I read the diary of Anne Frank as part of a setwork book at school and remember it well, it is a moving account of the years that a lively young girl was forced to go into hiding for almost 2 years.
In July 1942, Anne Frank went into hiding with her family in a small attic space above her father's business premises in Amsterdam. Those 2 small rooms with an adjoining bathroom must have felt especially cramped especially when they were joined by the van Pels family. Anne writes in her diary about her time spent in hiding, hearing the bells of the Westekerk, the relationships within the family. Having visited the secret annexe I can imagine how frightened you would feel that you may be caught for making the slightest bit of noise.
The Frank family were betrayed and the gestapo transported the family to Auschwitz in August 1944. At the age of 15years Anne was one of the youngest people not to be chosen for immediate death and was forced into hard labour. She died of typhus in Bergen Belsen few weeks before the liberation. Otto Frank her father was the only survivor from the family and decided to publish her diary.
Favorite thing: I borrowed the book Schindlers Ark by Thomas Keneally and bought the DVD as well. I visited the Schindler factory whilst in Krakow. The power of this movie is to show that there were Germans that were championed as heros amongst the Jews, people who could have been heavily prosecuted for showing mercy to what the nazis viewed an inferior people. Everytime I watch this film I find myself crying.
Favorite thing: Primo Levi was an Italian Jew transported to Auschwitz in Feb 1944, he recounts his experiences. Out of 650 Italian Jews transported to Auschwitz only 20 were left alive at the time of the liberation.
My housemate had an old copy of this book the doctor was Miklos Nyiszli who as a Jewish medical doctor with some experience of pathology saved himself from sure death to work for Josef Mengele in a job which provided a grim outlook. Nyiszli worked with the 12th Sonderkommando performing autopsies and scientific research on his fellow inmates this book is very explicit and detailed and it made me feel as though this doctor may have favoured death if he knew what fate had in sore for him.
Miklos Nyiszli was able to save his wife and daughter from extermination, he himself spent 12 months in Auschwitz and was taken on the death march surviving to tell his tale. There is some debate on the internet as to exactly how truthful the contents of this book are but nonetheless it is a harrowing story.
Another book I read was Children of Flames - Dr Mengele and the untold story of the twins by Lucette Matalon Lagnadu.
Of some 3,000 twins that were sent to Auschwitz, only 160 of them survived. Fifty years after the liberation the story of the twin survivors unfolded. Josef Mengele was in charge of selection process at Auschwitz and his desire to create an Aryan race gave rise to his special interest in twins on whom he planned to do his genetic research.
The twins were stationed not fab away from the gas chambers where probably most of their family were sent immediatly. These twins were given special privleges by Mengele and many give accounts in their interviews of this Angel of Death being a smiling uncle Mengele who provided them with extra clothes and even candy. The twins were driven to his laboratory in a red cross van and after some painful experiments were showered with candy as if to make them forget what they had just gome through.
Interwoven into the interviews of these twin survivors is the biography of Mengele, his family background, his wartime work experience and later his escape and hiding in South America. After reading this book I found it hard to understand how he evaded capture as he was even as blatant to return to his orginal name and even back to germany. The twins still maintain that the remains found in Brazil of the Angel of Death are not his and that it only proves that this man has yet again suceeded in tricking the world into believing the monster is finally dead.
The book by Ira Levin and movie the Boys from Brazil tells of how Josef Mengele evaded capture.
I read this book by Laurence Rees, which was also a BBC television series. The book is made up of over a hundred interviews of both survivors and perpatrators.
It details the fact that Auschwitz was not simply a death camp, it was seen to be a profit making concern and the german industry did indeed profit over the years. Laurence Rees makes you see how the killing at Auschwitz was treated as a prodution line of death. Ruldoph Hoss the man in charge worked out the most cost effective way of killing in great volumes and disposing of the remains.
The trials of men such as Adolph Eichmenn, the man in charge of the final solution, are detailed in the book and theme of following orders and could not be held accountable comes through strongly in the trials of these nazis.
Although this place is a horrid place it bears a great hope:
by visiting it and finding out about the brutal and inhuman things that happened here - there is only one solution:
it is our responsibilty to make sure that
this must never ever happen again
- no matter where!
Inside the barracks there are exhibitions on life and death in this concentration camp. Depending on when you go visit you will have many guided tours there and you might want to listen to some of their explainations - or you just read the information from the little guide-book.
Be prepared to see things that really get to you - this definitely is the most difficult place to visit!
The premises of the concentration camp you find a guided walk that leads you along the barracks (numbered 1 - 30 or even more), the hospital, the crematorium, the fences, towers and drill ground.
Inside the first barracks (1-15) you will find the official museum with exhibitions of life and death in the concentration camp and in the other barracks (from 16 on) you will have exhibitions from the different countries and nationalities that bemoan their dead in various more or less artistic exhibitions.
Do get some beforehand information from their official website http://www.auschwitz.org.pl/
In the information center in the Auschwitz concentration camp you can obtain a very informative written guide in at least 10 languages. Highly recommended! The cost was 3 zl (= 1 ?) in March 2006.
I have done both and I must say I preferred the individual visit - but this might be a very personal thing. This is such a depressing place that I was thankful to visit it at my own pace. I realize that we might have missed quite a bit of information, but what we saw and read was at times more than I could take!
There are quite a few English speaking tours that you can join right there, with other languages tours might not be as frequent.
Auschwitz is one of the first concentration camps and the first camp where they started executing prisoners with gas. The first gaschamber can be found here.
Auschwitz is preserved for the most part and all barracks are still standing. They used to be administrative buildings and therefore look more decent then you would expect, but if considering the cramped rooms they had to live in with many people and all the tortures they had to undergo, it's soon over with that image.
Auschwitz is full of expositions and it takes a long time to see it all. I spent a good 4 hours in the museum and manage to see everything. So get-up early as you are going to spend time here. Especially if you want to make it to Birkenau as well.
The Auschwitz camps take some time to get around. Allow yoursel at least a good five-six hours to see both camps. Although free, it may be worth paying some money for a tour guide who can tell you more about the place.
Fondest memory: Oswiecim also has a beautiful town which has good restaurants and sites. After the seeing the grim sites, relax by taking a walk in the main town of Oswiecim.
Birkenau was a second camp built by the Nazis a couple of kilometers from the original camp at Auschwitz. Auschwitz was proving to be too small to hold exterminate the large number of Jews and other prisoners being sent to the camp. It was necessary to construct an annex.
Birkenau is actually bigger than the camp at Auschwitz. Because it was built from scratch as opposed to Auschwitz, which had been an army barracks, the buildings were constructed in a haphazard manner with little care for comfort for the prisoners being held here. The compound at one time consisted of 300 buildings however now there are only sixty still standing. Most of the prisoners taken to Auschwitz for extermination actually met their end here.
Favorite thing: This is in Auschwitz camp, the buildings are the former barracks. Today most of them have been transformed in museums....each is different, one is dedicated to the Jewish, and others follow the same format but are also broken down into the countries too.