Welcome to Auschwitz

"Welcome to Auschwitz." The survivor said.
A paradox really, he's a Christian and his name is Stanislaus.
I step down from the bus and blink into the kaleidoscope
of a dappled morning sunlight. Nothing has changed!
It is all still there! Just like the photographs taken by the Home Army.

No bodies, but the awful presence of death,
enormous death, 10 kilometres of death
Auschwitz 1 - A Slave Labour Camp
Auschwitz 2 - A Death Camp
Auschwitz 3 - A Chemical/Munitions Factory
Death envelopes me, engulfs me, enters my body
through my eyes, mouth and ears,
whilst in the hedge-grove a song bird warbles
Perhaps a blackbird or maybe a thrush.

I am afraid and the hyper-vigilance of the soldier returns
I want my rifle, bayonet and combat gear.
"Jesus protect me." I whisper

I stand beside Ada Steiner - Auschwitz No. 67082,
she is from Haifa and the blue wound on her forearm
is clearly visible. For her this is no visit,
she is returning to the nightmares of her childhood.
Stanislaus also bears the blue wound,
they nod and greet each other, children who survived.
One a Jew and one a Christian.

"My dear Comrades!
I could not eliminate all lice
And Jews in one year.
But in the course of time,
And if you help me,
This end will be attained."

So said Hans Frank,
Nazi Governor General of Poland.

Auschwitz, 10 kilometres of death
A true monument to German Efficiency!

The gravel crunches beneath my feet
as we walk between the electric wires
and enter the gate, the sign reads
"Work Will Set You Free"
Another bloody paradox.

And all the while Stanislaus calls the numbers:
Eighty thousand Russians starved here...
Thirty thousand Poles; gassed mostly...
Two hundred and fifty thousand gypsies...
Many thousands of political prisoners, mainly German...
and 2.5 million Jews
"Zyklon B" at its very best.

January 27, 1945, and Liberation.
7000 starving inmates remain,
836,525 items of women's clothing,
348,820 items of men's clothing,
43,525 pairs of shoes, 460 artificial limbs,
7 tons of human hair...and so he continues...
I see the mountain of children's shoes,
and leave the warehouse as the tears begin to flow.

In the sunlight once more, I walk down the avenue
past the work-party gallows, towards the gas chamber
and the sole, remaining crematoria.
I hear the sound of gravel (and bone fragments) crunching underfoot,
and the warble of the songbirds nesting in the hedge-grove.
I will wash away the taste of death tonight
with a bottle of good Zubrowka vodka, and sing
But I shall never forget this day,
or this place, or the murder that happened here. NEVER!

© Mike Subritzky 1998


A Poppy at the Killing Wall

(This article was previously published in the RSA Review, the official newspaper of the Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association)

I had read with interest the amazing story of Hansi Keating and her tale of survival in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz (RSA Review Feb 1998), but I never thought that I would one day be standing there myself.

Some years ago I had been involved in a small way with the late Polish Government (In Exile) during the Cold War period, and earlier this year was invited to attend several ceremonies that were to take place in both Krakow (Poland), and also the Czech Republic. I was accompanied by my wife Marilyn, my cousin Basil and his wife Raewyn. While at Krakow we attended several functions and there was a day spare for participants to take in various tours of the city and the countryside. The day tours arranged for us were either to Czestochowa, the site of Poland's shrine to the Madonna; or to Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

We decided to go to Auschwitz as it was a full day's journey and would also give us an opportunity to see much of the Polish countryside, as well as view the ruins of whatever was left of Auschwitz.

To our astonishment Auschwitz was almost perfectly preserved and was split into three large camps spread over an area of about 10 Kilometers, numbered:
Auschwitz 1 (a slave labour camp)
Auschwitz 2 (a death camp)
Auschwitz 3 (a chemical munitions factory).

Apart from the destruction of the crematoriums as Auschwitz 2, by the Nazi's at the end of WWII, virtually everything else remained; the electric wires, the barracks, and the guard towers. The crematoriums at Auschwitz 1 (an old Polish Army barracks) were still there so it was very easy to see how the bodies of those many millions of humans were disposed of. An ex-soldier myself I was used to the acceptance of death, but nothing ever on this scale, and as our guide Stanislaus (himself a survivor) related the various statistics to us, it was only a short time before my mind became numb as to what I was witnessing at first hand. I was OK throughout the tour, that was until we were taken into one particular barrack room that was stacked from floor to ceiling with thousands of pairs of children's shoes and from then on I just wanted the tour to end. Finally Stanislaus took us into a barracks room that was set up as a courtroom in Auschwitz 1. This was the place where camp workers from the slave labour camp workers were tried for a variety of offences; the punishment for which was invariably death by firing squad at the Killing Wall. The final indignity suffered by these men and women was that in a room beside the Killing Wall was an old style wash-house where they were required to strip naked and wash their blue and white striped uniforms for the next re-issue. They were then shot naked.

The Killing Wall itself was a brick wall set within a courtyard between two double storied red brick barracks, and in front of the wall was a monument to all of those who had been executed at that spot. The entire area had a real presence about it and many people chose not to approach the wall. A Jewish lady who was with us (Ada Steiner), and who was an Auschwitz survivor herself went forward with her two adult daughters to lay some flowers, and I asked if I might take their photograph, which I did and then as I opened my camera bag to change films was surprised to see an NZRSA poppy lying at the bottom of the bag, I guess since last ANZAC Day.

I laid the poppy at the foot of the wall, said a silent prayer for all of the souls who were murdered at this spot and then rejoined my family; the poppy looked somewhat small and insignificant set amongst the many wreaths and garlands of flowers, but it was something from home, a small piece of New Zealand left as a gesture. Lest we forget.

© Mike Subritzky 1998

(Mike Subritzky is a retired soldier who served as a Peace-Keeper in Rhodesia in 1979-1980. He is a well known New Zealand writer, author and poet. His book on the history of the New Zealand involvement in the Vietnam War is a national reference).

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