Before heading out on our road trip through Eastern Europe, it was suggested by a friend to watch the movie, "Operation Daybreak." So, we did. May I suggest that if you've not seen this movie, and you are interested in WWII History . . . watch it ! Even if you're not interested in WWII History, watch it.
There is also a series of History Channel Youtube videos about Operation Anthropoid, which was the code name for the assassination that more correctly tell the story. This is the First Part: CLICK HERE
In 1942, World War II paratroopers Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš assassinated the SS second-in-command Reinhard Heydrich, who controlled the Nazi-occupied Czech lands and was one of the main architects of the Holocaust. He was known as "The Butcher of Prague," The Hangman of Prague," "The god of Death," among other titles. In the weeks following his assassination, the two paratroopers hid, along with other freedom fighters, in the crypt of the Greek Orthodox Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church on Resslova Street.
The following photos show the modest exhibition in the church's crypt that retell their story, along with the history of the Czech resistance movement. Outside, you will see a small memorial, including bullet holes, a plaque, and flowers.
Saints Cyril and Methodius Church on Resslova Street in Prague
If you're not aware of what happened here, it would be quite easy to walk by and never know.
Looking up, there is a small window that opens into the crypt below. There is a memorial plaque, dead flowers and fresh flowers lying on the ledge below the window which is . . .
. . . riddled with bullet holes.
Inside, there are panels with a photo journal of what happened. . .
. . . that day . . . from that corner of the almost failed assassination. . .
. . . to the final days of the heroes.
This is the plaque to the right of the door that leads inside the crypt.
If you don't have time to read it all, at least read the last two paragraphs.
Inside the crypt, looking back at the door
Stairs leading up to the altar of the cathedral
This photo was taken looking up to the opening of the shaft.
Cover of the shaft
Looking out the window shown in the third and fourth photos above . . .
. . . the one with the bullet holes.
The traitor, Karel Čurda was the Czech soldier who also parachuted into the protectorate in 1942, and yelled down into the crypt from this window for those inside to give up.
His rewards were 1,000,000 Reichmarks and a new identity, "Karl Jerhot." He married a German woman and spent the rest of the war as a Gestapo Spy.
After the war, Čurda was tracked down and arrested. When asked in court how he could betray his comrades, Čurda answered, "I think you would have done the same for one million marks."
Karel Čurda was found guilty of high treason and hanged on April 29, 1947.
Same window. Just taken from a few steps farther back.
To the right, you can see where the heroes started trying to dig a tunnel to escape.
This is the window where the SS placed the hose from the fire truck that filled the crypt with water and would have eventually drown those inside.
Bullet holes on the wall to the right of the hole for the tunnel.
The photos below are of the statues memorializing the paratroopers and the freedom fighters.
The vaults behind the statues are for coffins.
The Bishop Gorazd, in an attempt to minimize the reprisals among his flock, took the blame for the actions in the church by harboring these men, and even wrote letters to the Nazi authorities, who arrested him on June 27, 1942 and tortured him. On September 4, 1942 the bishop, the church's priests and senior lay leaders were taken to the Kobylisy Shooting Range in a northern suburb of Prague and were shot by Nazi firing squads. For his actions, Bishop Gorazd was later glorified as a martyr by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Intelligence falsely linked the assassins of Heydrich to the villages of Lidice and Ležáky. A Gestapo report identified Lidice as the assailants' suspected hiding place since several Czech army officers exiled in England at the time were known to have come from there. In addition, the Gestapo had found a resistance radio transmitter in LežákyIn the village of Lidice, destroyed on June 9, 1942, 199 men were executed, 95 children taken prisoner (81 later killed in gas vans at the Chelmo extermination camp; eight others were taken for adoption by German families), and 195 women were immediately deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp. All adults, men and women, in the village of Ležáky were murdered. Both towns were burned, and the ruins of Lidice leveled.
Flowers recently left on the floor of the crypt
And I leave you with the image above . . .
. . . the look on Charlie's face as he entered the crypt, looking up at that window, pretty much says it all.
One of my very special memories of my mom is baking cakes and brownies with her. Especially the chocolate variety. She had one of those Sunbeam electric mixers (I still have it, by the way), that was white with a black handle on top and an black twisty-turny-thingy to change the speeds with. It had two clear bowls that came with it. It was the bowl that I was most interested in. That's because the bowl would contain the remants of the batter of either the cake or the brownies. My mom was very adept at getting out most of the batter with one of those rubber spatulas. But, then there were the beaters. These usually had quite a bit of batter dripping from them, and I was very adept at getting off most of the batter with my tongue. I would always ask her to leave more batter in the bowl, but she carefully explained to me that if she didn't use all the batter, the cake or brownies wouldn't bake correctly.
Fast forward to when my daughters would stand on a kitchen chair at her counter waiting for my mom to hand them the bowl and the beaters. It was always a mystery to me as to how those cakes and brownies turned out just fine when my mom would leave about a cup of batter in the bowl for them to 'lick.'
Really ? They could drink the batter from the bowl. When I questioned her about the amount of batter she left in the bowl and the fact that the cake probably wouldn't bake correctly, her reply was, "WWWWEEEEELLLL . . . and then pat the granddaughter on the head and hug and kiss her.
My girls have special memories of my mother, and one of them is baking brownies with her.
That's why when I'm with Little Miss P and Baby Dub-Ya, we always bake brownies.
Then we lick the bowls and the beaters and the whisks and the spatulas . . .
Here is a series of photographs taken while the brownies were baking . . .notice that each lick has a special technique . . .
The "I Really Need to Concentrate on This - Lick. "
The "I Think My Tongue Can Reach That Little Drip Right There - Lick."
The "Make Sure You're Looking Where You're Licking - Lick."
The "I Think I Can Get This Whole Whisk in My Mouth - Lick."
The "Lackadaisical-Daydreaming - Lick."
The "This Is Really Decadent - Lick."
The "Where Do I Lick Next - Lick ?"
The "How Far Can I Stick Out My Tongue - Lick ?"
The "I Can Do This With My Eyes Shut - Lick."
The "I Think I'm Getting Sleepy - Lick."
The "I'm Finished and Can Wash My Face with My Tongue - Lick."
Now, you may be wondering where Little Miss P was while her little brother was licking away.
She received her degree from what was then known as Southeastern Teacher's College. (I think that was the name.) Later, when I graduated from there, it was Southeastern State College. And now, it's Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Ironically enough, one of my very bestest friend's son is now president of SOSU. (Aletha Booker Burrage ~ Sean Burrage.)
But, I meander with my typing. Try to stay with me here. Oh look, a squirrel.
See. My ADHD is working well this morning.
Back to the funny story.
Mom taught at several different schools in the Antlers, Oklahoma area . . . South Nelson, Sugarloaf, and Kellond.
Kellond ! Yes ! My first real memories from childhood are of Kellond. A rock building north of Antlers that at one time, eventually was turned into a honky-tonk of sorts. (Mom, cover your ears.)
Miss Bertha, as she was fondly called by her students, became pregnant in 1951. It was not viewed upon favorably in those days for the school teacher to be 'with child' and in the classroom full of young students.
Becoming pregnant in October, three months into the school year, was kind of a miracle but needed to be kept secret. You see, she had been told she would probably never be able to have children.
My parents, being the honest kind of 'foke' they were, decided they should tell one of the school board members of their predicament. They needed her salary and certainly would be put in a financial strain if she was asked to step down.
Eanon and Miss Bertha went to one of the school board member's houses one night to share their story. Their meeting with Mr. Davis was held in the family's tiny living room while the Davis son played in the kitchen nearby. Larry Davis was a student of Miss Bertha's.
Mr. Davis assured my parents he would keep their secret and to not worry about losing her job. He would later bring this up at the school board meeting, but until then, no one would know but the three of them.
Of course, Mom and Dad were both relieved.
The next day in that classroom filled with first, second, third, and fourth graders, Miss Bertha was at the back of the room sitting at a table with first graders in a reading group.
Above the din from all the other students sitting at their desks, she heard Larry tell another third grader, "Hey ! Did you know Miss Bertha is going to have a baby ? Don't tell her though because she doesn't know yet."
Trying to remember my FIRST memory of my mom brought back MANY memories of her. It's difficult to know if I actually remember this, or if I just remember the story being told over and over and over again.
Regardless, being a mother myself, I can imagine how she must have felt the day that this happened. I can almost feel her arms around me, trembling as she held me close.
The first house we lived in was west of Antlers, Oklahoma, on the highway to Darwin . . . which also leads to Atoka.
That house was just up the hill on the opposite side of that highway where my paternal grandparents lived . . . Mam-ma and Papa Smith.
I'm not sure how old I was, but I was still riding a tricycle.
Evidently, Mom let me out of her sight for a few minutes, so I headed out on my tricycle . . . down the middle of the highway. This was a well traveled road, and even though it was in the country, the speed liimit was probably 55 mph.
Once she realized I wasn't at the house, panic set in.
Of course, I don't remember any of these details.
The first car that came along was being driven by a lady who knew our family, and she was probably pretty surprised to see a toddler booking it down the hill in the middle of the highway on a red tricycle. Thank goodness she saw me in time and was able to stop.
By that time, Mom had spotted me and was running as fast as she could down the highway. I would imagine she was doing the 55 mph speed limit, on foot. Probably, barefoot.
This is the part I think I remember:
She lifted me off that tricycle, held me so close to her chest, and asked, "Sweetheart, what are you doing ?"
"Me just going to Mam-ma and Papa's house."
I have sooooooo many wonderful memories of my mom and think of her every day.
She was a Master Teacher and loved being in the classroom. She was my first teacher at a two-room country school north of Antlers, Oklahoma, called Kellond. We lived on the "teacherage." (If you don't know what a teacherage is, think parsonage.) She was a talented seamtress and made all my clothes. At the time, I wanted "bought" clothes, but now realize I had my very own "haute coutre" closet. She even designed and made my wedding dress. She was also a great cook. She made a mean peanut butter and banana sandwich.
Mom was probably the best Grandmother ever. Her two granddaughters were treated to about anything they ever wanted...like warm brownies twenty-four hours a day. But mainly they were treated to warm, unconditional love twenty-four hours a day.
When I lost her, there were no words left unsaid. She knew she was loved. I knew I was loved.
When I see the sun's rays or the stars twinkle at night, it reminds me of her beautiful smile.
If you are lucky enough to still have your mom, make sure you tell her you love her today, because E.V.E.R.Y. day is Mother's Day.
This was our first house and a photo of Mom in the spring before she had me in June.
If you're planning a trip to Europe, may I suggest going by way of Iceland ?
I have several reasons . . . here are a few:
Icelandair is cheaper than the other airlines. You can fly their 'business class' for about the same price as the other airlines 'economy class.'
It breaks up the trip into a reasonable amount of time in the air.
Icelandair allows you to stay several days before you have to book your flight home at no additional cost.
Reykjavik is a wonderful place to visit.
When we left Denver, the forecast was for the temperature to be in the upper 70's. When we arrived Reykjavik . . . see above. Who planned this trip, anyway?
The Hotel Borg is a wonderful place to stay and within walking distance of great shopping, restaurants, thermal pools, and most importantly the Gray Lines Bus Station which books tours to anywhere you want to go on the island.
Why is he so happy ? He thinks he's found a restaurant open for breakfast. Not a big deal unless you arrive at 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Our hotel had a very nice restaurant which was open, but since he had eaten there before, he wanted to go look for one.
Note to self: Next time, tell him no.
Tip: You will probably fly out of your airport on a late afternoon flight and arrive early the next morning. It's an hour bus ride into Reykjavik, and by the time you arrive at your hotel, be prepared to wait until about 3:00 p.m. to get into your room. When booking your hotel room, ask if it will be ready when you arrive. (probably not) It's worth the extra expense to book the room the night before you arrive so it will be ready. Can you spell j-e-t-l-a-g ?
We finally found a restaurant open, and the waiter asked if I would like to have a latte or cappucino. I said yes.
When the waiter set all this down in front of HansMan, he looked at it and said, "I think he forgot my potatoes."
Many of the sidewalks are heated in Reykjavik.
I found a Viking and HansMan found our favorite restaurant. It's on the same street as the Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran church.
Tours are offered in the church and you can see for miles and miles and miles and miles if you go up.
Tip: Be sure to use a 'heavy duty' adapter or this will happen.
There's really no need to take a hair dryer because most hotels provide them.
When this happened, it made a really stupid loud noise.
No trip to Reykjavik is complete without one of these hotdogs. This is where Bill Clinton ate the night before he had the heart attack.
The hotdog stand is about two blocks from Harpa, Reykjavik's Concert Hall and Conference Center. It's located by the old harbor between the city center and the North Atlantic
The place is very pretty at night. Did you see the bird ?
This is one of the many thermal pools. It was within walking distance of Hotel Borg.
The name is on the building. Good luck.
This is another one of the pools in the city. It's a bus ride but well-worth the 'trouble' getting there.
Actually, it's fairly easy getting there, just make sure you know how to get a bus ticket home. The round trip ticket we bought expired before we left the pool.
At least we weren't going to starve to death. There's another hot dog stand across the street.
We liked both of these places better than The Blue Lagoon which is located close to the airport about an hour away. Plus, Blue Lagoon is much more expensive.
Just another pretty church in Reykjavik.
Hike to the Volcano
We hiked through lava tubes on the way . . .
Standing on two different plates: the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet in Thingvellir, where they're visible to visitors walking through the Thingvellir National Park.
You might recognize it from Season 4 of "Game of Thrones".
Our guide who will lead us down into the volcano.
Thrihnukagigur is the only place on earth where you can enter a magma chamber.
"I'm liking the helmet and harness." (Said me never.)
Notice the rope to the right. Just sayin'.
The colors are spectacular. This is looking up to the entrance. (White dot at bottom)
Tip: Read "Journey to the Center of the Earth," (again) Or watch the movie.
Take the Golden Circle tour. . .
. . . and you will see these everywhere.
Gullfoss means translated "Golden Falls" and is one of Iceland's most beautiful and without a doubt Iceland's most popular waterfall.
Tip: Wear a raincoat !
Just a couple of the vehicles we saw along the way.
When you decide to finally leave this great country,
The next four photos were taken from the same spot just looking in different directions.
Below: The Gallows
Shortly after the war, camp commander Rudolf Höss was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Survivors requested that he be executed at Auschwitz, and in 1947, he was hanged here. The gallows are preserved behind the crematorium, about a hundred yards from his home where his wife, Hedwig, loved her years here, and read stories to their children, very likely by the light from a lamp with a human-skin lampshade. The family decorated their home with furniture and artwork stolen from prisoners as they were selected for the gas chambers.
From 1940 to 1944, the Höss family lived in a two-story gray stucco villa on the edge of Auschwitz — so close you could see the prisoner blocks and old crematorium from the upstairs window. Hedwig Höss described the place as 'paradise.' They had cooks, nannies, gardeners, chauffeurs, seamstresses, haircutters and cleaners, some of whom were prisoners.
There were five children, three girls and two boys. Brigitte was the daughter who ended up living quietly on a leafy side street in Northern Virginia and worked in a Washington fashion salon.
Soon after she was hired, Brigitte says, she got drunk with her manager and confessed that her father was Rudolf Hoss. The manager told the store’s owner. The owner told Brigitte that she could stay, that she had not committed any crime herself. What Brigitte did not know, at least not until later, was that the store owner and her husband were Jewish and had fled Nazi Germany after the Kristallnacht attacks of 1938.
Rudolf Höss at Auschwitz
Höss introduced Zyklon B containing hydrogen cyanide to the killing process, thereby allowing soldiers at Auschwitz to murder 2,000 people every hour. He created the largest installation for the continuous annihilation of human beings ever known.
The photo on the left is of Höss taken during his detention in 1945 - 1946. The one of above was taken of him just a few minutes before his hanging.
Chimney of the crematorium
Up to 700 people at a time could be gassed here. There were vents in the ceiling where the SS men dropped the Zyklon-B. The facility could burn 340 bodies a day, so it took two days to burn all the bodies from one round of executions. The Nazis didn't like this inefficiency, so they built four more huge crematoria at Birkenau.
I did not take any photos inside !
This was the door before I went in.
This was the door when I came out. Please notice the snow/sleet falling.
As I stood there, I remembered the quote as I walked through the gate earlier that day which said, "Work Sets You Free." New arrivals were told the truth, "The only way out of Auschwitz was through the crematorium chimney."
The snow/sleet mixture eerily fell like ashes onto my black coat.
This photo below is the entrance to Birkenau.
This is the guard tower shown in several scenes in Schindler's List.
The train track that took the prisoners into the camp
In 1941, realizing that the original Auschwitz camp was too small to meet their needs, the Nazis began a second camp in the nearby farm fields. The original plan was for a camp that could hold 200,000 people, but at it peak, Birkenau held about 100,000. They were still adding onto it when the camp was liberated in 1945.
Above photo taken under the guard tower looking in
And so, I will leave you with one of the last things I saw as I left this place . . .
"If you should survive, don't forget to tell the World of our destiny."
A few escaped and were heroes. A few helped them. They were heroes, too.
A startling statistic follows this post . . .
Alfréd Israel Wetzler (May 10, 1918 -February 8, 1988) was a Slovak Jew and later wrote under the alias Jozef Lánik. Wetzler was one of a very small number of Jews known to have escaped from Auschwitz during the Holocaust. (April 10, 1944)
Wetzler is known for the report that he and his fellow escapee, Rudolf "Rudi" Vrba compiled about the inner workings of the Auschwitz camp, a ground plan of the camp, construction details of the gas chambers, crematoriums and, most convincingly, a label from a canister of Zyklon B. The 32-page Vrba-Wetzler report, as it became known, was the first detailed report about Auschwitz to reach the West that the Allies regarded as credible. The evidence eventually led to the bombing of several government buildings in Hungary, killing Nazi officials who were instrumental in the railway deportations of Jews to Auschwitz. The deportations halted, saving up to 120,000 Hungarian Jews.
Historian Sir Martin Gilbert said, "Alfred Wetzler was a true hero. His escape from Auschwitz, and the report he helped compile, telling for the first time the truth about the camp as a place of mass murder, led directly to saving the lives of thousands of Jews, the Jews of Budapest who were about to be deported to their deaths. No other single act in the Second World War saved so many Jews from the fate that Hitler had determined for them.
Rudolf Vrba, (September 11, 1924 - March 27, 2006) originally from Slovakia, and Wetzler managed to flee Auschwitz three weeks after German forces invaded Hungary, a German ally, and began deporting the country's Jewish population to Auschwitz.The 40 pages of information the men passed to Jewish officials when they arrived in Slovakia on April 24, which included the information that arrivals were being gassed and not resettled, was included in the Vrba-Wetzler report. While it confirmed material in earlier reports from Polish and other escapees, Miroslaw Karny writes that it was unique in its "unflinching detail."
There was a delay of several weeks before information from the report was distributed widely enough to gain the attention of governments. Mass transports of Hungary's Jews to Auschwitz began on May 15, 1944, at a rate of 12,000 people a day; most of them were sent straight to the gas chambers. Vrba argued until the end of his life that the deportees would have refused to board the trains had they known they were not being resettled. His position is generally not accepted by Holocaust historians.
Material from the Vrba–Wetzler and earlier reports appeared in newspapers and radio broadcasts in the United States and Europe, particularly in Switzerland, throughout June and into July 1944, prompting world leaders to appeal to Hungarian regent Miklos Horthy to halt the deportations.On July 7 he ordered an end to them, possibly fearing he would be held responsible after the war. By then 437,000 Jews had been deported, constituting almost the entire Jewish population of the Hungarian countryside, but another 200,000 living in Budapest were saved.
Jerzy Tabeau (December 18, 1918 - May 11, 2012) was a Polish medical student who was one of the first escapees from Auschwitz to give a fully detailed report on the genocide there to the outside world. First reports in early 1942 had been made by the Polish officer Witold Pilecki. Tabeau's report was known as that of the "Polish major" in the Auschwitz Protocols.
In March, on orders of the Underground, Tabeau left Kraków on a mission to get to London in person to give testimony regarding the Polish resistance and confirm to the Allies the truth about the Nazi genocide. The journey took place without dramatic incident. After returning to Poland he went to Sądecczyznę to create a "Socialist Death Battalion." During one of the battles near Jordanow in October 1944, Tabeau was wounded in the head, leaving him partially paralyzed. However he lived to see the end of the war. After 1945 he settled in Kraków, completing his medical studies and graduating from the Jagiellonian University. He became an assistant professor of medical science, and a well-known cardiologist in Kraków.
Below are reports, documentation, and clippings of the activities in Auschwitz and Berkinau. They aren't large enough to read, but they do show how the word finally 'got out' about this place and what was happening.
Executive Office of the President
Below the panel says: Thanks to the courage and self-sacrifice of the camp resistance liaison groups, permanent contact with the free world was maintained.
Below the panel says: Despite the terror, the inhabitants at Oswiecim region were organizing resistance for the prisoners of Auschwitz.
The photo below is of leaders and some activists of the national resistance groups in Auschwitz.
Józef Garliński (Oct0ber 14, 1913 - November 29, 2005) was a Polish historian and prose writer. He wrote many notable books on the history of World War II, some of which were translated into English. In particular, his book Fighting Auschwitz, translated into English in 1975, became a best-seller. Garliński was prisoner number 121421 at the Auschwitz camp and had arrived on May 13, 1943, on the same transport as Jerzy Chmielewski.
When I think of a concentration camp, several come to mind. Of course, Auschwitz and Dachau are the first. Then, Plaszow, best known for it's part in "Schindler's List," the camp being commanded by Amon Göth. Until now, I had NO IDEA of how many there were !
According to statistics by the German Ministry of Justice, about 1,200 camps and sub-camps were run in countries occupied by Nazi Germany, while the Jewish Virtual Library estimates that the number of Nazi camps was closer to 15,000 in all of occupied Europe.
There are a few 'inspirational' stories that I found in Auschwitz. One of them is about a Polish priest. For the past several posts, there have been photos of hundreds of prisoners who died here, and it seems fairly easy to scroll past those faces, and in a few minutes, forget about them. But, when those faces have a name and a story . . . well, that face is not so easy to forget.
St. Maksymillan Kolbe (1894 - 1941)
Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar most famous for volunteering to die in place of a stranger here.
In 1912 he was sent to Kraków, and in the same year to a college in Rome, where he studied philosophy, theology, mathematics, and physics. He earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1915 at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and the doctorate in theology in 1919 at the Pontifical University of St. Bonaventure. During his time as a student, he witnessed vehement demonstrations against Popes St. Pius X and Benedict XV in Rome and was inspired to organize the Militia Immaculata, or Army of Mary, to work for conversion of sinners and the enemies of the Catholic Church through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. The Immaculata friars utilized the most modern printing and administrative techniques in publishing catechetical and devotional tracts, a daily newspaper with a circulation of 230,000 and a monthly magazine with a circulation of over one million. While he was highly regarded for his devotion to the Catholic Church, some of his writings had an unsettling anti-Semitic sentiment.
Between 1930 and 1936 , he took a series of missions to Japan, where he founded a monastery at the outskirts of Nagasaki, a Japanese paper, and a seminary. The monastery he founded remains prominent in the Roman Catholic Church in Japan. Kolbe decided to build the monastery on a mountain side that, according to Shinto beliefs, was not the side best suited to be in tune with nature. When the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Kolbe’s monastery was saved because the blast of the bomb hit the other side of the mountain, which took the main force of the blast. Had Kolbe built the monastery on the preferred side of mountain as he was advised, his work and all of his fellow monks would have been destroyed.
Even though he may have been criticized for his anti-Semitic writings, during the World War II he provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów. He was also active as a radio amateur, with Polish call letters SP3RN, vilifying Nazi activities through his reports.
On February 17, 1941, he was arrested by the German Gestapo and was imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On May 25, was transferred to Auschwitz I as prisoner #16670.
In July 1941 a man from Kolbe’s barracks vanished, prompting SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, to choose men from the same barracks to be placed in one of the camps starvation cells to die in order to deter further escape attempts.
This action was based on the Nazi's "Doctrine of Collective Responsibility."
One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, lamenting his family and who would take care of his wife and children. Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
During the time in the cell, Kolbe led the men in songs and prayer. After several weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others were still alive. (Some reports say Kolbe was the only survivor.) The story of his survival spread throughout the camp, and Kolbe became an inspiration to the other prisoners. To squelch the hope he had given others, the Nazis executed him by a lethal injection of carbolic acid.
It is reported that the man who had disappeared was later found drowned in the camp latrine.
Father Kolbe was beatified as a confessor by Pope Paul VI in 1971 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 10, 1982 in the presence of Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man who he took the place of to go into that starvation cell. Upon canonization, the Pope declared St. Maximilian Kolbe not a confessor, but a martyr.
Block 11 was intended solely to punish prisoners through torture. The block contained special torture chambers in which various punishments were applied to prisoners. It was the most feared place among the prisoners because no one ever left this place alive.
It was at Block 11 that the first attempts to kill people with Zyklon B were implemented.
Between the tenth and eleventh block stood the "Death Wall," through that gate, where thousands of prisoners were lined up for execution by firing squad.
The "Death Wall" was reconstructed after the war and can be seen through the gate.
This is where the Nazis shot several thousand political prisoners, leaders of camp resistance, and religious leaders.
That is Block 10 on the left. The windows were covered so no one could watch the executions.
For awhile, I could not walk through the gate, so I took this photo of the Death Wall with my zoom lens.
The wall was made of a materials designed by the Nazis to catch the bullets without a ricochet. Inmates were shot at short range, about three feet.
After several minutes, I decided to walk in to show my respects to the thousands who stood against this wall and were executed by the Nazis.
Pebbles have been left to represent prayers from Jewish visitors.
I stood with my back to the "Death Wall" to see what was the last thing the prisoners saw before they were shot.
Inside Block 11 was a room where summary sessions of Gestapo Court were held. (Sham Trials) The most frequent sentence was the death penalty by shooting at the "Death Wall." Death here required a 'trial,' which lasted about two minutes.
The door which the prisoners walked out. The "Death Wall" is to the right.
Men who had been sentenced to be shot at the "Death Wall" stripped in this room.
One of the stretchers on which the bodies were carried to the crematorium.
At the end of the hall in Cell 21,, a crucifix and image of Jesus has been scratched on the wall. (Photos were not allowed of this.)
In the Standing Cells #22, some of the tortures could include being locked in a dark chamber for several days, which were one square meter, with a 5x5 centimeter hole for breathing, consisted of confining four prisoners, who were forced by the lack of space to remain standing all night for up to twenty nights, while still being forced to work during the day.The brick went all the way to the ceiling. (Photos were not allowed of this cell.)
Prisoner interrogations involving extreme torture were also conducted within Block 11, often with use of the "Boger Swing" device, developed by Wilhelm Boger, and SS officer who served within Auschwitz's Political Department.
This photo was taken in Dark Cell #20 which held up to 30 people. They had only this small window for ventilation, and if it became covered with snow, the prisoners suffocated.
This photo was taken outside Block 11 which is at the end of the road.
Block 7 contains the exhibits of living and sanitary conditions. The roofs leaked, the rooms were damp and cold, and the straw and straw mattresses were foul due to many prisoners suffering from diarrhea.
Not only did the prisoners inhabit these horrible buildings, so did vermin and rats.
There was a constant shortage of water for washing and there were no suitable sanitary facilities.
The area between Blocks 6 and 7.
The interior of a room for prisoners until spring of 1941. Prisoners slept crowded together on straw mattresses. In the morning, they had to gather up the mattresses and arrange them in the corner of the room.
Some of the rooms only had straw for the prisoners to sleep on.
The interior of a lavatory for prisoners from 1941 to 1945. Given the over crowding in the barracks, these sanitation facilities were not sufficient for all prisoners. Before they were installed, prisoners used a provisional field latrine.
The interior of a washroom from 1941- 1945. Before these facilities were installed, prisoners had only two wells outside the barracks where they could wash.
Two and three prisoners had to sleep on each bunk, meaning that they had to sleep on their sides in order to fit.
This photo has an eerie reflection . . . the photos hung on the wall behind me are reflected in the glass of this room . . . as if the prisoners are actually in that room.
Even though the purpose of Auschwitz was to murder the innocent people brought here, not all of them were killed immediately. After an initial evaluation, some prisoners were registered and forced to work. This didn't mean they were chosen to live, just to die after they had worked, and probably from starvation.
It is clear from the evidence that Auschwitz was never intended to be a "work camp," where people were kept alive and fed well so they would be healthy enough to do work. People were meant to die here, if not in the gas chamber, or executed, then through malnutrition and overwork.
Block 6 shows some of the elements of the everyday life of the prisoners.
In a word, "Starvation."
There is a room that displays drawings of the arrival process which were sketched by survivors of the concentration camp. After the initial selection, those chosen to work were showered, shaved, and photographed. After a while, the Nazis decided it was just too expensive to photograph all the prisoners, so they were tattooed on the chest or arm.
For the children, they were tattooed on the leg.
The halls are lined with photographs of the victims. The dates of arrival and death show that those registered survived here an average of two to three months.
Thousands and thousands . . .
. . . and thousands of photographs.
It's just automatic to look at the walls with all the black and white photographs as you walk down the the long, long hallways.
But, to look into the eyes of each PERSON and to read the name of that person and to read the occupation of that person is haunting.
The victim is looking straight into the camera, and therefore, looks straight into your eyes, as if to say, "Help me."
The 7,500 survivors that the Red Army found when the camp was liberation were essentially living skeletons. The 'healthier' inmates had been forced to march to Germany.
Of those liberated, 20 percent died soon after of disease and starvation. The daily ration was usually a pan of tea or coffee in the morning, a thin vegetable soup in the afternoon, and a piece of bread for dinner. The bread was often made with sawdust or chestnuts.
The statue, which appears to be looking at more children behind the barbed-wire.
It is called, "Mother and Child."
This statue is called, "Starvation."
I will warn you right now, the following photos are unbelievable and difficult to look at. As with the 'suggestion' at Auschwitz, no children under 14 should visit . . .
Why did I take them?
Why did I post them ?
It was important to me to document this view from my own perspective in order to record the enormity of this place. Not necessarily to understand it. There is no way that looking at a picture of the Grand Canyon can one truly understand the enormity of standing on the rim. And, so it is with this place, the emotion of standing on the same grounds cannot be felt by looking at these photos.
I am in no way comparing a tourist site like the Grand Canyon to Auschwitz. I'm just trying to explain that experiencing this place through literature, history classes, documentaries, etc. can in no way describe the experience of being here.
Room 6 is about Auschwitz's child inmates which comprised twenty percent of the camp's victims.
Blonde, blue-eyed children were either "Germanized" in special schools or, if younger, adopted by German families.
It is apparent, that none of the children pictured below were blonde and blue-eyed.
Dr. Josef Mengele conducted gruesome experiments here on children, especially twins and triplets, ostensibly to find way to increase fertility for German mothers.
I stood on the steps of Block 6 and snapped this photo. I do remember seeing a child's stroller parked on the edge of the road (lower right corner) , but not until now did it 'hit' me . . .