"So we can see that people were monsters. They still are. Nothing's changed. Nothing's changed," our tour guide stated in front of crematorium #2. She had been speaking about the death laborers, prisoners of the camp themselves, who ripped gold teeth out of the recently deceased before throwing their bodies in the furnace. It was the fact that the laborers became so desensitized by it all, eating and drinking while working, that instigated her comment. Today crematorium #2 lies in heaps of rubble. It was the first of four crematoria built in Auschwitz II - Birkenau.
Birkenau was created for the sole purpose of being an extermination camp. The 175 acre compound was designed for 200,000 prisoners. An estimated 1.3 million died within its barbed-wire fenced walls. Between 1942-1944, Jews (and other minority groups) were shipped in from all over Europe.
Thinking they were going to a place where they could be free, and knowing they could only bring one suitcase worth of items per person, they took only their most valuable possessions. Upon arrival, all suitcases were taken to a bunker nicknamed "Kanada", as Canada was a representation of wealth and prosperity, before being rummaged through for valuables to be shipped to Germany.
Those who survived the grueling train ride were then separated. Males filed to the right, women to the left. The train tracks acting as a barrier between the two gender groups and their perspective bunkers. They each lined up in front of a doctor who judged each individual by appearance. He directed some towards the bunkers and others on a death march.
I timed the walk. The one hundreds of thousands took from the moment the doctor, playing God, cast off to their death.
They didn't know where the path led, what awaited them at the end. Some must have been scared though, nervous maybe, having been separated from their loved ones after such a grueling trip. Mothers might have consoled their children as they shuffled forward. Quiet words may have been passed from one person to another. I could see them with every step I took... . I saw them each second of my 5 minutes walk to the end of the dirt road. They continued forward, beyond grounds I could tread. They gathered within the protection of trees and were commanded to remove their clothes; clothes left crumpled on the forest floor.
Naked, and most likely humiliated, they advanced towards the large brick building before them. "It's just a shower," they were told, "to clean you up after your long journey." The doors of the crematorium were shut; their journey was over.