Auschwitz memorial and museum - symbol of terror and holocaust - Krakow Direct
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Auschwitz memorial and museum – symbol of terror and holocaust

Auschwitz memorial and museum – symbol of terror and holocaust

A few words about the history of Auschwitz museum

Antisemitism has its roots in various superstitions. Unaware people saw the source of their unhappiness not in the way the state was governed, but in a particular national minority. The systematic murder and persecution led to the deaths of several million people and the destruction of the Jewish cultural heritage. The Holocaust changed the course of history. to this day it also remains a symbol of the greatest tragedy that man can inflict on man.

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The most terrible symbol of the genocide of that era is the Nazi concentration and extermination camp – Auschwitz. The center was created in 1942 in southern Poland, in the small town of Oświęcim. As early as 1941, tens of thousands of prisoners were diverted to the site. Among them were political enemies and people who threatened the authorities in any way. It turns out that among the prisoners there were more than 1.1 million women. Some of them are still known today. Read more here about women in Auschwitz.

The first exhibition at Auschwitz was opened in 1947. It covered part of the main camp. Eight years later, more blocks were opened to the public.

Some buildings have been dedicated to the memory of foreigners sent there to die. The most moving is undoubtedly the exhibition from the 1950s depicting the life of the prisoners.

In the 1990s, additional signage and plaques were added to the museum to make it easier for tourists to navigate around the memorial site.

Life in a concentration camp

There is no doubt that living conditions in Auschwitz were tragic for everyone. However, the grueling physical labor, lack of hygiene facilities and the prevailing violence by SS officers proved especially hard on sick and elderly

As soon as they arrived at Auschwitz, their selection would begin. Many of them were immediately directed to the gas chambers and crematoria. Both polish and Jews guessed what awaited them. Some renounced their children out of concern for their own survival. They deluded themselves into thinking that things would be better after passing through the “Arbeit macht frei” gate. The infamous slogan has its own intriguing history.

Auschwitz museum warning sign and electrified barbed-wire fence
Auschwitz museum warning sign and electrified barbed-wire fence

At the camp complex, the prisoners were forced to undress and thoroughly disinfected. For women, especially young women, the compulsion to expose themselves in front of a group of strangers was well beyond their comfort zone. During such practice, mainly crying and moaning could be heard. Shaving their heads, on the other hand, took away their last sense of femininity. The part where the baths were located is open to the public at the Auschwitz museum.

Basic needs and pregnancy in Auschwitz

The hunger prevailing in the Nazi camp was unbearable. People were starved for food and they could sacrifice a lot to get it. Holocaust survivors admit that after the meal they were even weaker than before it, because the portions contained almost no nutritional value. From 1942 to 1944, SS guards allowed food packages to be sent to prisoners. However, this did not apply to Jews. The rest in the barracks on the Birkenau grounds also left much to be desired. The number of people in one room was so large that one could only lie down on the side.

According to the regulations that prevailed in the Auschwitz concentration camp, pregnant women were not allowed to stay there. However, in practice, Nazi Germany did not respect this. Women who were sent to the camp could not expect better treatment. Pregnancy often ended in miscarriage. Newborns were killed by injection.

Medical experiments were also conducted in the death camp, during which a thousand prisoners suffered immense torment. The research was based primarily on genetic anomalies. Among other things, scientists who worked at Auschwitz tried to change the color of the iris of the eye. Several hundred women were sterilized there to prevent them from reproducing later. They were tested with injections, radiation and numerous surgeries that involved the risk of complications.

Death marches through the eyes of Auschwitz survivors

The evacuation of Auschwitz prisoners began in January 1945. The Nazis feared the arrival of the Red Army and tried to hide the evidence of mass murder at all costs. The death march was a very individual experience. Each prisoner faced his own weaknesses, overcame a long way, fell and got back up. People walked out of every part of the camp, including the largest – Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

auschwitz museum main gate
Auschwitz museum main gate and railroad car

The SS began evacuating people on a very cold morning. The columns were to consist only of strong young men who were able to walk several tens of kilometers in harsh weather conditions. In fact, however, the vast majority came forward for fear of being exterminated.

Walking 30 kilometers a day in battered shoes that offered no protection from the cold or snow proved impossible for many people. One survivor revealed years later that what kept her alive on the road was the thought of her husband and children, whom she hoped to see.

January 27, 1945 – the liberation of Auschwitz

For several days in 1945, the Germans persistently covered up the traces of Nazi extermination. They attempted to destroy camp documents. January 27 proved to be a turning point for Auschwitz prisoners. When Soviet forces approached the gates of the Auschwitz camp, they were greeted like heroes. Russian soldiers were, for the most part, completely shocked by the sight they found. Emaciated bodies, dire conditions and the ruins of the crematoria gave the impression of having been pulled out of nightmares.

About 7,000 prisoners lived to see the liberation of the largest Nazi concentration camp. Most of them required urgent medical attention. Children liberated from the camp were starved for human kindness and humane treatment. The behaviour of the Red Army soldiers varied. Some steadfastly walked through successive parts of the camp, while others shared their food with former prisoners. Even after liberation, liberated prisoners experienced many traumatic experiences. Many women, for example, were raped by members of the Soviet army.

Abandoned toys, suitcases and family heirlooms

The exhibitions at the Auschwitz museum immensely reflect the tragedy of the place. The sight of the victims’ clothes and suitcases proves shocking to tourists. Equal emotions are aroused by the shoes and the cut hair. Original photos from the camp are kept in the buildings, including those from the documentation of medical experiments. Most of them also depict the devastating effects of starvation and malnutrition-related diseases.

There is also no shortage of personal belongings of prisoners. Engagement rings, family jewelry or children’s toys are just some of the exhibits.

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Remembrance of the victims of Nazi crimes

Holocaust memorials are a tribute to all Nazi victims. The year 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. On this occasion, exhibitions dedicated to the concentration camps were displayed around the world. The main celebration, however, was held at the memorial site.

Today the camp is open for tours in organized groups. Auschwitz guides speak over a dozen languages, including English, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Swedish and Italian. At Krakówdirect we offer you transport by a modern minivan, in which the journey will pass extremely quickly. We will pick you up from the hotel and take you to the very gate of the museum. Do not hesitate and book your trip today!

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