Robin's Adventures

Central and Eastern Europe
An Adventure Steeped in History

Jagiellonian University

Jagiellonian University, founded in 1364 and the oldest university in Poland, is still ranked as one of the top 500 universities in the world.

At the beginning of the German occupation of Poland in 1939, Nazis rounded up 184 professors from this university and sent them to Sachsenhausen concentration camp as part of their plan to get rid of intellectuals in areas they planned to make culturally German.

Auschwitz

Auschwitz, along with its neighbor camps of Birkenau and Monowitz, was used by Nazi Germany as a concentration and extermination camp during World War II.

During the war, more than one million people were killed at Auschwitz, which could hold up to 150,000 people at one time. Those not immediately gassed were starved and worked until they were no longer useful.

The work day, which was generally 12 hours long, often involved heavy labor in outdoor gravel pits, lumber yards, or construction sites. Ironically, the slogan above the entrance gate says \"work makes you free.\"

Accomodations

Each of the barracks at Auschwitz held as many as 500 people who were crammed 5 or 6 across into wooden sleeping compartments.

Each day there were two roll calls, one in the morning and one at night, and the prisoners had to stand in line outside, regardless of weather conditions, often for several hours, until everyone was accounted for.

Daily food intake was less than 700 calories and sanitary conditions were very poor.

Belongings

Jews brought to Auschwitz were told they were being relocated and they brought suitcases with some of their most treasured belongings in them. Upon arrival, the suitcases were confiscated and people deemed fit for work were given striped pants, a jacket, and clogs. A registration number was tattooed to their left forearm.

Most of the belongings confiscated from the Jews were sent back to Germany to be used there.

When Auschwitz was liberated in January of 1945, there were 43,000 pairs of shoes, 370,000 men's suits, 837,000 women's garments, and more than 15,000 pounds of human hair in the camp. Most of the hair prior to this had been bagged and sent to the Alex Zink company in Germany to be made into various products.

Gas Chambers

Zyklon B, a cyanide based pesticide, was the primary gas used to kill Jews at Nazi death camps. The first gassings were done in a basement, but it was not efficient for mass killings. The gassings were moved to a building modified to be a gas chamber and a crematorium which could accommodate 700 victims at once.

Zyklon B was dropped through small openings in the ceiling and within 20 minutes the victims were dead. According to the testimony of an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, the screams of the victims could be heard even through the thick walls of the gas chamber.

Arriving at Birkenau

When the Germans decided to step up their extermination of the Jews, Auschwitz was no longer efficient enough to handle the load.

Railroad tracks were built that brought the Jews directly into the camp at Birkenau.

New barracks and four new gas chambers were built at Birkenau. By mid year in 1944 the capacity of the gas chambers was 20,000 people per day.

Birkeneau

Birkeneau, also known as Auschwitz II, was built to handle up to 150,000 prisoners at one time.

Just before the camp was liberated, the Germans burned down most of the barracks and blew up the crematoriums in an attempt to hide the evidence of what they had done.

Most of what remains are the foundations and chimneys of the barracks and piles of rubble where the gas chambers stood.

Inside Birkeneau

According to Wikipedia, latrines were not built until two years after construction of the camp at Birkenau. The latrines were long cement blocks with 120 openings. There were inadequate facilities for the number of people that needed to use them.

Memorial at Birkenau

An international memorial was built in 1967 at Birkenau. The memorial sits right between the ruins of the two largest gas chambers at the camp.

The monument consists of a jumble of large stones that are intended to represent the victims of the holocaust. In front of the monument are a series of memorial plaques.

Each plaque has the same inscription, but in a different language so that all who come can understand its somber message.

Ornament Factory

Watch this video to see how a holiday ornament is made step-by-step. The photos were taken during our visit to the Calik Gallery in Krakow.