January 30th, 1939, World War II has begun.
Jews were put in ghettos in big cities throughout Europe. Surrounded by high brick walls. At first, they had to remain within the walls most of the time, but they were allowed to go to work as usual. After a while, this too was prohibited. They became trapped within the walls, unable to work, unable to escape. Eventually food shortages became a huge problem and they started to die of hunger.
One of the largest ghettos was located in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. At one point in time there were more than 450 000 Jews there. The Warsaw ghetto was called ’’the last stop before death’’, a precise description of the place since the inhabitants were waiting to be sent to concentration camps. Those who died of starvation in the ghettos were considered being lucky -at least they escaped the awaiting horrors of the concentrations camps!
Eventually, the Jews in Warsaw were sent to the concentration camps, places built for only one goal: Exterminate as many prisoners as possible.
’’Arbeit Macht Frei’’, work will set you free, the first sign the prisoners saw when they marched through the gate of the labor camp, Auschwitz I. This camp was located outside Warsaw, in the city Oschwiecim. A carefully selected location due to the numerous railroad tracks going into the city from various places throughout Poland.
At first, the prisoners were gathered in different groups. Families where split with children screaming when they were separated from their mother’s arms. Healthy children and women and strong men, were put to work. Old people who could not work, the disabled, homosexuals, as well as children under a certain age, were sent to so called nursing homes where they were to receive help and medication. In reality they were sent directly to their death in the gas chambers.
Prisoners who were sent to the gas chambers were informed that there were going to take a shower. They all took their clothes off, their uniforms where folded neatly and left in separate piles so that they could be easily found later. When the soldiers had pushed the prisoners onward through to the ’’shower room’’, they closed the door behind them and immediately the prisoners began to worry because they could not find the showers!
The room was dark and cold. After a little while, hatches were opened in the ceiling and small boxes containing poisonous gas were dropped on to the floor. Horrified, they began to understand what was going on. Screaming filled the room during the next minutes followed by complete silence. This way the Germans had constructed an efficient way to exterminate Jews - 6000 of them every day.
Prisoners in Auschwitz were distinguished through special “uniforms” which consisted of black and white striped skirts or trousers. Their hair was also cut off. They had to work six to seven hours every day, got very little food so most of them became dangerously skinny. Eventually many of them died during work because of lack of food.
If one prisoner died during work, the other prisoners had to carrier him back to the housing quarters so they all could be accounted for. If someone where missing, the group were forced to stand outside throughout the hole night, often barefoot, in deep snow, until the guards found the missing person. The above historical facts are only a few of many horrifying crimes the Nazis did to the Jews during their time in the concentration camp.
The Jews in Auschwitz lived in fear and in pain. Every day unknowingly expecting what was going to happened to them. Am I going to die today or tomorrow?
A total of 6 million people were tortured and killed due to false accusations, their religion or their background.
This horrific moment in history must never be forgotten. We must learn from this dark spot in human history and make sure it never happens again. Ironically, and even though we tell ourselves that these people were evil and that we could never do something like this, the reality is - yes we could. Bosnia (1992 – 1995) is a recent testament to this.
‘’The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again’’ George Santayana