Auschwitz— From 1940 to 1945 it is estimated the Nazi party deported 1.3 million people to the concentration camp. In 1940 Auschwitz was initially used to house Polish political prisoners but the camps population would begin to change in 1942 as Jews, Roma, Soviets, and anyone the Nazi’s deemed inferior were deported to the camp from all across German occupied Europe. By the end of World War Two, 1.1 million Jews would be deported along with 200,000 other victims. The “others” consisted of 140,000–150,000 gentile Poles as well as many Soviet civilians, Lithuanians, Czechs, French, Yugoslavs, Germans, Austrians, and Italians. On January 27th, 1945, the Soviet Army would liberate the camp.
Back in 2016, hours after stepping through the daunting gates, my tour guide and I slowly weaved our way through the throng of two story red brick buildings that made up the camp and, prior to World War Two, had been used as Polish army barracks. Thin bare trees lined the perimeter and gravel crunched under the soles of our shoes with each step we took.
Throughout the day, I would run my freezing fingertips across rusted barbed wire fences that, at one time, would have sent fatal volts of electricity coursing through me.
I’d drag my heavy feet across the dirt floors of barracks that were purposefully replicated to resemble horse stalls, so starving and dying women could be packed in.
My bare palms would touch the infamous execution wall where innocent people were ruthlessly shot at whim. In truth, the “execution wall” was but a small makeshift barrier placed in front of a larger wall. This was done because the Nazis didn’t want to do damage to the original brick when they executed prisoners.
The only time I felt any respite from the terror of the day was when I silently stood at the gallows where Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Hoess was rightfully hanged for his war crimes. With a small wall shielding their Villa from the atrocities that took place Hoess, along with his wife and children, lived a picturesque life. So much in fact that his wife referred to their time at Auschwitz as “Paradise”. Hoess’ final view from those gallows would be of that Villa.
To be continued…
All photographs taken by Jennifer-Lynne Brack unless otherwise noted.