Within the Auschwitz Camp complex, Birkenau was the largest of the camps. It’s main function was as a centre to exterminate the Jews that were brought there. The majority—probably about 90%—of the victims of Auschwitz Concentration Camp died in Birkenau.
“Immediately after getting off the train, the Jews were ordered to line up into two columns, one of women and the other of men. Each column was subjected to ‘selections‘ by SS doctors and medical orderlies, there and then on the ramp: the strong and the healthy were separated from the old, the sick, and children.”People selected as fit for work were sent to the camp. The others, usually 70 to 75% of a transport, were sent to be murdered in the gas chambers.”“Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazi “Final Solution to the Jewish question”. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe, where they were killed with the pesticide Zyklon B. At least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz, around 90 percent of them Jewish; approximately 1 in 6 Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp.” Read more here.
Belongings were left in train carriages or on the ramp, where other prisoners took them to ‘Canada’, a warehouse sorting facility so-called by the prisoners as they viewed Canada as a country that symbolised wealth.Prisoners lived in brick and wooden barracks. Initially designed to hold 40 prisoners, very often more than 700 would be placed in a barrack. Prisoners would scramble to the top bunks to protect themselves from illness and disease.Barracks were left as ruins most with only chimneys and stoves remaining.
November 25, 1944: As Soviet forces continue to approach, SS chief Heinrich Himmler orders the destruction of the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers and crematoria. During this SS attempt to destroy the evidence of mass killings, prisoners were forced to dismantle and dynamite the structures.
“To the memory of the man, women and children who fell victim to the Nazi genocide. Here lie their ashes. May their souls rest in peace.”
A memorial, first opened in 1967, sits at Auschwitz II – Birkenau, surrounded by plaques in the ground.Each plaque represents a nationality or ethnic group that was persecuted at Auschwitz: Polish, English, Bulgarian, Gypsy, Czech, Danish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, Flemish, Serbo-Croatian, German, Norwegian, Russian, Romanian, Hungarian and Italian.
Advisable is a booked tour, with incredibly informative guides (educators) that take you round both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau as half a day tour, picking you up and dropping you off at your hotel and providing transport between the two camps. All entry costs are included.
I booked with krakowdiscovery.com and thought it was excellent. We watched a video on the way there (around an hour from Krakow), stopped off for food and the driver was friendly – being able to answer most of our questions. We had to leave most of our belongings in the taxi as you’re limited to what you can take into the museum – check the website below for visitor requirements.