematoriums were working at full capacity.
After the Wannsee Conference, the Germans industrialized and systematically increased their extermination process. Poland contains most of the death camp sites, since the Nazis wanted to keep the reality of what they were doing hidden from the Germans, and Poland had one of the largest pre-war populations of Jewish people. In 1942, the Nazis built the Auschwitz II-Birkenau complex, which is much larger and consisted of rows and rows of wooden stable buildings. Trains delivered prisoners from all over Europe to the nefarious selection platform next to the train tracks. Here Nazi SS doctors separated men from the women and children, the ones who were not selected to go to the work camps were marched down a short road to the grass chambers and crematorium, visible from the selection platform. To eliminate panicking of their victims, the Nazis told them they would be taking showers and they should put their clothes on numbered hooks so they would know where to find them when they were done.
Those who were selected by the SS doctors for work usually did not live very long in the camp conditions. The monsters who selected which people would live and whom would die also conducted medical experiments on inmates of the camp. Josef Mengele (nicknamed the Angel of Death) is a notorious doctor of the camp who was particularity interested in twin children, and his role in the selection process enabled him to find subjects for his experiments, while waving thousands of others to their deaths in the gas chambers. After the war, he escaped to Argentina and died of natural causes in South America and, like 90% of the SS guards at the camp, never was held accountable for his crimes.
The Allies took aerial photos of the site, which reveal that just prior to the liberation of the camp, the Nazis were in the process of doubling the size of the camp. While the numbers of those killed (somewhere around one million) at Auschwitz and Birkenua are hard to comprehended, walking through the gas chamber and seeing the dark room punishment cells was an intense experience. Walking in the gas chamber and seeing the stained cement walls in the confined rooms where groups of 2,000 at a time were killed was horrific. Standing at the train tracks in side of a massive camp where so many people where killed was hard to imagine, but being in the chambers and cells made the terror more understandable.