Women’s Bunkhouse at Auschwitz (Pic du Jour)

Today’s Pic du Jour was taken in a women’s barracks at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, the planet’s biggest cemetery. You wanted to be among the six, seven or eight that were squeezed into a top bunk. That meant you were strong enough to climb up and onto it, and that others who were sick wouldn’t throw up or defecate on you while you slept.

That was typical of the dozens of vignettes our guide shared today during my visit to the world’s most notorious death camp. It left me exhausted physically. Emotionally, I’m drained, too spent to piece together, in any cohesive way, a post that combines the scattered thoughts that cluttered my mind during the five hours I spent traversing the massive 400 acre Birkenau complex.

I wasn’t thinking so much about the dead, upwards of a million and a half who were sent here to die and on whose scattered ashen remains I and another 6,000 visitors walked on today.

Nor was I thinking much about the men who sent them there. Man has never been bereft of the hate –and the actions that his hate can justify– to inflict brutal suffering on his fellow man.

I was thinking of the survivors. About what clicks in a person’s mind when they reach the realization that sleeping in a top bunk will improve their chances of a brighter morning on another very dark day.

I’ll post more about the camp visit and a photo gallery when I return home next week.

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  1. Robert says

    Bob, I would like to thank you for saving me from having to visit there. Your words and pictures confirm the horror I would expect to see, and in no way lessen the pain that survivors must feel. As your friend I would ask you to save yourself next time. I wouldn’t want your experience to change you in any way. Safe trip home.

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks Rob – But I think you really should visit it at some point. Maybe when Luka is a few years older. That period may still be poignant and important in the memory of our generation, but it is nonetheless a memory that’s receding deeper and deeper into history.

  2. Les Petits Pas de Juls says

    impressive. the feeling that your image conveys as well as your words. it must have been a unique and tense experience. although one everyone should live once.

    thanks for sharing.
    Jul’

    1. Bob R says

      It’s a bit numbing to be honest. But yes, everyone really should experience it.

  3. Brad Frankel says

    Bob, i’m sure it was a very tough experience and mentally exhausting but you convey it well in your photo and words. My grandparents were very fortunate to escape what went on but somewhere i still want to visit. A tough trip but one i feel needs to be done!

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks Brad – My grandfather was in Dachau for the last two years of the war and my great grandfather died there. That wasn’t an extermination camp per se although many perished there. I visted Dachau 15 years ago – the feeling at Auschwitz was very different.

  4. Syd says

    Horrible. Really really horrible. Not sure if I have anything else to say. I’m impressed that you were able to piece together anything, cohesive or otherwise…

  5. Tam @ Travelling Book Junkie says

    When you see a image like that it is always difficult to imagine the pain and suffering that took place each and every day in a place like that. Your words about those that survived did give me cause to reflect, we often believe that those that died were the ones that suffered, which of course they truly did, but for those that remained, to live through the contempt and hatred that they must have seen in the guards eyes each day and have to fight to live is just something too often forgotten about.

  6. Antonette says

    I’ve been to Auschwitz twice and I find it amazing to be there. To realize that all the stories we hear have actually happened here and that it’s thousands of people we are talking about, and that less than 100 years ago. I truly believe everyone should go to Auschwitz once in their life…

  7. Jules says

    Super powerful post and picture. I imagine this would be a very difficult place to visit and write about for others. An extremely dark patch in the history of humankind. Hopefully never ever seen again!

  8. Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy says

    I’ve always been fascinated by war history, especially WWII and the Holocaust. I even took a class in college specifically on the Holocaust. Visiting Auschwitz is high up on my list, but also strangely terrifying because of how emotional I know it will be.

    Really like this photo and the way you described how you were feeling at the time.

  9. Michael Huxley says

    Man, that is seriously a sobering thought. I find it hard to even imagine what it must have been like. It puts a few things in perspective though doesn’t it?

    Great post Bob.

  10. Anna says

    Such a horrible place! Still, it looks kind of peaceful in your picture…

  11. Rashad Pharaon says

    A stark reminder of the darkness we are capable of. Built without thought for comfort, just cruelty. I wrote about Auschwitz once, and certainly will never visit again.

  12. Angela Travels says

    What a picture. I am not sure how I would handle seeing this site in person, but I would if I were in the area. So much history not to forget all that suffered.

  13. Emily says

    What a beautiful photo of such a haunting, disturbing place. I’d like to visit Auschwitz, but on the other hand I wouldn’t… so much horror there . Great post, your words capture it so well.

  14. Surya Bhattacharya says

    I took this tour last summer. What a haunting experience. I remember the guide telling us that when the liberation happened, the surviving females mostly weighed 25-30kgs. It’s insane.

  15. Brianna says

    Having recently watched a documentary on WWII the atrocities of the halocaust are fresh in my mind. Even seeing images of a concentration camp its hard to fathom the horror of what the prisoners went through on a daily basis.

  16. Samantha says

    Auschwitz is one of those places I want to go visit and I don’t. I have studied WW2 in great detail and I am fascinated with it but I am not sure whether I could handle the great sadness and incomprehensibility of it all

  17. marlene frankel says

    I appreciate your thoughts. I am the daughter of a Auschwitz/Bergen-Belsen survivor. My 90 year old mother still is haunted by her memory of being separated from her mother who was murdered in Auschwitz upon her arrival. Yesterday she said, “She was not ready to die.” My father survived Mathausen and is about to celebrate his 97th birthday. As part of a 2G group we still explore how this history has scarred the next generation as well.

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks very much for sharing your mother’s recent comments. My grandfather survived two and a half years in Dachau and a couple of the Mathausen camps. During a visit to Slovenia when I was 15, I spent about six hours one day listening to him talk about his experiences. I wish I had taken notes. It’s still a conversation I’ll never forget.

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