Welcome: » Travelogue » GerPol 2011 » Krakow Day 7, Auschwitz II-Birkenau – Today is Nov. 10/11

Krakow Day 7, Auschwitz II-Birkenau – Today is Nov. 10/11

Scott and I are on our way to Auschwitz II–Birkenau to continue our exploration of this “Death Factory.”

I am plugged into Mars Hill Audio, issue 99, Paul A. Rahe, on “the heresy of Progressivism, which abandons vital convictions about human nature and political order and invites the advent of  ‘soft despotism’ “ – My attention is caught:

… that a system of self government relied on citizens who governed their passions.” ~ Ken Myers Prolog

We’re living in a period in which the dominant way of which seeing the world is what I would call is a Christian Heresy, the heresy is ‘Progressivism,’ and it substitutes for Salvation History an account of secular progress and it borrows from Christianity the notion of history having a kind of direction and then it transfers it into the secular world…” ~ Paul Rahe


We arrive.

Taxi from the train station to Auschwitz II–Birkenau


We arrive with only 3 hours to shoot.

I don’t know why we listen to guides or online tourism help – an hour and a half each  is suggested to view Auschwitz I and II. That is three hours total.

Not so.

It is worthy of two days. Two full days. Two full uneasy days.

There is a lot to take in and consider – take a guided group or walk it alone. Walk it alone first and then fill in the gaps. One needs to get lost here and slip into the terror.


Passing the entrance and proceeding to the barracks I am photographing bunks when a English speaking tour enters the barrack. I  catch the tour guide explaining how “…these barracks were horse stables built to hold 40 horses and in them were packed 400 people expected to do hard labor. Awakened at 4:15 am and given some semblance of black oily coffee, no sugar no milk – they were marched to the fields to do hard labor for 14 hours regardless of the weather. For lunch they were given to eat what passed as a soup of watery rotted vegetables – for dinner a piece of dried stale sometimes moldy bread which was eaten for lack of food, and not saved for fear of being stolen by another prisoner. Then, they would pack into their bunks – 4 or more to a bunk, smelling foul, their clothes stained in bodily fluids, dysentery, illness – rats, insects… Awakened at 4:15 am… At only 1700 calories a day or less,  it wasn’t long before a 190 pound man would weigh 90 pounds, if they lived that long. Most men and women died in the fields or from illness, or shot because they no longer could work.”

This is difficult to fathom.


It is difficult to fathom these conditions and add to that the sub freezing weather and scant dirty clothes offering no protection, the only insulation is the body heat of skin and bones on either side of you – and the fear and the anxiety of when your death will arrive and the abandonment: wondering where God is amidst the cries and suffering and the gnashing of teeth. Demoralized. If you had children, they were murdered on arrival. One major reason to live and fight, eliminated ruthlessly.

It is estimated the camp holds 400,000 people at any given time. That is almost 17 times the population of Laguna Beach where I used to live. It is more than the population of Miami.

Estimated between 1.2 and 4 million, the total of exterminated lives here at this camp alone far exceeds the entire city of Philadelphia… everyone in Phili -  incinerated like garbage.

Imagine the smoke – “gone through the chimneys” of five crematoriums –  men, women, children.


The light is such that I need to get into the center of the camp where destroyed barracks chimneys stand as solemn yet impotent talisman, a quiet reminder only that something took place here once.


I need to get into the ruins. The burned down barracks are surrounded by once electrified barbed wire, and light being fleeting as it is, and not knowing if there is a proper gate, I opt to crawl under the barbed wire fence. There is a spot where this is possible.  I take off my cameras and back pack and crawl under. But I am too close to the fence when I raise my arms to don my backpack and catch my arm on the barbed wire. My Patagonia sweater bleeds fine down. Damn impatience of mine. Still, the light is good and it is fleeting.

Far worse was suffered here. I take off my down sweater and pack it in my camera pack to save the down – I’ll fix it later… I gear up and move out.


I keep shooting in the interior of ruins in the waning afternoon light. It is beautiful and that disagrees with the imagined smell of rotting bodies and moaning hearts toward which I am wrestling my focus. To think that the shootings, the gassing and burning of bodies took place even on beautiful sunny days: that evil doesn’t happen only in the dark voids or around wicked corners.

Scattered clouds of white in a soft blue sky, the fields are for children running and playing games. The stuff here is not suppose to happen.

One survivor spoke from memory, quoted in an article, “Grass? There was no grass. If there had been grass, we would have eaten it.”


After forty minutes of walking up and down, shooting piles of bricks stacked like the bodies that were bulldozed into the mass grave pits, I find my self ready to move on, but I am stuck within a barbed wire perimeter and feel trapped, looking for an exit before the light is gone. The camp is vast and walking distances eat up precious minutes of daylight. The sun will be gone within the hour. There is so much I have not seen here yet. The perimeter fence is several kilometers. I am beginning to feel an anxiety of being trapped in here.


I do finally find a section where the fence had been toppled and I can get out. I am walking toward a building.

Until one is here, the scale of this industrial extermination complex is not fully realized. And even now, I can only imagine the scale alone… it is nothing – nothing – compared to truly having been caught here and condemned without hope. Even now the sense of being here then eludes me: the smells, the sounds, the air thick with fear of dying here, the humiliation and dehumanization by the Nazis present and always threatening, the knowledge of the experiments, desperation to escape… my imagination is not enough to truly grasp this horror.


My composure is kept most of the day despite the anxiety building inside me slowly like a tension cord being wound in the pit of my stomach. My heart is pounding harder.

At the area called The Sauna, where things are sanitized, there is a memorial with photos of people taken from their personal possessions as they were indoctrinated into this death factory.


One of the women in a series of three photos, looks like my mother. My mother could have died here. I begin to feel sick about this thinking of the relation.

My Mom, here.

She could have died here if she was in Europe at that time.

I remember her withered body in the hospital before she died, the fear in her eyes when she realized she wasn’t going to make it out of the hospital, that she was going to die here, my sister and I beside her, she did not want to leave our “beautiful faces.”

And I remember the hatred she expressed toward the Nazis when she was living, and the Germans who supported what the Nazis were doing. She would tell me we had great relatives who died in ‘camps’.


I walk past the sanitation units for sanitizing the clothes of both those selected for death and those selected to work – where the people were registered, stripped of their belongings, deloused, men and women shaved of all bodily hair as a form of group identification and personally de-identified before being branded a number on the forearms. Many cut and injured in the barbaric careless shavings.


The sanitized clothes and personal belongings were sold or given to Germans who could use them. What freak fashion is this?

I leave the building and make my way to the Crematoriums. They have all been destroyed – the only one left standing is in Auschwitz I – it was too small to burn the rapidly growing remains of dead and sometimes partially living people that were gassed or shot, or died of illness or exhaustion and malnutrition. The crematoriums were built in Birkenau to expedite elimination of the exterminated people.

I am at the razed Crematorium V, when all hell breaks loose inside me.


Though I am not suppose to be, I have stepped inside what is left of Krema V – I am shooting my camera in a frenzy, shouting repeatedly, “FUCK YOU NAZIS” and moan yelling into the woods– the scale of Birkenau overtakes me at this spot. I restrain myself from kicking over the few standing bricks left here… this is not mine to smash, though I feel the urge – it must stand as a testimony for others and for us all. In my mind, however, I show it no respect.



I continue prayers for mercy on those murdered and tortured, brutally treated and exterminated – I opt not to continue cursing the Nazis but rather pray for the victims of this atrocity and madness. I leave the Nazi’s to God’s judgment – my heart is for those who suffered at stained Nazi hands… and that may very well be all of us in lesser degrees who suffer too, as the anguish and shame from Nazi actions continues today in our memory, in our history, in our references, as do their perverted ideas and the Satanic spirit behind them. It is the worst of humanity. We are all touched by it and should be afraid.  We will see this again. Lord have mercy on us all.




I am running on a thick carpet of leaves past guard towers through the dimly lit forest of Birkenau, hearing the yellowed leaves crunching below my feet and thinking I need to get out of here – imagining I might be shot any moment from a guard tower rifle. The running dissipates my emotion. But I am haunted. Even as I remember and write this I am suppressing the tears.


I meet up with Scott at the train tracks.

We are both shocked by the scale of Birkenau.

It is dark now… we keep trying to shoot photos but it is too dark and we have to hoof it back to the local train station to make our train to Krakow.


After witnessing this, I choose all the more to celebrate any day God give’s us that is not a day of oppression and murder. To live in celebration for today, for tomorrow might have troubles of its own, and at that time I will act accordingly.


Scott has a breakthrough for his art and today-we discuss it on the train back to Karkow. Today I witness the birth of “Patternism,” a term I like for Scott’s realized concept. The pressure is on, my friend, the pressure is on.

We had planned on attending a jazz show tonight and decide to embrace the evening as a grace note.

Tobias Meinhart show at the Acoustic Jazz club. Intermission the band sits and chats with me and Scott. Quite cool.


Listen to Tobias on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/tobiasmeinhart

Bought his album: http://www.djshop.de/CD-meinhart,tobias-pursuit-of-happiness/ex/s~details,u~1726191,p1~cd/xe/details.html

The Pianist is only 21 and man…. “watch out Mehldau.”

Soaking in every good moment God allows.

Birkenau is under my skin – I doubt I will ever be the same. When I think of it I am sickened and feel my dander rise.



Zyklon B was used in the Nazi death camps initially for delousing to control typhus. The chemical used in the gas chambers was deliberately made without the warning odorant.
In January or February 1940, 250 Gypsy children from Brno in the Buchenwald concentration camp were used as guinea pigs for testing the Zyklon B gas.[5] On September 3, 1941, 600 Soviet prisoners of war and 250 sick Polish prisoners were gassed with Zyklon B at Auschwitz camp I; this was the first experiment with the gas at Auschwitz. The experiments lasted more than 20 hours.
According to Rudolf Höß, commandant of Auschwitz, bunker 1 held 800 people, and bunker 2 held 1,200. Once the chamber was full, the doors were screwed shut and solid pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the chambers through vents in the side walls, releasing a toxic gas. Those inside died within 20 minutes; the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was standing to a gas vent, according to Höß, who estimated that about one third of the victims died immediately. Joann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that: “Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives.” When they were removed, if the chamber had been very congested, as they often were, the victims were found half-squatting, their skin colored pink with red and green spots, some foaming at the mouth or bleeding from the ears, even scratch marks in concrete walls have been found in Auschwitz.
From: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_does_Zyklon_B_gas_affect_people#ixzz1dOdaCY9f


Personal Note : repair or replace 2x teleconverter:

The only casualty of the day besides the small tear of my down sweater was my Canon 2x teleconverter. Outside the Sauna, strapped across my shoulder, I feel my 5D2 become lighter as the 70-200 L lens attached to a 2x converter disengages from the lens mount and I hear the lens hit the hard rocks of the road I am on. This is the third time the 2x converter has disengaged from my camera mount and I am disappointment at this bad design by Canon. This time the converter is damaged. It is ruined and unusable for the rest of my assignment.  I can only think another 300 dollars or repair costs that I will have to make up for – or $500 if I opt to update to the III version, but I haven’t that kind of cash lying around.

Miraculously the 70-200 is spared damage except for a minor nick on the lens mount. For that I am thankful. But, damn Canon – this time the disengagement was costly.

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