By Michael Lawrence

Today was a huge change of pace. We focused solely on Auschwitz-Birkenau. We woke up and drove about 60 km away to the town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz).

Entrance to Auschwitz

“Work Sets You Free” is the translation of the sign at the entrance of the Auschwitz camp.

We started our tour at Auschwitz I, which has been converted to a museum. I didn’t feel anything too weird when we arrived walking under the gate declaring “Arbeit Macht Frei!”, but when we went into the barracks or blocks (which each block has been converted into an overwhelming exhibit) it hit me. We’re listening to our tour guide Tomasz and then I turn my head, and a wall thirty-five ft. filled, and I mean FILLED, with human hair that was from Jewish inmates upon their initial processing into the camp.

The most eerie thing at Auschwitz I was walking into a gas chamber and crematorium. Upon entry a sign declares “Please remain silent out of respect,” so we did. We stood in the gas chamber, where thousands of innocent people, no different than us, stood believing they were being cleansed, but in reality were being murdered. After Auschwitz I, we traveled a few kilometers to Auschwitz II Birkenau. This is where it really impacted me hard. Birkenau was different than Auschwitz I, they did not make any exhibits here; rather, they kept everything the way it was to show what it looked like in day to day operations. This is what I imagined a concentration/death camp looked like. We walked through the gates to the landing dock where inmates were selected for work or death. Walking that way and seeing all the tourists standing exactly where thousands of inmates stood to await their fate absolutely hit me hard. It painted a vivid picture.

Another aspect about Birkenau is that it is so much bigger than you can possibly imagine. It took my group thirty minutes to walk from the entrance to the end of the camp. I could not believe the amount of organization that took place at this camp. The whole time everyone was just in utter awe. We went inside the barracks that have been kept in their original conditions. The smell was one thing I will never forget. It was so strong and stale. It was one of the most humbling experiences I have experienced. There are too many words that can describe this and quite frankly, words do not do this topic justice. This is something you can read about and discuss, but to fully understand this you must be there to actually see the evil and devastation.

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