The Germans changed the name to Auschwitz but the Polish still call it Oswiecim. We hire an English speaking guide to drive us to Auschwitz and Birkenau for the day and are predictably blown away by the scene. Bob remarks that the Poles have maintained the camp in an appropriate-simple yet austere-manner…a glimpse of history and reality without an artificial sentimentality…the scene itself supplies ample information. I find out that the Polish resistance that tried to get information to the outside world were the first to be killed. I find myself scanning the pictures and names on the walls for Mroczynski…my mother’s surname.
The Death Block, a prison within the prison, was where the SS shot thousands of prisoners, mostly Poles at the Wall of Death. The Cellars, the Crematorium and Gas Chambers, the Assembly Square where prisoners were made to wait in the freezing cold while they were counted out…reality setting in by layers….minute by minute…still not into my head. Later more and more camps, Auschwitz II, III, IV were built when the decision was made to exterminate the Jews. Birkenau is the largest…10 to 15 times the size of Auschwitz.
Bob reads the memoirs of Dr. Mengele’s assistant who carried out countless experiments, many of which were cutting edge at the time, but others left many dead and maimed…especially the children-twins and dwarfs.
The curator of the Jewish Museum in Krakow warns that memory is a difficult thing…and many books of recollection are subject to hyperbole…but among the best of the Holocaust writing is surviver Halina Birenbaum’s “Hope Is The Last To Die.” She is a writer, poet and translator, born in Warsaw in 1929 who spent the occupation in the Warsaw Ghetto, and in the concentration camps at Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck and Neustad-Glewe from where she was freed in 1945. She emigrated to Israel in 1947 and now lives in Hertzliya with her husband and two sons. Her works are sad but devoid of hated. What emerges from them, according to the book jacket, “are peace, kindness and belief in man.” And if she can achieve this….
Government officials said Wednesday that Poland and “historical truth” both had won a victory after the UN agreed to rename one of its world heritage sites “The Former Nazi German Concentration Camp at Auschwitz.” About 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, were put to death at the facility outside Oswiecim, Poland, in World War II. The German and Israeli governments also agreed to the name-change. Poland requested the change on grounds that the previous name, “Auschwitz Concentration Camp,” left a “misconception” that it was Polish-run.
The fortified walls, barbed wire, platforms, barracks, gallows, gas chambers and cremation ovens show the conditions within which the Nazi genocide took place in the former concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest in the Third Reich. According to historical investigations, 1.5 million people, among them a great number of Jews, were systematically starved, tortured and murdered in this camp, the symbol of humanity’s cruelty to its fellow human beings in the 20th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.