Birkenau’s entire reason for being was to kill. To exterminate. And 75% of those who arrived at Birkenau were killed upon arrival. Upon arrival. It’s hard to process that. It’s hard to process most of what happened during the Holocaust.
The original Auschwitz camp held anywhere from 15,000 to more than 20,000 prisoners. Birkenau held more than 90,000 and was being expanded. There were approximately 300 barracks and buildings within about 140 hectares.
Many of the buildings are gone, and the Nazis destroyed the gas chambers just before the Allies arrived. But there’s a building misleadingly named the “sauna” that remains intact. Those who weren’t killed upon arrival were forced to go through the sauna as part of their “processing.” There are signs that explain what happened to people in each room. One for being stripped of all belongings, including the clothes on their back. A long hallway to walk naked to a room where they were totally shaved. A room for a cold shower. Another place to receive uniforms.
It was hard to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau. It was hard to write about it. I’m sure it wasn’t fun to read. But we can’t hide from the fact that this happened. We need to experience these frightening and tragic sights because we have to know that this can’t ever happen again.
If we haven’t learned from the Holocaust, then I’m not sure we’ll learn from anything.