Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners, built and operated by the Third Reich, in May 1940 and the first exterminations began in September 1941. Prisoners of Auschwitz I were forced to build roads and houses. During the war, 7,000 German SS members staffed the camp, 15% of whom were later convicted of War Crimes. Camp Commandant Rudolf Hess was hanged outside his house in the camp, immediately adjacent to the crematorium in 1947 after a lengthy trial. His wife claimed to have not known what was going on, just 20 metres from where she was living.
And so we enter through the famous gates, displaying the sign 'Arbeit macht frei' (work brings freedom)
There was double-electrified barbed wire fencing surrounding the camp. Only 144 prisoners successfully escaped the camp. Anyone caught escaping would be killed immediately.
Prisoner's days began at 4.30am with morning roll call, which could last for up to 4 hours. Even the dead had to attend, propped up by the living. Conditions were terrible, with prisoners having to survive on a watery soup made from rotting vegetables and the odd scrap of stale bread. Indeed, malnutrition and starvation were as bigger killers as the executions.
Beds were shared by up to 20 prisoners, in triple bunks, of which the mattresses were 'crawling' with lice, insects and rats were abundant. Winter temperatures were harsh, falling to around -25 degrees, whilst summer temperatures soared to 40 plus degrees. Prisoners were forced to wear stripy uniforms which offered little protection to the elements.
Once the 'home' of terrified prisoners, now a place where tourists photograph and reflect on the atrocities carried out there.
One of the many watchtowers . .
There was a prison jail, complete with "standing cells" in the basement of Block 11, where prisoners who were deemed to have worked "too slowly" had to spend 12 hours overnight in a 1 yard square concrete stall with 3 other prisoners. There was only a 2" opening for air, so that prisoners wouldn't suffocate. There was only enough room for prisoners to stand, hence the name. Therefore, the next day, the prisoners would be so exhausted that they would then work even slower. This would lead to their death, one way or another.
Next to this block is the Death Wall, where individual prisoners were executed by firing squad, the youngest of whom was a 9 year old girl. Now there are flowers and candles laid there, in remembrance of those who were brutally executed here.
This is some of the original wallpaper inside the officer's barracks.
Just some of the shoes left by prisoners on arrival . . . apologies for photo quality of the next few photos - taken with iphone.
There was also a huge mountain of human hair which had been cut off the corpses of prisoners. Gold from teeth was extracted, melted into ingots and sent to German banks. Ironically, prisoners were thought to be sub-human, but their teeth, hair and gold fillings were deemed fit for use by the Nazis.
Just 7 of these cannisters of the pesticide Zyklon could kill 2,000 prisoners within 25 minutes .
Some of the thousands of suitcases, neatly labelled with names and dates of birth . . . Prisoners were allowed to bring 50k.g. of belongings with them. Most of these belonging were sold on . . .
"Warning - high voltage"
Our last port of call on the tour was to the only remaining Gas Chamber at Auschwitz. I wouldn't photograph the inside. I just couldn't. Stepping inside, the temperature seemed to drop by several degrees, and the atmosphere inside just wasn't 'right'. It was the eeriest place I have ever been in and I came right out as quickly as possible.
It was a very moving place to visit. Go, if you can. Some of these people are still alive. It really is unbelievable.