Monday, 25 July 2016

The Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy and a visit to Aushcwitz

Hello, I’m back from my break and looking forward to catching up with you all. If you have a question or would like to leave a comment, please do, I love to hear from you.


Taking a blogging break gave me the opportunity to read some of the books I've accumulated over the last few years. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately I can never resist buying more so the size of my must-read pile remains virtually unchanged! One new book on the list is The Kracow Ghetto Pharmacy by Tadeusz Pankiewicz. I heard about it on a recent trip to Poland and was lucky enough to find a copy at The Oskar Schindler Factory Museum (Fabryka Schindlera). Tadeusz Pankiewicz was the only Pole living and working in the Kracow Ghetto from its inception to its liquidation. I’m sure it won’t be an easy read but when was anything worthwhile ever easy? Having seen the remnants of the ghetto walls and visited Auschwitz and Birkenau the Holocaust is uppermost in my mind.

This is the entrance to Auschwitz with the words “arbeit macht frei” which translated means “work will set you free."


According to the BBC historian Laurence Rees the sign was erected by order of Commandant Rudolf Höss. Made by prisoner-labourers the sign features an upside-down B, which has been interpreted as an act of defiance.

We thought we were ready for Auschwitz, but nothing prepared us for the overwhelming sense of sadness that prevails. The feeling of the place seeps into your bones and will not be left behind.



The complex is divided into three major camps: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Auschwitz III-Monowitz and several sub-camps. During the Holocaust gas chambers using Zyklon-B claimed the lives of roughly one million people. Most of the victims were Jews, and the majority killed in this way died at Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

Auschwitz III provided slave labour for the I G Farben plant founded at Auschwitz in 1940. Farben produced synthetic rubber, along with high-performance fuels, various plastics, methanol, nitrogen and pharmaceuticals. The Zyklon B gas used in the gas chambers was produced by Degesch a subsidiary of I G Farben.


Auschwitz II - Birkenau

Entrance to the infamous Auschwitz - Birkenea death camp.

Several of the buildings have been converted from barracks into museum rooms. The rooms are used to house the "Material Evidence of Crime." This consists of piles of shoes, glasses, suitcases, kitchen utensils and the most chilling of all human hair. The Nazis not only murdered millions of men, women and children, they also "harvested" some of the remains. In the early nineteen-forties, a brisk trade emerged between the death camps, and German felt and textile manufacturers who used the hair in the production of thread, rope, cloth, carpets, mattress stuffing, and felt insulators for the boots of railroad workers. According to historians, it's quite possible some of the products are still in use in German homes today.
Auschwitz I

The collection of shoes is possibly one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. Most are in the same dark grey colour, but a few are made from red leather, a poignant reminder of the red coat worn by the little girl in the film Schindler’s list. The guide who accompanied us around the museum said it will soon be 'updated' with new interactive exhibits. I’m not so sure it's a good idea. At the moment it is a stark reminder of just what humans are capable of and maybe it needs to remain that way.

Shoes and clothing of prisoners found at Auschwitz-Birkenau 
Photo Credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum

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If you are planning a visit to Auschwitz expect a tough day in more ways than one. Don’t assume you will find wheelchair access or level paths because you won’t. The site is not disabled friendly. It is also far larger than I ever imagined, and the only way to see it is to walk. We didn't find it too much of a problem, but if you have difficulty getting around do check before finalising any arrangements. 

I'm sorry this is a sad post, especially as it’s the first one for a while. I promise the next one will be more cheerful
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