Things that I learnt from my Auschwitz and Birkenau tour guide

by - 10:30

After visiting Berlin a couple of months back and learning more about the history of the Nazis, it made me want to visit Krakow even more than I already did purely to learn more about what went on in the tragic period of 1939-1944. I received an A in Nazis at History A-Level so already had a fair bit of knowledge about what went on and the history, but definitely not as near as much as our tour guide who had been there for eleven years. A lot of the guides, most were Polish, had ancestors that had either died or miraculously survived Auschwitz and wanted to know about it, which is why they had chosen this as their professional career.

Not only was he full of knowledge, but he had met several camp survivors, those that had escaped and even some Nazis that worked at the camp during his lifetime, which is where he had gained additional information than what he found out from reading a book. I thought I would share with you some of the most interesting facts that he had told our little group that perhaps may not be that well known.

The Gates
I probably did know this, because it does ring a bell, but the iconic gates that are seen in the below photos actually mean 'work will set you free', which is ironic because not many people left Auschwitz after completing a certain amount of work, most were worked until death.

Just a Day
The shortest time for anyone to have stayed in the camp after being selected as fit and well enough to work was just one day- a 55 year old Polish man. Nobody knows the reason as to why the Nazis had chosen him as a man that was strong enough to work after having a physical examination, but then shot him just that day.

Someone lives in Auschwitz
This really did shock me- who would want to live in Auschwitz and look out to the devastating memories that the camp holds? Well, it turns out that a couple actually live in the old Auschwitz Commandment's house, Rudolph Hoess. I searched for interviews with those that lived in the house as soon as I left because I was so shocked by it. If you fancy reading about it, then click here for a little link. 

Wilhelm Brasse- The Photographer
This man was the official photographer who took most of the iconic photos of prisoners/camp mates and he in fact died five years ago at a good age of 94. Our tour guide went to one of his talks and apparently, even before he started speaking, Wilhelm, who was actually Polish and employed by the Nazis as the photographer, broke down in tears for a good ten minutes, apologised and left the building, obviously too distressed to talk about it. 

100 Successful Escapes
From what it sounds, it was very difficult to escape Auschwitz. They would have checks on entry, and then as they left, they would get counted to the sound of the beat of the orchestra and if someone didn't walk past on that beat, it was obvious that someone had gone missing. 900 people tried to escape the camp, and 100 actually managed to escape successfully- these were all Polish escapists too, who possibly had the help from friends and family outside the camp.

An ex-Polish Army Camp
Those of you that think the Nazis built Auschwitz are actually wrong. Prior to it being used to keep Jews, Gypsies, the disabled and Poles here, it was a Polish army camp that was obviously built by the Poles. 

Hungarian Jews were the Largest Deportation
The largest deportation of Jewish actually came from Hungary. The train would leave from Budapest and a total of 500,000 Hungarian Jewish citizens would get on here and arrive at Auschwitz.

Employed to Hammer Bones
There were night and day shifts for the Nazis and even for the camp mates, who were given some horrendous jobs. Bones actually don't burn away so someone would have to get rid of the bones themselves in the forest using a wooden hammer.
Franciszek Gajowniczek
This man was a Polish army sergeant whose life had been saved by priest Maximillian Kolbe who volunteered to die in his place. After hearing him cry out at the fate of his family after being told he was going to starve to death as another inmate had escaped, Kolbe offered to take his place. Franciszek then lived until 1995 and died at 93. Plus, he visited the St. Maximillian Kolbe Catholic Church in 1994 and told his translator that "so long as he has breath in his lungs, he would consider it his duty to tell people about the heroic act of love by Maximilian Kolbe."

Franciszek Gajowniczek

Disguised Trains
The trains and tracks were disguised to look like normal trains. They had a clock on the wall, stations with regular train signs and even fake timetables. This is how all inmates entered the camp. There would be one or two Nazis at each station who would tell the future inmates that everything was going to be fine and they were just being taken to 'The East'.

Jews Paid Their Own Fares to go to Auschwitz
Jews actually had to pay for their own train tickets to Auschwitz, Hitler's genocidal accountants revealed. I couldn't remember how much or what would happen if they didn't have enough money, but I was pretty shocked that they had to pay.

Ashes Were Found
There were a set of ashes found at the pond in Birkenau that are now displayed in an urn at Auschwitz. I think he said that they found a total of three of four people's ashes but of course, there was no way to distinguish whose they were. A mass grave has now been put down near the pond where they were found.

The urn with the remaining ashes

Although you can't see the pond, here is the mass grave for the ashes that were found here.

Whilst the experience was incredibly sad, it was a great way to learn about the horrible genocide that took place less than a year ago. I really would recommend visiting Auschwitz on a guided tour as the guides are all so full of knowledge that you are bound to learn something new, no matter how much studying you end up doing prior to visiting. There are so many pieces of evidence that suggest what happened all those years ago were 100% true and a true representation of what actually went on, that it makes it difficult to understand as to why anyone would suggest that the concentration camps were non-existent and the genocide of the Jews, Poles and disabled never really happened.

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