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Visiting Auschwitz - Part II - The Exhibits

I’m continuing my series on Auschwitz by dedicating a post to the exhibits at the museum. Walking the grounds and feeling the energy of the place was certainly an emotional experience. The exhibits were truly overwhelming.

When the camp first opened, the record keeping was meticulous. Prisoners were photographed, and records kept on each person as evidenced by the carefully typed forms that were kept. Entering some of the barracks buildings, you’re immediately surrounded by the haunting faces of prisoners. Occasionally, you’ll find some with a flower or two tucked into the frame. Walking the halls is almost unnerving with all these faces staring out at you. Stark black and white photos of prisoners with their shaven heads and threadbare uniforms.

Records of prisoners

One of the most moving exhibits to me included the photos of “The Selection”. The Selection occurred when trains of new prisoners arrived. As I mentioned in my previous post about the evil being total and complete here, in a further twist of the knife, prisoners were often made to “buy” tickets for the trains to Auschwitz. They were told they were going to a new life and a new start. However, when the trains arrived, true evil awaited them at the selection.

The following series of photos highlights this process.

Trains arrive at Auschwitz / Birkenau and people unload with all their baggage. They don’t know where they are or what is in store for them. They are herded off the trains.

Prisoners arriving - "pre-selection"

They are then separated into men / woman and children. Those who “selected” (deemed suitable for work) will remain at the camp. All those not selected will be led to the back of the camp and the gas chambers. They are told they need to shower upon their arrival here. It’s all part of the evil process utilized here.

The Selection

Women and children in the selection

These people are on their way to the gas chambers although they don’t know that. Look at that picture closely at the ages. It’s a family.

Heading to the gas chambers

This photo shows the aftermath of the selection. Those people are gone. Most of them vanished essentially. They were led to the gas chambers and then cremated. They have literally vanished. All of their luggage will be gone through and everything sorted and saved. This is again one of those details that I think of when I say the evil used here was absolute in its scope. Shoes, brushes, cups, clothes, gold from teeth, eyeglasses, and hair. Everything was saved and stored in huge warehouses because it could potentially be used in the war effort.

I just remember standing and staring at this last photo thinking: Those people are just gone. How many times over and over this happened? How many trains? It boggles the mind.

After the selection

You are led through a series of exhibits that I can only describe as “one gut punch after another”. One of the first ones was the eyeglasses. Look closely at the picture of all the eyeglasses. That’s just a fraction of what they found here. Look at the picture in the background of the actual warehouse where glasses were kept. I remember our tour guide reminding us that only a percentage of the population wears glasses so this does not represent everyone. How many people are represented by the glasses in the display case? How many by the background photo?

Then there are the various prosthetic limbs and crutches and other devices that were taken from the prisoners. Yes, these were all kept as well.

Those are followed up by the brushes. Shaving brushes, shoe brushes. Again this is just a sampling of what was found. How many people are represented by just the enormous pile in the display case?

Remember, these people were told they were on their way to a new life. They brought pots and pans and kettles. Yes, those were all also kept. Be sure to look at the background photo in the case and note how many items were being sorted through and kept.

As part of their moving to a new life, these people brought their suitcases. Yes those were kept as well. This is just a sampling of what they found here, but as you can see in the photos below, the numbers of suitcases are staggering. Each one being carried by someone scared, nervous, wondering what was going to happen to them?

Seeing all these exhibits one after another leaves you in tears, and then you get to the shoes. I just remember it starting with looking at this case….of children’s shoes. How many???? I can’t even comprehend. I don’t want to.

I remember turning around to face the hallway of shoes. Huge display cases on both sides. Endless shoes. The last photo below is picture of one of the actual warehouses of shoes. Note the ladder in the background. A ladder to climb the pile of shoes

The last exhibit in this area is one they don’t want you taking photos of out of respect for those who perished here. It’s a display case like the one you see of the shoes, but instead of shoes, it’s hair. They also have other exhibits of items taken from prisoners upon their arrival

There are many exhibits showing the conditions for the prisoners. The following pictures show an example of sleeping areas for prisoners within Auschwitz I camp. Note the painting on the wall depicting the scene:

Prisoners that were at Auschwitz I (not Birkenau) had somewhat better conditions when it came to things like bathrooms and toilets. These are the facilities at Auschwitz I:

These were the sleeping conditions and bathrooms at Birkenau. Remember that 4 or 5 prisoners slept per level on the wooden and brick beds.

And finally the gas chamber exhibits. Canisters of Zyklon B that had been used in the gas chambers. A model showing how the gas chambers were built and operated. An efficient killing machine where one chamber could be filled and used while the other was emptied to the crematorium ovens upstairs. The Germans tried to blow up the facilities at the end of the war, but the models show prisoners being led to the underground chambers where they were told to disrobe and then on to the “showers”. There were two of these facilities at Auschwitz / Birkenau.

This was the original gas chamber and crematorium oven at Auschwitz I.

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