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Oct-25-2011 22:20printcomments

Visiting Auschwitz

As non-Jews, our visit to Auschwitz was sobering. we cannot imagine what a visit must be for a Jew, especially someone who has lost family members at Auschwitz or at another concentration camp.

Auschwitz camp watchtower (Photo by Judi Iranyi)
Auschwitz camp watchtower (Photo by Judi Iranyi)

(SAN FRANCISCO) - We just returned from a tour of Central Europe. We visited Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, and Prague. On our drive from Warsaw to Krakow, we stopped at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oswiecim, renamed Auschwitz when the town and the surrounding area were incorporated within the Third Reich.

We have seen newsreels of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps at the end of WW II and a number of movies depicting the horrors of the Holocaust. However, newsreels and movies did not really prepare us for an actual visit to the site of the largest mass murder in history. As many as 1.5 million were murdered at Auschwitz, mainly Polish Jews, but also Soviet prisoners-of-war, Gypsies, Czechs, Yugoslavs, French, Austrians, and Germans.

First a little background on the beginnings of the Holocaust. In January 1942, a conference was held in the Berlin suburb of Wannesee, chaired by Reinhard Heydrich, acting under the orders of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, to devise a solution to the “Jewish Question.” The result of the conference was Nazi Germany's plan and execution of the systematic murder of European Jews. Heinrich Himmler was the chief architect of the plan, and Adolf Hitler termed it "the final solution of the Jewish question." A surviving copy of the minutes of this meeting was found by the Allies in 1947, too late to serve as evidence during the first Nuremberg Trials. I recommend Conspiracy (TV-2001), a dramatic recreation of the Wannsee Conference, in which actor Kenneth Branaugh played Reinhard Heydrich.

In 1940, the SS set up a concentration camp at KL Auschwitz because of overcrowding of the existing prisons in Silesia and because further arrests were anticipated. in Silesia and the rest of German-occupied Poland. Why Oswiecim? Because there already existed an abandoned pre-war Polish barracks in the town and the town was an important railway junction.

The camp had 28 buildings housing between 13-16,000 people, reaching 20,000 in 1942.. In 1941, a second camp was built called KL Auschwitz II-Birkenau in the village of Brzezinka about 3 kilometers away. In 1942, KL Auschwitz-III was built iin Monowice near the German chemical plant IG-Farbenindustrie. And in the years 1942-1944 about 40 smaller camps were built in the vicinity of steelworks, mines, and factories, where prisoners were exploited as cheap labour.

KL Auschwitz I and KL Auschwitz II-Birkennau are now maintained as museums open to the public. The Museums include some barracks, the main entrance gates to the camps, sentry watch towers, barbed wire fences, the remnants of four crematoria, gas chambers, and cremation pits and pyres, the special unloading platform where the deportees were selected to be exterminated or used as slave slave labour.

Those deemed unfit for labour, including women and children were told they would be allowed to bathe. They undressed in the “shower” room. The doors were locked and Cyclon B was poured from special openings in the ceiling. After gold teeth fillings, rings, other jewelry, and all hair had been removed, the bodies were taken to the incinerators. The human hair was used by tailors for lining for clothes. A room full of human hair and some of the prisoners’ belongings are on display at Auschwitz. The human ashes were used as fertilizer.

SS physicians conducted experiments of prisoners. Professor C. Clausberg tested women in an attempt to develop sterilization techniques to creat an efficient method for eliminating tfuture ”inferior” persons. Dr. Joseph Mengele experimented on twins and handicapped people. Prisoners were also used as unwilling subjects to test new medical or chemical substances. Toxic substances were rubbed into the skin and painful skin transplants were performed. Hundreds of prisoners died during the experiments or suffered severe physical damage or became permanently disabled.

Despite ethical qualms, some of the Nazi research data was used by the Allies and others after the war.

View of entrance to the main camp of Auschwitz I.
The gate bears the motto "Arbeit Macht Frei"
(Work makes one free) (Photo by Judi Iranyi)

Above the main gate at Auschwitz where the prisoners passed each day after working 12 hours, was the cynical sign “Arbeit mach frei” (Work brings freedom).  Most of the prisoners believed that they were being resettled.  That’s why they often brought their most valuable possessions with them.  In a small square by the kitchen, the camp orchestra made up of prisoners would play marches, mustering the thousands of prisoners so that they could be counted more efficiently by the SS.

SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Rudolf Höss was the first commandant of Auschwitz.. He was hanged in 1947 following his trial at Warsaw. While awaiting execution Höss wrote his autobiography Death Dealer: the Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz. His memoirs became an important document attesting to the Holocaust.

Höss wrote: “I am completely normal. Even while I was carrying out the task of extermination I led a normal family life and so on.” The commandant’s living quarters were a scant 150 yards away from the barbed wire enclosed concentration camp. We envision Höss, his wife Hedwig and their four children living a “normal” life a short distance from where over a million prisoners were being overworked, starved, and murdered. Just imagine Höss having dinner with his family after a tiring day of supervising the murder of prisoners. We wonder if they celebrated Christmas with a decorated tree and listened to Christmas music.

End Israel's Unwarranted Murder of Kids

There has been much written about the banality of evil in connection with those involved in the Holocaust. Hannah Arendt, in a report in The New Yorker, covered the Otto Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. She wrote, "The deeds were monstrous, but the doer ... was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous." She further observed, "... the only specific characteristic one could detect in his [Eishmann’s] past as well as in his behavior during the trial and the preceding police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think."

On January 27, 1945, the Soviet army entered Auschwitz and liberated more than 7,000 remaining prisoners, who were mostly ill and dying. Poland then traded German occupation for Soviet occupation until 1989. when the independent Republic of Poland was formed.

As non-Jews, our visit to Auschwitz was sobering. we cannot imagine what a visit must be for a Jew, especially someone who has lost family members at Auschwitz or at another concentration camp.

It is estimated that over 100 million people have been the victims of Genocide. As George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Perhaps, the Auschwitz museums will help us “remember the past” so “never again” will have meaning. We are hopeful but not optimistic.

_______________________________________ writer Ralph E. Stone was born in Massachusetts. He is a graduate of both Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School. We are very fortunate to have this writer's talents in this troubling world; Ralph has an eye for detail that others miss. As is the case with many writers, Ralph is an American Veteran who served in war. Ralph served his nation after college as a U.S. Army officer during the Vietnam war. After Vietnam, he went on to have a career with the Federal Trade Commission as an Attorney specializing in Consumer and Antitrust Law. Over the years, Ralph has traveled extensively with his wife Judi, taking in data from all over the world, which today adds to his collective knowledge about extremely important subjects like the economy and taxation. You can send Ralph an email at this address

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Daniel November 1, 2011 6:53 pm (Pacific time)

Unbelievable you are unbelievably ignorant in your statements . Genrikh Yagoda was a mass murdering Russian commissar who killed a countless number , he was also Jewish . In later purges he was also killed . Larzar Kaganovich was the murderous head of the KGB and was a mass murdering russian commissar , he lived to his 90s , he was also Jewish . Its true Stalin killed off millions , anyone he believed opposed his power . Its also true a number of his inner circle were Jewish . Some who he latter turned on and killed . Lenin and Trotsky were also Jewish and both have a spotty record at best . Please read past the headlines and into the details of history . You will not learn real history by watching hollywood movies .

Unbelievable November 1, 2011 4:56 pm (Pacific time)

Soviet Jews were among those put in the Gulags along with Jehovah's Witnesses and others who they considered threats. Don't forget about Raoul Wallenberg who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust and perished in a Gulag. No, the Soviets never has a love for the Jews, so it is incredibly ignorant to state that the Gulags were implemented by Soviet Jews.

Daniel October 28, 2011 4:21 pm (Pacific time)

Ralph please read an editorial by Sever Plocker , deputy editor in chief of the Yedioth Aharonot , an Israeli publication . It is titled some of the greatest murderers in modern times were Jewish . The site is known as Ynet . This is a Jewish publication and a popular award winning Jewish editor . You should let the Tel Aviv municipality that awarded him the Sololov prize , considered the MOST PROMINENT award for Israeli Journalism , that he might have a secret anti jewish agenda , according to you , for writing the truth !

Daniel October 28, 2011 2:16 pm (Pacific time)

Ralph I just googled the same and got 845,000 links . Am I surprised Jew watch was one of them , not really . Did you look at the other 844,999 links or just the ones you are looking for to try to tag me to your link ? If I googled Hitler I am sure I would also come up with many links , some for and many against . Please read some of the other 844,999 links. I am sure you will find much credible information along with with wacko theories sites that use history for there own agenda . You seem to be rather callous about the suffering of millions under Stalin , why is that ? Their suffering is NOT diminished but the atrocities committed by Hitler . The USA and Stalin were allies during the war , it could be part of the reason his brutal history has been glossed over in American history books . I have never heard of Jew Watch before your posting , please do not link me to it for your OWN agenda .

Ralph E. Stone October 28, 2011 7:43 am (Pacific time)

Daniel, I "googled" some of your statements about "Stalin," "gulag," and "Jewish commissars" and lo and behold "Jew Watch" came up.

Daniel October 27, 2011 11:09 pm (Pacific time)

Forgot to mention I did think it was a well written story Ralph and Judi , thanks .

Daniel October 27, 2011 11:00 pm (Pacific time)

Ralph I just had to add I never have heard of the sites you listed , but when I read the names it gave me a good laugh ! I am wondering what you were doing on these sites to be so familiar with them ? I personally would not go there , why would I want to waste a moment of my life . Its like the guy who goes to the porn sites to see how bad they are ! My point is its not a black and white world , history shows incredible evil and brutality by many countries . The historic facts are undeniable concerning the unspeakable cruelty and brutality by both Hitler and Stalin . One does not excuse the other . The American history books do have a gap concerning the detailed history of Stalin's Russia but everyone knows of the Brutality of Hitler . Its also true that Lazar killed many Jews who opposed his power and was disowned and was called a self hating Jew . Hitler was also called unchristian by the church , after he was dead .

Daniel October 27, 2011 10:06 pm (Pacific time)

Ralph please note I stated the actions taken by the Russians did not justify the actions of the Nazis . But history is history ! Please check out information on winkipedia or do some research on Lazar Kaganovich , as just one example . Stalin butchered many millions , overlooking or claiming it did not happen under his leadership is as bad as stating the holocaust did not happen . Hitler did use these killing in his propaganda against the Jews , thats also historic fact . I try to look at history with an open mind Ralph , I am also of Jewish ancestry . I first saw the report on the Jewish commissars over 20 years ago on the history channel , I found it interesting and did some research . Ralph please do the same .

WHERE's the PROOF? October 27, 2011 9:20 pm (Pacific time)

Ground radar, invented in the 1970's, was used all around Auschwitz and it found NO piece of bone or other human remains down to a level of 200 feet!

Here is a good starting point, it has testimony from people who were there: Auschwitz: Liberation and Revenge 1 of 5 What point is it exactly that you are trying to make?  It is about semantics?  Certainly you aren't saying the Holocaust didn't happen.  My dad's best friend was a concentration camp liberator with the U.S. Army and he was also a photographer, so at a young age I saw horrific images of people's bodies in piles.  What we know is that Poles, starting with people of Judaic and Roma heritage, were in Hitler's sights and Hitler was a murderous genocidal madman who soiled Germany in blood that many can never wash off as long as they are alive.  Please don't try to suggest that Auschwitz was not a death camp,  that is utterly ridiculous.  


Ralph E. Stone October 27, 2011 2:34 pm (Pacific time)

I think "Daniel" and "Stalin's Jews" have been reading "Jew Watch," an antisemitic website that promotes Holocaust denial, and makes many negative claims about Jews, which include allegations of a conspiracy that Jews control the media and banking industries, and accusations of Jewish involvement in terrorist groups. The site contains a large amount of propaganda similar to that used in Nazi Germany. It is widely considered a hate site.

Editor: I don't know about the site referenced, but I know that Daniel is a highly educated retired professorl who is not easily duped.  We know that the majority of media in the U.S. is absolutely steadfastly connected to support of Israel, we know that Israel has apartheid laws that subject Jews and non-Jews to different laws and standards, and we know that Israel has many 'Jewish-only' roads which is total bigotry and racism, big time, with preference to a single culture.  This could not be more wrong.  Israel being involved in terrorist groups, I don't know how to address that, because Israel's terrorism is state sponsored and their hideous attacks on the population of Gaza with illegal weapons, thousands imprisoned without representation, outrageous pre-trial confinement standards, (months)  and the denial of human rights is an outrageous problem compounded by the fact that the U.S. pays Israel between $4 and $8 million a day in order to conduct state terror with, among other things, inhumane separation walls dividing Jews from non-Jews. 

For the record and to clear the air, embraces all religions, cultures and races.  We rally for any group that is being subjugated and oppressed and denied what rights are afforded to them under the UN Declaration of Human Rights.  I am very glad Ralph and Judi covered this story, that they showed us the pain and hardship that gripped Poland and led to the loss of so many people, among which were people of Jewish and Roma backgrounds and many others.  It is beyond dreadful, the worst.  However it is no excuse for Israel treating the Palestinians so badly, because they believe God made a real estate deal for them, for land that families worked very hard for, for centuries to own.  

Here are some of Ralph Stone's reports on Palestine:

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Bit of Background - Ralph Stone

 Will The U.N September Vote Be Palestine's Last Hurrah? - Ralph E. Stone

The Palestine Papers - Ralph E. Stone

 German WW II POWs In the U.S. - By Ralph E. Stone

  Palestinian Statehood to be Decided by UN? - By Ralph E. Stone

Daniel October 27, 2011 11:27 am (Pacific time)

When people equate capitalism with democracy they forget that Nazi Germany was capitalist to the point of charging those who went to the death camps in boxcars , rail fare . Had to make sure the Railroad stockholders got their dividends ! Its also true Stalin did have brutal Gulag death camps , some run by Jewish commissars . They were used on ethnic Germans in eastern Europe , this does not excuse what the nazi's did . The number of German POW's that made it out of the Russian POW camps was zero . More than enough cruelty on both sides to go around .

Agron Belica October 26, 2011 5:45 am (Pacific time)

@Ralph Stone and Judi Iranyi: A very touching story indeed. Thank you for sharing!

Tim King October 26, 2011 4:51 am (Pacific time)

Amazing article Ralph and Judi, thank you for sharing this with our readers, it is humbling from the reader's perspective, I can only imagine what it would be like to see it, thank you again.

Stalin's Jews October 26, 2011 1:25 am (Pacific time)

Will the media ever talk about the Soviet Gulag death camps that were implemented by Soviet Jews? This is what provoked anti-semitism in Eastern Europe and Central Europe.

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.