Yiddish: Oyshvitzim, Oshpitzin, Oshvitzin
The remodelled 13th-century castle on the River Sola; the remains of defence walls; the Gothic church of the Most Holy Virgin Mary the Succourer (first half of the 14th century, remodelled between 1899 and 1906). The Town Hall from the first half of the 19th century and several houses from the 18th century.
Auschwitz is one of the 20th century's symbols of absolute evil. Avisit to this death camp is everyone's moral duty, even though the installations designed and erected here so that man could more effectively murder his fellow man are truly appalling. Everything here is awarning to posterity and to omit Auschwitz would mean to turn ablind eye to the tragic fate of Polish Jews whose epilogue was so mercilessly written by history.
The beginnings of Jewish settlement in Oswiecim go back to the Middle Ages. The town developed as adynamic centre of the salt trade. The influx of Jews must have been considerable, for as early as 1563 they were forbidden to build houses around the market square. A synagogue was erected in 1588 and acemetery established nearby. According to records from 1561, Jews were required to pay their taxes with pepper and saffron. As time passed, the town fell into along period of economic stagnation, interrupted in the middle of the 19th century by the construction of arailway station.
At the beginning of the 20th century Jews constituted 50% of the local population, and in 1939 as much as 58% (7,000). The Jewish quarter spread north of the market square and as far as the bank of the river. There were five sports clubs, an amateur theatre group and the Society of Hebrew Women.
Religious life was cultivated in the Jewish High School, eight chadarim and three yeshivot (in Belz, Bobowa and Radomsko). Oswiecim was also a place where alcoholic drinks such as Haberfeld’s famous Pesachowka (Pesach vodka) were produced.
No more than seventy Oswiecim Jews survived the war, and they all emigrated soon after. Services are held today in the synagogue of Chevrah Lomdei Mishnayot (The Society for the Study of the Mishna), but only on certain occasions.
The Synagogue of the Society for the Study of the Mishna and the Jewish Centre in Oswiecim.
Synagoga w Oświęcimiu, foto: A.Olej&K. Kobus:
The synagogue of Chevrat Lomdei Mishnayot (Society for the Study of the Mishna), together with the adjacent buildings now housing the Jewish Centre, are the most important historical monument of Jewish Oswiecim from before the Second World War. The synagogue was once situated within the boundaries of the Jewish quarter. Its present building was erected in 1900. Its clearly defined taller northern section is quite eye-catching. Two original plaques remain; the first commemorating its foundation: "This synagogue was built by Minda Cwaijtel on the anniversary of the death of her husband Shlomo Zalman in the year 1900" (east wall), and the second commemorating officials linked to the synagogue, whose surnames were: Zinger, Goldsztajn and Nejberg (1928). The synagogue is looked after by the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation housed in the same building. The exhibition in the Center depicts the way of life of the former Jewish community in Oswiecim. It covers awide range of educational and cultural activities, focusing mainly on commemorating the victims of the Holocaust by studying Jewish life and culture. On request you can also watch a film and hire a guide (prior booking by telephone required).
The Jewish Center in Auschwitz, Plac ks. Skarbka 3, phone +33 8447002, firstname.lastname@example.org; open: Sun-Thu 8.30am-5pm, Fri (in summer) 8.30-5pm, (in winter) 8.30am-2pm. The Foundation also has an office in New York City: Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation, 36 West 44th Street, Suite 310, NY 10036 (phone +212 5751050, email@example.com) and a web site in English: www.ajcf.org.
It was the custom among Chasidic Jews to travel all year long from town to town as beggars and in this way to learn humility. They never stayed in any one place for less than a day, regardless of the humiliation to which they might be subjected. They never remained anywhere longer than two nights, even if they met with hospitality. Somewhere around the year 1760 the young rabbi Elimelech of Lezajsk and his brother Zusya of Annopol wandered throughout Poland, going from place to place. One afternoon the two brothers, hungry and worn out, arrived in a small town. Although they were starving, they were unable to eat. Even though they were exhausted, they could not sleep. They sensed something which they had never before experienced. They were gripped by a feeling of inexpressible fear. They were struck by unbelievable terror. In the middle of the night they left the town and never returned. In Yiddish the town was called Oshpitzin - Oswiecim. (Quoted from Byron L. Sherwin, The Spiritual Heritage of the Polish Jews).
The Auschwitz Concentration Camp
The first prisoners, 728 Poles from Tarnów, were brought here on 14 April 1940. The camp soon became a place for the extermination of Jews and Gypsies. As time passed the camp was extended and 40 sub-camps were set up nearby, including the death camp of Brzezinka (Birkenau), the largest cemetery in the world.
In January 1942, the Nazis began the process of extermination, the main centre of which was the camp at Birkenau. The summer of 1944 was aperiod of intensive mass murder and twenty thousand people a day were killed here. The approach of the Soviet Army forced the Nazis to close the camp and its last 64,000 victims were marched into the depths of the Reich, this tragic evacuation being known as "the Death March". On 27 January 1945, the Russians arrived in Auschwitz, where they found seven thousand prisoners (including several hundred children) in astate of complete exhaustion but still alive. The exact number of people murdered in Auschwitz is unknown, but it is somewhere between 1,2 and 1,4 million people.
on the internet
The texts presented here were originally published in the guide Where the Tailor Was a Poet...
, by Adam Dylewski (Pascal).
The entrance to the camp leads into amodern pavilion in which there is atourist information desk where you can also hire aguide. It is advisable to follow the set route that starts here. It will take you to all the most important places. On the left-hand side there are some administrative buildings and the SS guardhouse, which once contained the office of the camp commandant. Next to it there is one of the best known gates in the world, with thederisive inscription "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free) over it, although Dante's "Abandon all hope" would be more appropriate. The route takes you past the first camp alley and turns right into the second one. There are several exhibitions in the subsequent buildings in this alley. The blocks located near the wall contain more general displays (block 4 - extermination, block 5 - material evidence of the crime, block 6 -life of a prisoner, block 7 - living and sanitary conditions). Among these particularly shocking places on the same side of the camp there is block 10, where sterilisation experiments took place, and block 11, known as the "death block", where victims suffered unspeakable cruelty. Here in the courtyard there is awall where thousands of innocent people were killed. It is known as the "death wall". In the blocks on the right-hand side there are memorial displays set up by the governments of European states in homage to their citizens (mostly Jewish) murdered in Auschwitz. In block 14, there is adisplay by the former republics of the Soviet Union; in block 15 - Poland; 16 - The Czech Republic and Slovakia; 17 - Austria and former Yugoslavia; 18 - Hungary; 20 - France and Belgium; 21 - Italy and Holland. After the Italian-Dutch pavilion the route turns back into the first alley. Here you will pass awall behind which there was astorehouse for the poisonous gas Zyklon Band property plundered from the prisoners. In the first alley there is block 27 containing the exhibition about the struggle and martyrology of Jews. This exposition (open to visitors 8.30am-6pm) devoted to the victims of the Holocaust, was opened in 1968. Further on in block 28 are the remains of the camp hospital. The route then leads straight on right across the camp and passes the large kitchen buildings. At the end there is a gas chamber and a crematorium, a stonishingly small in size. Equally shocking are the "technical improvements", such as special carts on rails, once used to remove bodies. There are also the gallows on which in 1947 the commandant of the camp Rudolf Hoess was hanged in public after being tried and sentenced to death.
The Death Camp at Birkenau
The camp at Birkenau, built in 1942 at adistance of three kilometres from Auschwitz, had no other purpose than to create acentre of extermination operating on ascale unknown in the history of the world. Unlike the main camp in Auschwitz, there was no existing infrastructure in Birkenau before the Second World War. Therefore its 300 buildings stretching over atotal area of 175 hectares had to be erected from scratch. Most of the instruments of mass-murder in the Auschwitz system of camps were installed there: the four crematoria with gas chambers, two provisional gas chambers as well as burning pits and furnaces.
The number of prisoners at any time was as many as 100,000. Only 45 buildings and 22 wooden barracks remain. Follow the marked route. It starts by the death gate (the entrance by the former main SS guardhouse) and runs along the main alley to the railway unloading platform. On the right-hand side there are the following former camp sectors: BIIa, known as "the quarantine section" (the barracks are still intact); BIIb - the Theresienstadt family camp for Czech Jews from Terezin (one barrack); BIIc - the camp for Hungarian Jews. Here you should turn left to get to the adjacent alley, in which the largest number of camp buildings have remained. The barracks on both sides once belonged to sections BIaand BIb which constituted the camp for women. Among the barracks are those of the penal colony, the latrines and the prisoners' washrooms. The remains of the crematoria and gas chambers are the focal points of the exhibition. Between them there is the International Memorial in Honour of the Victims of the Camp. The bathhouses, the pond into which human ashes were dumped as well as the administration headquarters also remain. This is the largest cemetery in the world and visitors should remember to conduct themselves accordingly.
The two camps now form one Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, ul. Wiezniow Oswiecimia 20, phone +33 8432022 or 8432077; opening hours 8am-3pm (16 Dec-29 Feb), 8am-4pm (1-31 Mar, 1 Nov-15 Dec), 8am-5pm (1-30 Apr, 1-31 Oct), 8am-6pm (1-31 May, 1-30 Sep), 8am-7pm (1 Jun-31 Aug). The museum has a guarded parking area (7am-7pm). Arrival in Auschwitz is usually at the combined bus and railway station. From here it is easy to get to the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp; take ul. Wyzwolenia as far as ul. Wiezniow Oswiecimia or ul. S. Leszczynskiej. Both streets lead straight to the museum. You can also go by local transport; bus #1, get off at the "Spolem" stop. The site of the Birkenau extermination camp is situated 3 km away. To get there turn into ul. Leszczynskiej from the roundabout in ul. Wyzwolenia and then immediately take the road on the right, leading to Katowice. A bus runs between the two camps (15 Apr-31 Oct).
The March of the Living
The March of the Living, the most important event commemorating the Holocaust and its victims, is organised every two years during the festival of Yom ha-Shoah (Holocaust Day, the 27th day of the month Nisan). The main ceremony takes place beneath the memorial in the former concentration camp at Birkenau. It is the crowning point of the march undertaken by several thousand people, starting at the Auschwitz museum. The names of those murdered are recalled, kaddish is recited, and some of those present record their experiences on wooden boards, which are then stored in the museum. The second part of the March of the Living takes place in Israel during the festivals of Yom ha-Zikaron (Remembrance Day) and Yom ha-Atzmaut (Independence Day).
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