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Posted on 02/12/2009 7:43:12 AM PST by SJackson
My Visit To Auschwitz
More Articles By Christopher Buckley
Posted Feb 11 2009
Editor's Note: Several years ago, the bestselling novelist Christopher Buckley, accompanied by his late father, the writer and iconic conservative intellectual William F. Buckley Jr., visited Auschwitz. He had never published his haunting account of that experience, but the current furor over Bishop Richard Williamson's claim that the Holocaust is largely a myth and "not one" Jew was gassed at Auschwitz compelled him to do so on The Daily Beast website, where he is a regular contributor.
February 19, 2001
You go through the visitors center and there it is. You've seen it in photographs a hundred times, the famous gate: "Arbeit Macht Frei." Work will set you free. The idea was to be reassuring, unlike the slogan Dante hung over the entrance to his hell, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." Put in an honest day and everything will be all right. Counterproductive to panic the arrivals.
Here, and up the road, in Birkenau, they thought through all the details, down to the numbered hooks in the dressing rooms outside the gas chambers. The SS jollied you along. Remember which hook you hang your clothes on so you'll be able to get them after the shower. And don't forget to put your shoes underneath so you'll be able to get them, too. You're a shoemaker? Great, we need shoemakers.
At Auschwitz, they even had a prisoner orchestra playing inside the gate. It helped keep order. Good for morale, too. How bad could it be, if they greeted you with music?
It's February and gray. The poplar trees that line the avenues between the cellblocks are bare. The swimming pool - See? We even have a swimming pool! - that was to impress the Red Cross is covered with dirty ice. Crows, gallows. It's hands-in-the-pockets cold, but would you want to see this in springtime, with blossoms and sweet earth smells?
Our guide is Jarek. Mid-forties, fluent English, dark mustache, knit cap. He grew up in Oswiecim. He speaks precisely, in a low, clear voice without emotion for nearly six hours, except for twice, once outside Block 10 and inside Block 11.
We pass under Arbeit Macht Frei. He indicates a grassy strip. "Here is where they gave the welcome speech. They said, 'You dirty Poles, this isn't a sanatorium. There's only one way out - through the chimney of crematorium. Jews, you have three weeks. Priests, one month. Three months for the rest of you.'"
It feels colder inside the cell blocks, where the exhibits are. There is a blown-up photograph of Himmler viewing Auschwitz's first inmates, Soviet POWs. Polish political prisoners, the intelligentsia, priests followed. Two years later, with the construction of the much larger Birkenau three kilometers away, the camp became ground zero for the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question."
Between October 1941 and March 1942, some 10,000 Soviet prisoners died here. Jarek as well as the exhibits use the word "murder" instead of die, or kill, or exterminate. It takes some time before the ear gets used to it, modern speech being less direct.
More exhibits. The Nazis kept such meticulous records, which in the end only meant that there was a vast amount to destroy as the Red Army approached in January 1945. Every death - murder - was written down. Jarek points to a photocopy of a ledger that survived. "The reason given was never 'bullet' or 'gas,' but instead 'heart attack' or 'kidney function.'" Deaths are listed in intervals of minutes.
In the next case are photocopies of transit passes for the trucks that brought the canisters of Zyklon B pellets. The contents are listed as "material for the displacement of Jews." Here are the minutes from the Wannsee Conference outside Berlin on January 20, 1942, the meeting of the board of directors of the corporation in charge of the Final Solution. These are free of euphemism. One page shows the goal: a column of numbers, country-by-country tallies, with a bottom line of 11 million.
* * *
Up a flight of stairs, around a corner. No more paperwork. Now it gets personal: two tons of human hair behind glass. Mounds on mounds, amorphous and hard to take in at first, until you focus and see the pigtails and braids. Jarek remarks that they were going to send some of this to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, but in the end it was declined as "too much." The hair was shorn after the gassings, then efficiently dried in the crematoria so it could be industrially spun into carpeting.
Here is a large pile of spectacles, a spidery mass of rusted wire-frames and dusty lenses. These were left with the clothing in the dressing rooms, so the last things seen through these glasses would have been nervous kapos and Death's-Head guards.
Behind another wall of glass is a jumble of rusted artificial limbs, canes, crutches, braces. Like the hair, it blurs into abstraction until the eye settles on a child's fake leg.
Now it's into another room and the suitcases, piles and piles of shriveled leather suitcases. They wrote their names on them in large white letters. Jarek points out the word "orphan" in Dutch. Hundreds of names. I write down one: PETR EISLER 1942 KIND. The year of his birth and his child - kinder - status.
In the next room comes the display of children's clothing, pacifiers, rattles, hairbrushes. Then the shoes, a mountain. Finally the empty canisters of Zyklon B, perhaps a hundred or more, in a pile.
By the calculations of Rudolph Hess, Auschwitz's first commandant, it required seven kilos of Zyklon to murder - not the word he used - 1,500 people, so this pile here might have sufficed for perhaps 75,000 or 100,000 human beings. It appears from the tops that they refined the process of opening the cans. Some are jagged, others have been smoothly cut, as if in one motion by a machine.
Across from this display is a clay diorama of a gas chamber in action. Once everyone was inside, between 700 and 1,500, depending on which of the five gas chambers it was, the doors and windows were sealed tight. The bluish pellets of diatomite soaked in hydrocyanic acid were poured through chutes. Exposed to oxygen, the pellets gave off prussic acid, blocking the exchange of oxygen in the blood. Those close to the chutes died instantly, the ones farther away took longer.
Hess watched one gassing through a peephole. In his Reminiscences before he was hanged in 1947, he describes clinically that it took two or more minutes before the screams turned to moans. Still they didn't open the doors for half an hour, just in case. After that it was safe for the Sonderkommando, the prisoner work crews, to wade into the tangle of bodies, vomit, and excrement to get the hair and the gold teeth and drag the bodies next door to the crematorium. The work paid well and was competed for: one-fifth liter of vodka, five cigarettes, 100 grams of sausage for each job.
It's gotten colder outside. We're approaching Block 10 now, where Professor Doctor Carl Clauberg, a university professor of gynecology, sterilized women and men with chemicals and roentgens and infected children with disease, for science. He was released from prison by the Soviets in 1956.
Jarek says, "He went back to Germany and took out an advertisement in the newspaper saying, 'Dr. Clauberg is seeking an assistant.' He did not even change his name." A trace of a smile. "He was arrested and died the same year, of poor health." Elsewhere at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dr. Josef Mengele performed his experiments on twins and dwarves.
* * *
In the courtyard between Block 10 and Block 11 is the Wall of Death. There is a sign urging quiet, so you approach slowly and reverently, as you might an important tomb. Visitors have placed six bouquets of flowers at its base. A woman is crouching, trying to get a red votive candle lit. People have left pebbles in every inch of the creases in the wall, in the Jewish manner of mourning.
Jarek tells what happened here. Prisoners who had been tried by the SS, for trying to escape, taking food, for whatever reason, were taken out into the courtyard naked, in twos. A strong kapo who, before he came here, had worked in the circus, held them face to the wall. An SS man shot them at the base of the skull, with a short air pistol if there were a lot of executions to be done, so that the camp would not ring with incessant gunshots.
A former prisoner, a Dr. Boleslaw Zbozien, described what he witnessed here one day:
Sometime, I cannot remember the exact date, we encountered [SS sergeant-major Gerhard] Palitzsch on the streets of the camp at Auschwitz. Before him, he was driving a man and a woman. The woman was carrying a small child in her arms, and two larger children, around four and seven years old, walked next to her.
The entire group was walking in the direction of Block 11. I made it with some colleagues to Block 21 in time. From a window in a room on the ground floor, we gazed out at the courtyard to Block 11, standing on a table in the room.
As long as I live, the scene that played out before my eyes will be engraved in my memory. The man and woman did not resist when Palitzsch stood them before the Wall of Death. It all took place in the greatest calm. The man held the hand of the child who stood on his left side. The second child stood between them; they both held his hand. The mother clasped the youngest to her breast.
Palitzsch first shot the baby through the head. The shot to the back of the head exploded its skull and induced massive bleeding. The baby struggled like a fish, but the mother only held him more firmly to herself. Palitzsch next shot the child standing in the middle. The man and woman continued to stand without moving, like statues.
Later, Palitzsch struggled with the oldest child, who would not allow himself to be shot. He threw him to the ground and shot him at the base of the head while standing on his shoulders. He then shot the woman, and at the very last, the man. This was the greatest monstrosity . After that, although many executions were carried out, I did not watch them.
We place our pebbles. Jarek says, "Between 5,000 and 20,000 people were shot here."
We go into Block 11. The faded sign above the door reads, BLOK SMIERCI. Block of Death. In the basement of Block 11, the first gassing with Zyklon B took place. Six hundred Soviet POWs and 250 Poles were locked in. They poured in the pellets. It took 20 hours to kill - murder - them all. This is how they learned the correct dosage.
Cell 18 was the "Starvation Cell." If a prisoner escaped, the Lagerfuhrer, or commandant, would select ten prisoners from the escapee's block. They would be shut in this cell without food or water and left to die. Generally this took a week.
Outside the barbed wire you come to Gas Chamber and Crematorium Number I, Auschwitz's first functional one after the initial experiment in the basement of Block 11. Seventy thousand were murdered here. It's the only intact crematorium out of five at Auschwitz. The SS dynamited the other four at Birkenau as the Red Army was closing in.
A short lunch in the cafeteria, borscht and croquettes and nonalcoholic beer, since they don't serve alcohol at Auschwitz, no matter that you could use a drink. Soup for the prisoners consisted of nettles and water. Morning tea was brewed from oak leaves. For dinner, wormy bread, perhaps with a smear of lard. Some of the survivors weighed 60 pounds.
* * *
Birkenau is a five-minute car ride. This is Konzentrationlager Auschwitz II, Auschwitz concentration camp number two, built in 1942 in pursuance of the Wannsee Conference goals. "Compared to Birkenau," Jarek remarks, "Auschwitz was a Hilton."
Birkenau is how the Germans said Brezinzka, which means Birch Wood, the name of the Polish village that was here. Auschwitz was how they said Oswiecim. Oz-vee-chim. The town once had a sizeable Jewish population of its own.
The rail line that approaches Birkenau runs through a red brick guard tower and this too is familiar from photographs and documentaries. The prisoners called it The Gate of Death. From May to October 1944, 600,000 Hungarian Jews - a line of numbers in the Wannsee document - came through here. In the spring of 1944, at the height of Auschwitz's efficiency, 10,000 arrived here each day.
We go up into the tower. Jarek opens a window and stands back and says quietly, "Birkenau." It's here, rather than at the Wall of Death or Cell Block 11, that many visitors break down and weep. Perhaps it's because of vastness that confronts them. You're looking out on an area 3,000 feet wide by 2,100 feet deep: 174 barracks, four crematoria, surrounded by double fences of barbed wire and guard towers.
The crematoria could only handle about 5,000 bodies a day, so at times to keep up they had to burn bodies in the fields by the woods in the distance. The stench from that, and from the early mass graves of Soviet POWs, is described in the literature.
Jarek gets a key to the gate and we drive to the rail platform where the arrivals got off Eichmann's transports after journeys of sometimes three or more days, no food or water, packed in so tightly that in summers water from the humidity ran off the ceilings. About 80 percent of the arrivals, those unfit for work, the older men and women, women with babies, children under 14 were immediately murdered in the gas chambers.
Ninety percent of Auschwitz's victims were Jews. Next came Poles, 70,000, then Gypsies, 23,000.
* * *
On the drive back to Cracow we don't say much, my father and I. It leaves you quiet, Auschwitz, even as it impels you not to be quiet about it, to tell what you saw, no matter that it is all by now so well known and documented and familiar.
At the airport in Zurich, the local Sunday paper shows a photo from a recent rally in Switzerland, hundreds of shaved-head neo-Nazis giving the salute.
Christopher Buckley's books include "Supreme Courtship," "The White House Mess," "Thank You for Smoking," "Little Green Men," and "Florence of Arabia." He was chief speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush and is presently a regular contributor to The Daily Beast (www.thedailybeast.com), where a version of this article originally appeared.
If you'd like to be on or off, please FR mail me.
I guess that’s where he got inspired to support Obama...........
The first commandant of Auschwitz was Rudolf Hoess, not Rudolf Hess [the Deputy Fuehrer who flew to Englaqnd in 1941].
Yes, thanks, most people know of Hess, and they shouldn’t be confused.
Put your actions where your mouth is, Chris. You supported Obama the baby killing Muslim lover. You are supporting the guys who are calling for the “next Holocaust.”
Why the left, and many Jews today who vote for the left, is somewhat explained, but Nazism was certainly a leftist regime. The real reason those who think it was right-wing was simply that it fought communism for control of the totalitarian idealogy.
...It leaves you quiet, Auschwitz, even as it impels you not to be quiet about it, to tell what you saw, no matter that it is all by now so well known and documented and familiar.
Wonderful article. Thanks.
I have some open questions for those who have visited Auschwitz.
How did you arrange your trip? Group package? Individually?
Were you satisfied with those arrangements?
It is noteworthy that there is a big difference between concentration camps in Germany, and outside of Germany. Within Germany, there were attempts to “hide in plain sight”, camps such as Dachau.
Dachau is something of a disconnected suburb of Munich, a flat terrain small city. Today, the camp is within city limits, and occupies about the same area as would a suburban high school in America. This normalcy makes it no less sinister.
Camps like Auschwitz are clear examples of “industrial genocide”, the treatment of mass murder like mass production, but with human beings as the raw materials and death as the product. A semi-automated abattoir.
But the question remains, why have such camps in Germany? Was there a purpose in putting such a place “in their backyard?” There is no doubt that they knew what it was, though they pretended not to know of it.
It is easy to see the outrage of US military personnel who forced the local citizens to see what was happening next door.
I don’t know if I could handle going to Auschwitz.
Jesus Christ Almighty.... A curse that came from my lips that turned into a prayer as I spoke it.
Never Again. Never, never again.
Dachau was built in 1933 to deal political prisoners. At that point in time their geographical options were limited. And Germany was where the political prisoners were, in the same sense that Auschwitz was built where the Jews were.
Go to Krakow. Then there are trains to the area. Tour buses run from the station. I’ll write more when I’m on a better computer.
I look forward to your further post. Thanks.
It has happened again. Take a look at Rwanda, and the Sudan. And although it wasn’t genocide, you have the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the people that died in the Cultural Revolution in China, etc. ‘The beat goes on’.
My understanding was that Auschwitz was built because of its a confluence of coal, fresh water and substantial rail access, to suit the designs both of RSHA and IG Farben.
It was not sited “where the Jews were”, in the sense that Heydrich intended combing the Jews in Europe west to east, and concentrating them in ghettos prior to their extermination. In fact he constantly refused Hans Frank's demands that he kill the Jews in the Government-General first.
“Ninety percent of Auschwitz’s victims were Jews. Next came Poles, 70,000, then Gypsies, 23,000.”
Maybe you should post that on the thread where the posters were complaining that they were sick of only Jews being called the victims of the Holocaust, and you explained the meaning of the word.
Exactly. He’s hoping to appease, so that maybe the crocodile will eat him last.
Dachau was the second, but the ‘model’ camp. It was where Theodore Eicke developed the rules, procedures, and organization that became the blueprint for all future camps. Hitler was so impressed, he gave jurisdiction over all the camps to Himmler, who established a separate branch of the SS, the TOTENKOPFVERBAENDE to run them. Almost all the death camp commanders, including Hoess, started at Dachau [although most of the extermination experts came through the T4 program, e.g SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Christian Wirth.
Take the idiot denying Bishop there . . .
in chains . . . and drag him to view every 10 feet of both sites . . . maybe after a 3 week bread and water fast . . .
Force him to sleep—at least lie all night—in each remaining gas chamber.
Force him to stand naked at the shooting wall and have a gun placed at his head and the sound and feel of it go off against his skull—while all the local RC’s watch.
Force him to clean all the baby clothes and articles.
Force him to live on the site a month.
Then let the conservative press bloggers at him.
I’d have some similar recommendations for certain PTB . . .
however, I’m quite confident God has their . . . consequences well planned already.
I was giving a short, somewhat inaccurate answer, to the Dachau comparison, which I corrected to note that Auschwitz initially dealt with political prisoners and POWs, Jews only later. Transportation obviously being an issue.
It wouldn’t matter.
In the final analysis, the Wansee Conference was about exterminating Jews. No mention of Communists, Social Democrats, Freemasons, Gypsies, etc. ONLY Jews were the topic at Wansee
Was Albert Speer definitively involved in any significant way with the construction of Auschwitz?
Compared to Mao, Hitler, and even Stalin, were pikers! The mass murders of the left is a level that's staggeringly unthinkable.
Very easy to arrange. Fly to Europe on discount (Smartertravel.com) or any site actually $550 RT via major carrier to London this month.
Next, Ryanair/Easyjet to Krakow. Get local charter bus ticket to Auschwitz.
I flew into Warsaw, train to Krakow, then Auschwitz.
Krakow is great: Waval castle Old town, very catholic, very powerful trip. Next time I’ll visit the salt mines.
God Bless the Poles
Yes. Oddly enough, there is a Holocaust Museum in Battery Park Village, not too far from Ground Zero. I was within a few blocks of Ground Zero when it happened, and for several years I used to walk by both of them when I made the circuit of Lower Broadway and the Hudson River. They both gave me a chill.
The Holocaust and 9/11 were on different scales, but they both represent pure evil, the conviction that certain people are not really human and deserve to be exterminated. Not for nothing did Hitler work closely with some of the Muslim fanatics in Jerusalem and elsewhere.
He is not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Hence his plight.
It's hard to believe, but you had “some” chance of survival in a concentration camp, but almost no chance in an extermination camp.
Let him spout whatever idiocies . . .
Some folks in high authority need held to a high standard.
Consequences should follow.
Let him spout whatever idiocies...
I am in agreement with your statement. I do think the voice of reasonable objection to the Bishop's initial ill advised public statement, would be in order.
Show him where he is wrong.
Guess my bias is that
is soooooo outrageous . . .
he needs his nose and face rubbed in it repeatedly.
No. I believe it was supervised by SS Gruppenfuehrer Kammler, who was an engineer.
“The real reason those who think it was right-wing was simply that it fought communism for control of the totalitarian idealogy.”
That’s exactly right. The National Socialists saw the communists as the greatest threat to their power, as they both sought pretty much the same thing; hence, they wanted to eliminate that threat. In an economic sense, the two agendas were not that far apart; and, politically, they both championed the idea of a dictator. They just differed as to WHO the dictator should be.
As a follow-up to my previous comment, I have often used — in order to describe the relationship between the National Socialists and the communists in Germany — the relationship between the Jacobins and the Girondists in France in the 1790s. The Jacobins and Girondists were allies against the monarchy and shared many of the same goals, but after they got rid of the monarchy they ended up challenging each other for ultimate control of France. The Nazis and and commies did the same thing in Germany vis-a-vis the Weimar Republic. The commies — just as the Girondists — were primarily theorists; whereas the Nazis — just as the Jacobins — were activists in the truest sense (they pursued action as the true expression of their dogma).
That’s a fact. To use a baseball analogy, Hitler hit a double; Stalin hit a single-run homer; Mao hit a grand slam. That is the difference among the three as to who was the most accomplished at slaughter.
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