Photo of the entry gate at Auschwitz (Picture taken from

Photo of the entry gate at Auschwitz (Picture taken from

The pebbles crunched under our feet as we walked under the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate into Auschwitz. Large green trees accompanied the lines of brick buildings as we made our way to Block 4, the first of many stops along our tour. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. But even on such a beautiful day, I couldn’t help but to think about all the torture and torment so many innocent people went through in this exact spot.

Auschwitz was the largest death camp in Nazi Germany during World War II. It was here that between 1.1 and 1.3 million Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners, and many more fell victim to Nazi violence and cruelty. Since the closing of the camp, it has opened to the public for viewing. In 2014, 1.5 million people visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps. Since the year 1945, the site has had over 44 million visitors.

Going into the tour I had no idea what to expect, but I definitely did not expect Auschwitz to be such a tourist attraction. On one hand, it was great to see that so many people have an interest in visiting such an important site of suffering. But on the other hand, I was not expecting a grand commercialization of such a sacred place.

The tour guide took us through the different blocks at the camp, we were able to see all of the belongings that people brought with them, their typical living quarters, and punishment cells. The personal items on display included real human hair, glasses, shoes, suitcases, prayer shawls, and pots and plans. Our tour guide mentioned how the Nazi’s would profit from the deaths by using the victims’ hair to make thread. This made my stomach churn thinking about how absolutely everything was exploited from these innocent people. The punishment cells were located in Block 11. In the basement were regular cells, dark cells, or standing cells. The prisoners would be put in these for ridiculous reasons, and for some the punishment cells meant certain death.

Seeing the places where the Jews were housed, the gas chamber and crematorium, and many blocks, I could not imagine how awful the conditions were and how they must have felt. Up to 700 people could be held in one building at Birkenau and the conditions were horrendous. Cockroaches would cover the prisoners as they slept at night, with no protection from the extreme heat or extreme cold.

I think the most eye-opening fact presented by the tour guide was that the prisoners had to be tattooed because they would be so starved and beaten down in such a short amount of time that the guards wouldn’t be able to recognize their picture. To be stripped of all belongings and of your identity has to be one of the most dehumanizing acts one could face. From the time the prisoners walked through that same gate I did on that perfect May afternoon, they were no longer a human being, but instead a number. It definitely hit me to think about the unimaginable struggle the Jews and other prisoners had to go through during their time at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. The experience of seeing Auschwitz in person will forever change my perspective of the Holocaust and of World War II.

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