Warsaw’s Old Town

CIMG7463

CIMG7464

CIMG7465

CIMG7470

CIMG7473

Warszawa’s Old Town is not actually that old, but anyone who knows anything about Poland and WWII knows that the Nazi’s destroyed most of Warsaw. They didn’t destroy it in a fire fight battle to capture the city they destroyed it in a deliberate attempt to decimate all evidence of the city and its Polish inhabitants. Hitler’s plan was to rebuild Warsaw (all of Poland) as a German city. The plans had already been made for the destruction of the city even before the war began, but it was after the Warsaw Uprising, in 1944, the Nazi’s leveled the city. “Not a stone” was to be left standing. Between the fighting, the Ghetto Uprising, the Warsaw Uprising, and the subsequent bombing and destruction after the Uprising, 85% of the city had been destroyed. What is seen in the pictures of Old Town are replications from paintings, early photos, and any records left of what the city had looked like prior to the war. The antiquated 14th century looking buildings in the photos are only 70 years old. They did an amazing job in recreating their city.

Warsaw, Poland, 2014

Life in a Concentration Camp; Auschwitz

CIMG8824

Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed it’s depths. Is it surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities which in their varying nature were a mixture of good and evil? The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camps.

CIMG8825

This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. “I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. “In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. “I often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes.” What did it say to her?

CIMG8826

 She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here—I am here—I am life, eternal life.’ “

All words from Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl, author, psychiatrist, Auschwitz survivor.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, 2015

Birkenau Uprising

Leave these brick to lay as a reminder of the blood spilled upon the earth. These brick were torn down by the persecuted, the oppressed with the last of their breath, with the last of their strength. Leave these bricks to lay.

CIMG8817

In a perverse final cruelty, the Nazis gave the Jewish prisoners hope. They led them to believe that there was a chance that they would survive. If that prisoner could survive then maybe their loved ones would survive too. Sure, they could be killed by an angry guard or killed because they did not work hard enough. Sure, the work could kill them. They could die from the cold, the heat, the starvation, the disease, the abuse, but also they could survive. That is what the Nazis wanted them to believe. Not so that the Jewish prisoners would work harder or behave, but so that when they were sent to the gas chambers they would go easily without a struggle because they did not know that they were walking willingly to their deaths.

They were not fools, the ones who had survived long enough. There were rumors. Auschwitz was not a work camp. It was not created for slave labor it was created for death. It had one purpose and one purpose only- to efficiently and quickly erase an entire race, an entire ethnicity of human beings, erase them as if they had never existed in the first place. The long term prisoners knew, and the villagers knew too. When the trains would pass through the village some of the villagers, if they caught the eyes of a Jewish prisoner from one of the cars, they would drag their first finger across their neck like a sharp blade. “What could that mean?” A prisoner may have asked herself or a companion cramped beside her. Inside she probably knew, but didn’t want to believe it. “They couldn’t possibly kill all of us. Could they?”

CIMG8818

On October 7th, 1944, the Nazis ordered two units from Birkenau to transfer to another camp. The prisoners knew what the word transfer really meant gas chamber, and they revolted. The underground resistance was alive in the camp, and the plan of an uprising had already be in the works, but with the killing of the two camp units where many of the resistance were imprisoned the plan would be killed with them. The Jewish prisoners attacked the Nazis with stones, axes, and makeshift hand grenades- whatever they could use to fight. Three Nazis were killed in the uprising, but the fighting was suppressed by night fall, and those who had fought were executed and those who had escaped during the fighting were found, and executed.

During the fight the prisoners had set fire and destroyed crematorium IV, and today the crematorium is left as it was since October 7th, 1944. It is left as a memorial to those who fought and risked the last bit of their life to fight against a wickedness that most can not fathom. Though they died in the fighting, the crematorium was brought down, and there was one less gas chamber, and with that lives were spared.

CIMG8819

I inquired from prisoners who had been there for some time where my colleague and friend P—— had been sent.

“Was he sent to the left side?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Then you can see him there,” I was told.

“Where?” A hand pointed to the chimney a few hundred yards off, which was sending a column of flame up into the grey sky of Poland. It dissolved into a sinister cloud of smoke.

“That’s where your friend is, floating up to heaven,” was the answer. But I still did not understand until the truth was explained to me in plain words.

Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl