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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Four: Oswiecim

Auschwitz II-Birkenau 
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At Auschwitz II-Birkenau the railway became a murder weapon. From where I'm standing tens of thousands were taken straight to the gas chambers.
Michael Palin - New EuropeInside the prison blocks is a series of displays that I find more affecting than any words. Behind long panes of glass are gathered the possessions of those who perished here. I'm grateful to have been here early enough to film the camp before the public come through, for there is something deeply affecting as I walk on through the silent rooms to be confronted in one by a pile of human hair, 80 feet long and 10 feet deep, some of the seven tons shorn from victims and discovered by the Soviet troops who liberated Auschwitz in 1945; in another by the almost unbearable sight of a sea of suitcases in which the inmates had kept their most prized possessions. Battered, squeezed, crushed and tossed onto a pile, bearing the names of their owners, printed, painted or inked on the outside.

'Hann, Irene'... 'Coernitz, Francesca'... 'Lise Morgenstern'... 'Dr Rosenfeldt'. One abandoned suitcase has a name and birth date on it. 'L. Godootkirk, 11.10.05'. A little younger than my mother.

Equally poignant are the piles of children's shoes. One is of red leather, which stands out from the rest and must have been bought and worn with pride. Discarded in death, it lies on the pile, its strap open as if it had just been thrown off at the end of a busy day.

By the car park for the museum is a low building with grass up its side and a brick chimney sticking out of it. This was the armoury of the barracks, converted by the SS into the first gas chamber at Auschwitz. I walk into it. It's a long low dark space, maybe 150 feet long, 20 feet wide and 10 feet high. The dimensions of a small nightclub. In the next-door room are two of the three furnaces where those who had been gassed could be instantly cremated. Three hundred and fifty bodies could be dealt with daily. By late 1941 it was not nearly enough.

In order to cope with the demands of the Final Solution, the decision was taken to build another, much larger, camp specifically geared to extermination.
Auschwitz II-Birkenau 
click to enlarge 
file size
At Auschwitz II-Birkenau the railway became a murder weapon. Flowers on the line with the gatehouse in the background.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Four: Oswiecim
  • Country/sea: Poland
  • Place: Oświęcim
  • Book page no: 245

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