Created on: 03 Feb 2012 | Last modified: 19 Feb 2018
Our Polish guide leads us off the platform, and we walk along a narrow channel surrounded on both sides by high barbed-wire fences that separate different sections of the camp.
Walking through this section drives home how bleak and remote the camp is, with only the burned-out shells of the former inmates’ huts all around us.
As we walk on, our guide speaks of the terrible but unavoidable truth that, no matter where we walk inside the camp, we are treading on the remains of those murdered in the gas chambers. Over a million sets of human remains lie scattered within the earth beneath our feet.
As we struggle with this uncomfortable realisation, the wind changes direction and there is suddenly a strong smell of burning in the air. In all likelihood, the farmer we saw earlier or one of his workers has set fire to some waste, or a nearby agricultural plant has started operating. However, given where we are standing and what we have just been told, the effect is nauseating as the imagination kicks into high gear and our self-defences attempt to suppress the mental image of thousands of bodies being incinerated in Birkenau’s furnaces.
Reaching the edge of the compound, we once again turn left and head towards the distant trees at what we think is the far end of the camp. On arriving there, we learn that the camp continues on the other side of the woods.
Behind the trees, the Gas Chambers are hidden from view of the rest of the camp, and a sorting and storage area – known in camp parlance as "Canada” (the land of plenty) - for inmates’ personal possessions and valuables was constructed.
One of the less well-known and truly shocking things about the Holocaust is that the Nazis did not invest any money in its operation.
In fact, the reverse is true – the extermination of the Jews was a highly lucrative enterprise for its perpetrators and collaborators. The Nazis did such a good job of robbing their Jewish victims of all their personal possessions that they turned a substantial profit from the operation of camps such as Auschwitz. In essence, the Nazis were not only systematically wiping-out the Jewish people of Europe, but they also were charging them for it.