Visiting a Machine

One element that sobered me about Auschwitz was the mass production of death. This was a well-oiled factory that churned out 1.5 million corpses. We’re talking efficiency on an unthinkable level. A phrase that stood out for me was “human liquidation.” The final solution liquidized a huge human population like a commodity, partially for its assets in manpower but generally merely to seemingly streamline the German population but disposing of those thought unfit. The unfit were, of course, humans with eternal souls.

The Third Reich assembled these people from across its occupied territory and generally funneled them through various concentration camps until their final destination behind gates of one of the three Auschwitz camps. Of the two standing camps, both have on their gates the sick slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work [Will Set You] Free). That this last false promise of hope, the factory began disassembling its victims with assembly line precision and heartlessness.

First, it stripped them of their possessions. At the smaller of the two camps, Konzentrationslager Auschwitz I, we walked past huge displays of suitcases, crutches, shoes, glasses, razors for shaving, shawls, pounds upon pounds of women’s hair, and even a few dolls, all meticulously confiscated in the camp’s machine. Personally, I struggled to remember that these were personal belongs of one living, breathing humans. They looked alien, even synthetic, behind their glass cases in the halogen lighting. Yet they were once owned by very real people, most of whom had no idea what the deportations would involve, many packed for normal life. There were preserved ticket stubs purchased by Italian Jews told Auschwitz was a Jewish settlement safe from the escalating tensions. They even bought tracts of nonexistent land to begin a new life. Instead, it have them either a single prison uniform, inadequate rations, and backbreaking labor, or the last “shower” of their lives. Between 70 and 75% of all those deposited at Auschwitz received the latter.

The Auschwitz machine also methodically stripped its prisoners of their rights and their human dignity. The reconstructed cabins at the larger Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp were not there to house the prisoners but merely to collect them. When we parked outside the camp’s main gate and slept there that night I tried to imagine the feelings of despair once felt by those on the other side of the electrified barbed wire. I failed miserably. If they were not sent directly to the gas chambers after exiting the trains, a small minority spent their days in inhuman conditions. Occasionally SS officers would have them transport huge piles of sand back and forth just for spite. They were programmed to view the prisoners as animals deserving this treatment. A pockmarked wall marked the many of these lives were ended if they refused to forfeit their humanity. Perhaps my life would have ended there if I had been born a European Jew in 1920.

When we toured the Birkenau barracks, I was struck by how barbaric the buildings would have been, especially after a new shipment of detainees arrived, cramming up to 3,000 people into buildings built for 500 max. One barrack housed young women, stuffing up to seventeen into each six foot wide bunk. They would have been piled on top of each other. Not that the camp was intended to collect people; it was intended as the final stop for the influx of Jews and the socially unacceptable into the Nazi industrial system. Train arrives full of cold, freightened people. Train departs empty. Workers mechanically separate the cargo, only 20-25%, the most healthy and fit, are allowed to live. The others, deemed unfit, were disposed of. Merely disposed of. The only biproducts were smoke from the crematoriums’ chimneys and ashes that still grey a pool near the Birkenau memorial. The efficiency of murdering an estimated 1.5 million was sickening; the last stop in Hitler’s diabolical machine to dehumanize and eliminate.

Matt

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One Response to “Visiting a Machine”

  1. wolfer mom says:

    thanks for sharing your feelings. i can’t fully comprehend what happened in those camps. i don’t want to forget.

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