Auschwitz

By Roger  (24 Oct 2013)

While we were in Poland, we took a side trip to the Nazi concentration camp, at Auschwitz.  The day was gray, with an annoying drizzle – appropriate weather for a visit to someplace this dismal. Sometimes, when you're traveling near a famous – or in this case, infamous – location, you just have to go make some photographs. Auschwitz was only 37 kilometers from Krakow, where I spent the majority of my time in Poland.

I had visited other concentration camps while I was living in Bavaria; Dachau was only 45 minutes from our house.  The German approach to these historic sites is, understandably, a little different.  They preserve the site and enough of the buildings to ensure a memorial, but the remaining complex is just a small representation of the original.

Poland, however, has preserved much of the Auschwitz complex, which was actually about 45 different compounds.  The Nazis used these facilities to exterminate more than 1.2 million prisoners (about 90% Jews).  Obviously, this is not a happy place to visit, and, although I knew the history, being on the site was still overwhelmingly oppressive.  I knew I would process the photos in black and white; color just didn't seem appropriate.

The main gate into Auschwitz. 

The main gate into Auschwitz. 

Usually, the image most have a Auschwitz is the main complex, Auschwitz I, where the famous sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work will make you free) is above the main entrance gate.  Prisoners arriving here were registered and tattooed.  This was where doctors Carl Clauberg and Josef Mengele did their heinous experiments.  This is the site that draws most of the visitors.  The tour through the barracks and administrative buildings includes photographs of prisoners and their horrible living conditions; the wall where executions were carried out for any rule infraction; and rooms filled with shoes, suitcases, and other personal effects taken from the prisoners. 

An entire room filled with shoes from the victims. 

An entire room filled with shoes from the victims. 

Prisoners were ordered to leave their suitcases as soon as they got off the trains. 

Prisoners were ordered to leave their suitcases as soon as they got off the trains. 

Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, however, was the location of the majority of the killings.  The railroad cars, packed with sick and terrified prisoners, would arrive inside the compound.  The Nazi guards would divide the prisoners into two groups: to the right, and you were registered and became slave labor until you died; to the left, and you were escorted to the gas chambers.  By June 1943, the Nazis were operating four crematoria to burn the victims' remains. 

Prisoners were herded into cattle cars for the trip to Auschwitz; many did not survive this journey. 

Prisoners were herded into cattle cars for the trip to Auschwitz; many did not survive this journey. 

Bodies were cremated to hide the evidence of the exterminations. 

Bodies were cremated to hide the evidence of the exterminations. 

I won't go through the entire history of Auschwitz because it is horrendous, and this is a photography blog.  The visit was a very moving experience, and I will visit it again when I'm near Krakow. If you want to learn more about this despicable chapter in mankind's history, there is a really comprehensive article about Auschwitz on Wikipedia (link). If you're one of those people who feels that studying history is uninteresting, I highly recommend you visit historic sites.  It's hard to have ambiguous feelings about historic facts when you are on the scene for a more personal visit.

Empty canisters of Zyklon, the poison used in the gas chambers.

Empty canisters of Zyklon, the poison used in the gas chambers.

"No Man's Land."  Areas near the walls were guarded by Nazi soldiers who shot any prisoners crossing the line.  

"No Man's Land."  Areas near the walls were guarded by Nazi soldiers who shot any prisoners crossing the line.  

War Birds--One-of-a-kind Flying History Lessons

This last weekend the Commemorative Air Force (yes, they renamed themselves) brought some really unique aircraft to the local Manassas airport.  These planes have been lovingly restored to flying condition and travel around the country to remind people of an important period in our history.  Many people today think that WWII was a certain win for the allies, but in fact it was a very close conflict.  If a few gambles by either side had gone differently, the world would be a much different place.  Despite my Navy background, I have to admit that the finest aircraft this nation ever produced with the P-51 Mustang.  Its speed, range, firepower and maneuverability helped drive the Luftwaffe from the skies and made sure a lot of bomber crews made it back home.  One of the ways that the CAF helps fund their efforts is to offer rides in the planes.  Their two-seater Mustang was very tempting, but $1,900 for the 30 minute ride was just a little too much for me.  Some lucky guy, did get to go up. Not all the planes they brought were glamorous fighters, this C-45 short haul cargo plane was a work horse moving people around. The "Bucket of Bolts" held up just fine.

The CAF has the only flying version of the Douglas SB2C Helldiver left in the world.  Landing one of these on a carrier was, and in fact still is, the epitome of real flying.   Knowing that the wings are meant to fold up for more efficient storage always made me wonder about how tough they really were.   Good news is that they proved plenty tough in combat.  Last, but certainly not least, the star of the show was the last flying B-29 Superfortress. I had to take six shots and put them together to get this panorama. This plane carried the war to Japan and two like it delivered the A-bombs which ended the war.  It was a fully pressurized plane which made the high-altitude trips possible.  Feeling the roar of the 4 engines and watching it take off was still impressive.   We are losing the veterans who flew these birds on a daily basis.  If you know a Vet, especially a WWII vet, don’t wait until November, thank them today