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Auschwitz - Poland

Toegangspoort met spoorlijk van Ausschwitz 2 - Birkenau
Auschwitz 2 - Birkenau

For a long time I have been reading books about Auschwitz, at least one every year. I think I even have a collector's item from Primo Levi, which unfortunately is in storage. In the Netherlands, films about the war are also regularly shown in the month of May. Somehow this history attracts me to read and to know that it should never happen again. Rudolf reads it less, but we have always said when we are in the 'neighbourhood' we want to see it. That opportunity was there now. Please note that you must book online to visit the camps! Do this well in advance. In high season you can only join a guide between 10am and 3pm. Before and after that you can visit the concentration camps without a guide. These places are quickly filled. For example, we visited Auschwitz I on the first day and the next day Auschwitz II-Birkenau, because there were few free places left. So book on time.

Short history

The concentration camps were set up from 1933, from the moment Hitler and his party came to power. Political opponents, German homosexuals, criminals, Jews and others were imprisoned here. After the outbreak of World War II, the Germans also set up concentration camps in occupied territories. Auschwitz is the name that the Germans gave it, the place is officially called Oswiecim. All Poles were driven out of their homes and stones from the houses were used to build the camps. Auschwitz was the camp which was ultimately the largest of all the camps organised by the Third Reich. From 1942 it was mainly the largest centre for mass destruction of the Jewish population. At its peak, the camp consisted of three main parts: 1 . Auschwitz I, with approximately 16000 prisoners 2. Auschwitz II – Birkenau, with approximately 90000 prisoners 3. Auschwitz III – Monowitz, with approximately 10000 prisoners next to the factories of IG Farbenindustrie. (no longer visible and/or visitable) Primo Levi was imprisoned here and survived this. In addition, there were dozens of subcamps where there were also 21,000 prisoners. Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet soldiers at the end of January 1945. Before that, 56,000 prisoners were forced to take a so-called Death March to other concentration camps. They left some 800 sick people behind, 500 of whom died before the Soviet soldiers reached the camp. Already in the second half of 1944, the Germans began destroying lists of deported Jews. Also in the last week the gas chambers were blown up and they set fire to the warehouses.

Toegangspoort Ausschwitz
Entrance gate Auschwitz - Work makes you free

Auschwitz I

This is the camp where 'Labour power frei' is above the gate. Either yes; labour liberated. Doing physical work helps you through captivity, according to Rudolf Höss the camp's first SS-Obersturmbahnfüher. The camp was built on the grounds of pre-war barracks of the Polish army. The buildings were expanded and modified and later more blocks were added.


Since the museums close at 7 pm and we were not allowed to enter until 5.30 pm, we have selected a number of blocks that we want to see. The first is block 21. Here is the Dutch exhibition about the Jewish community in the Netherlands during the war. It's a nice exhibition, that sounds strange the word beautiful doesn't actually fit into this environment. The photos are good to see, everything is openly decorated, the story is well told. You get a clear picture of the Netherlands during the war. There are many more blocks where country exhibitions can be seen, we have not visited them. Next to block 21 was the infirmary, but it was not accessible

Book of Names - Ausschwitz
Book of Names

IN block 27 you can see children's drawings. These were found in the various barracks and have drawn them here exactly (in full size). Unfortunately, there were also children. What overwhelms me is the 'Book of Names'. A book containing all the names of people who died in the camps. First of all, I think that each part contains all the names so that several people can see it at the same time. Then I think it's two books of 10 metres, one of 10 metres on both sides. To finally come to the conclusion that it is one large book of up to 20 metres long in A1 format. It ends on page 16079! In this way it is unimaginable at once to see / read how many people have died.

Last page Book of Names

Until mid-1943, all the people who entered were also photographed. These photos hang through all the barracks. All shaved, striped shirt on and no smile. Block 11 is the camp prison. Several prisoners were detained here on the ground floor. People suspected of resistance actions, camp refugees etc. were detained in the basement. In the basement, the Nazis made the first attempted mass murder with Zyklon B in September 1941. The cells in the basement look just like the cells in Albania in Shköder. Dark, no light, small, a place to lose yourself so to speak. The execution wall is also in the courtyard between blocks 10 and 11.

Execution wall - Auschwitz

Block 10 was the block of camp experiments. Experiments on women were conducted here to sterilise them. A gruesome block, I will spare you details. Not open to the public when we were there. Block 5 is also one such block that confronts you with the number of deaths. Here you can see glasses, Jewish scarves, clothes, mountains of shoes and also mountains of children's shoes. All taken from the people who entered the camp and also from those who went to the gas chambers. They had to give up everything. I found the huge large container with pots and pans most confrontational. Big and deep, exhibited in such a way that you realise how many there are. In addition, I also found the space with prostheses confrontational. What the people still had a bit of physical help was taken away from them. The Germans didn't care that this didn't allow you to walk or move.

Potten en pannen Ausschwitz
Seized (emaille) pots and pans

In the end you can also view the gas chamber, which has been partly reconstructed. However, it does give a well-epressive picture of the reality of the past. The camp now looks very neat, the buildings are equipped with exhibitions. Despite that, the group gallows, the roll call place, the gas chamber, but also the barbed wire on the outside are very confrontational. Now the various books I've read get a visual image with me. It's right as it's described in the books. Block 10 is near the Dutch block and the infirmary. Every time images from books come up and it's such an 'o, yes' moment. Precisely because we have already read so much, we didn't come out of it 'quietly', as you sometimes read. Unimaginable, impressive and very good that this has been preserved to show to the public.

Toegangspoort Ausschwitz II - Birkenau

Auschwitz II – Birkenau

We did come quietly from Birkenau. It was not until the autumn of 1941 that the Germans started building this camp. It is about 3.5 km from Auschwitz I. It was built for Soviet prisoners, but eventually became the largest centre of the destruction of Jews. There were also Roma, Sinti and political prisoners. In 1944, during a large increase in transports, there were about 90,000 prisoners in the camp. This camp is best known for the gate through which the trains drove in. The train stopped at the platform as the centre of the camp. Here is another old waggon, in which 60-80 people were transported. When you enter you will now see stone barracks on the left (for 700-1000 people) and there was finally the women's camp. In the middle of the railway tracks then run and on the right were the huge numbers of stone and wooden barracks (for 400-600 people). Only a few of these are now present, of the others only the chimneys can be seen. A desolate sight, immediately confrontational because there are many, many.

Old cattle waggon with which people were transported

At the end of the platform (straight ahead) are gas chamber II and III and at the rear right are gas chamber IV and V. At the old waggon you can go directly to the right. Here a road runs in the middle of the camps on the right. This was the road to gas chamber IV and V, the way directly to death. There are many trees near those gas chambers, where people had to wait until they entered the gas chambers. The photos of this are shocking.

Remainsellen gas chamber

The area to the back right of the camp is now so peaceful that the photos that are there come in hard. The ponds in which ash was scattered, the places where corpses were burned. There is still human ashes everywhere (it is said) and the gas chambers are clearly visible. Also in the back right is the camp 'Kanada', where people's belongings were kept and sorted (also recognisable from the books). None of the barracks have been preserved, the SS men set them on fire in January 1945. Near gas chamber IV and V is also the main bathhouse of the camp 'De Sauna'. The reception and registration building for the newcomers. Here personal belongings were taken away, hair cut off, disinfected and given a camp number tattooed and a striped prison suit. Sometimes a reselection was carried out and if you were found incapacitated for work you still had to go to the gas chamber. What is special is that we walked around almost alone in this part of the camp. There was only one group of Jewish visitors who were here too. The other visitors walk straight ahead from the platform waggon, turn left and then back to the exit via the barracks of the women's camp. You miss a lot, we think. I wrote this quietly from this. It is so big, so immense, so unimaginable that this was reality. It is the site of a small village, you walk 3 km to one end and 3 km across, so in terms of area it is already mega large. If you also consider that 4000-5000 people live in an average village in the Netherlands of this area, almost 100000 lived here. Just imagine that. Inhuman is the only word that comes to mind. Inhumane how the facilities were, the hygiene, the food they were given and the continuous fear of being punished in which they lived. Not to mention the selections, with such a selection there was a chance that you still had to go to the gas chamber.

Exit Birkenau (rear entrance gate)

That's why you come from here quietly. I can still write a lot about the campsite number 215 in Katowice, or the beautiful surroundings of Katowice, the buildings, but I don't do that now. It's good to leave it at that, let it sink in for a while, maybe read another book, before we stop standing still and continue travelling. Warm regards from Prague


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