Thursday, January 28th
We left the hotel this morning and went back to Auschwitz II-Birkenau to see some of the things we missed when we were there on Monday and were unable to see because of all the security yesterday. First we went into one of the huge latrine buildings. The toilets were just one huge concrete slab with holes cut into it, and there was no drainage system. Imagine the stench. Apparently, the smell was so horrible that the SS guards refused to enter the building. This made it the ideal location for the camp’s black market, as well as apparently a good place to have sex (yes, people had sex in the latrines at Auschwitz). We were also told, that perhaps counter-intuitively, that cleaning the latrines was one of the most sought-after jobs in the camp. This seems odd, but remember that the stench was so bad that the SS would not go in there, so the prisoners had some security in that sense. Also, by the time they came out they smelled so bad that the SS guards didn’t want to get too close to them either. This means they were abused less than other prisoners as well.
After the latrine, we entered one of the wooden barracks that is still standing, I think it may just be a reproduction though, I’m not entirely sure. Anyway, we visited this barrack because it was much like the barrack Eva had been assigned to (which is no longer standing). These barracks were originally German stables that were disassembled in Germany and reassembled at Birkenau. Originally intended to house 52 horses, one of these barracks might have held up to 400 prisoners.
After this, we drove the 3 km back up the road to Auschwitz I to visit a few more of the exhibits we hadn’t seen on Tuesday. First we went to the killing wall, the back wall in the courtyard between two of the barracks. It was called the killing wall because this is where the Nazis would kill those prisoners (with a single shot to the back of the neck) who they had arrested (for whatever reason) and who had been sentenced to death. Also, area Poles who were arrested by the Nazis and sentenced to death were executed here. In just one day, after there had been an uprising at the camp, 250 prisoners were killed, one-by-one, at this wall. We then proceeded to the barrack which served as the camp prison. The cells in the basement were intense. The dark, or also starvation, cells were maybe 8×8 foot square and usually 10-15, but in at least one instance as many as 40 (I have no idea how), prisoners were kept in these cells at one time. Usually, the case would be that if one prisoner escaped, 10-15 of his barrack-mates (who may not have even known the escapee) were picked at random and sentenced to die in these cells. Cell 21 is one of these starvation cells, and it was in this cell that Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest, voluntarily gave up his own life to save the life of another prisoner. This cell is now basically a shrine to this man, who was canonized in the 1980s. The standing cells were even worse than the starvation cells though. About the size of a phone booth, 4 prisoners would be kept in one of these cells overnight, sometimes for only a few nights, but other times for as long as 2 weeks or a month. During the day, the prisoners would be let out to work, and then placed back in the tiny cell again at night.
We left Oswiecim a bit before 2 so that we could get back to Krakow and visit the Old Market Square. That was awesome. The buildings are so cute and the churches we passed are amazing. I can’t wait to see more on our historic tour of the city in the morning. A few of us got some awesome Polish food at this really quaint rustic-y restaurant that Dan and I decided with our luck is the Olive Garden of Poland or something (Potato Garden perhaps?). It was really delicious though, and I was excited to eat real Polish food while I was here. I even tried Borscht! And I liked it too! I know, crazy. After we had our late lunch/early dinner we walked around the square for a bit and looked at all the shops.