Why? Why did they do it?

Electrified barb wire fence at Auschwitz.

I feel like I needed to give you some more information about our visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau. There was a bookshop at the end of the tour and I couldn’t resist buying a couple of books about the Holocaust.

One was called “Auschwitz-Birkenau: The Past and the present” which explained the Nazi’s rationale in a series of quotes. 

“Jews are a race that must be totally exterminated.” (Hans Frank, Governor General of occupied Poland)

“We must free the German nation of Poles, Russians, Jews and Gypsies.” (Otto Thierack, Reich minister of Justice)

“The most important task is to root out all Polish leaders … in order to render them harmless … all specialists of Polish descent will be exploited for the needs of our war industry and then all Poles will disappear from the face of the earth.” (Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer SS)

The Jewish Quarter. See the large menorah?

The fact that more than 4 million people were systematically exterminated in these camps by the Third Reich during World War II is absolutely abhorrent to us today. Liberated by the Red Army in 1945, Auschwitz has been turned into a poignant memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

It is important to know that “despite difficult conditions in the camp and constant terror prisoners tried to maintain their dignity. One example of this was the resistance movement,” according to the booklet I bought.

I took a picture of a drawing of the camp orchestra. You may not know that many years later, one of those Auschwitz orchestra violinists ended up in Hawaii. His name was Jose Blankleder, and my husband, Carl, played chamber music with him occasionally. I distinctly remember seeing his prisoner number tattooed on his forearm. Jose died in Honolulu at the age of 89 in 1998.

Whoever saves one life saves the entire world. Our first stop on this day was at Oskar Schindler’s factory, the actual place where the movie, Schindler’s List, was filmed. You can see portraits in the windows of the people that were saved.

On our way to Warsaw we stopped at a monument memorializing the Plaszow concentration camp. A version of the camp was depicted in the Schindler’s List movie. The monument was erected in 2009 by Wilfried Mählmann and is a tribute to the victims of the Nazis. It is striking as seen from a distance—only when you get closer do you see the human figures with their heads bowed and a big hole across their chests.

Our tour director, Paul Vladu, showed us the Roman Polanski film, The Pianist, which took place in Warsaw during World War II. He thought that it would make a good introduction to the city of Warsaw. After having been at Auschwitz and Birkenau, I gained a new perspective on the human tragedy and eagerly look forward to seeing Warsaw today.

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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