Arbeit Macht Frei “Work sets you free” — Roneil Callo

Roneil Callo’s take on Auschwitz.

Ever since learning about World War 2 during my History lessons at School, I was so stunned that such tragic events had happened in the 1900’s. Families were separated and millions enlisted into the Army. Propaganda was rife and led individuals to believe they were less of a person if they did not answer the call from their country. I do not profess to be a World War 2 expert, however, I have always shown a keen interest in learning about the events that occurred.

Last week, I visited Krakow, Poland with my friend Sunil Sharma. One of our main objectives during the trip was to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. These were two of the largest Nazi-German concentration camps. Between the years of 1940–1945, it was estimated that 1,300,000 people were deported to Auschwitz; this number consisted mainly of Jews, Poles, Roma/Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war and prisoners from other ethnic groups. This number does not do any justice, as it is believed that many more were sent to the camps. It was reported that 1,100,000 of those deported to Auschwitz were killed; the method of murder was the use of Zyklon B pellets, a pesticide, which was converted to a lethal gas when exposed to air and heat.

It was a harrowing experience entering the Auschwitz concentration camp. A large title above the gates stated “Arbeit macht frei” which translates as Work sets you free. Those that were deported to Auschwitz were made to believe they were to be used as slave labour and that hard work would eventually release them. People packed suitcases full of their personal items. These innocent people were brought to the camps from all areas of the world. Many were taken away from their families and made to live with complete strangers. Jewish people were the biggest victims of this suffering. On the walls at Auschwitz, there were Propaganda messages from Nazi generals such as “We must free the German nation of Poles, Russians, Jews and Gypsies” and “Jews are a race that must be totally exterminated”. This was the ideology of a tyrant- Adolf Hitler, who brainwashed his followers into believing that this was the correct way of life.

The method of transport to the camps was via trains. It was believed that it would take several days to arrive and that hundreds of people were forced to fit inside small wagons on the train with no access to water. Once at Auschwitz, there was a selection process, those that were old, sick, pregnant and young were automatically sent to the line ‘for a shower’ which for these unknowing passengers was a sigh of relief after travelling for several days. During this process they would be shaved and the hair of women can still be seen in Auschwitz — a horrifying experience. As time went on, this selection process did not become much of a process and trains full of people were directed to the ‘showers’. The ‘shower’ was in fact the last thing they would see before they were murdered.

During the tour we were able to go inside a gas chamber. These tight rooms would have been filled with hundreds/thousands at a time; there was a small opening on the roof of the chamber that the Zyklon B was thrown through. Due to the heat of the chamber this triggered the activation and it was believed that many would run

towards the doorway in order to try and escape. The chambers were also built with a crematorium inside, this would aim to try and prevent any suspicions.

During the visit to Birkenau, it could be seen that there were major plans to extend this camp. This was the bigger camp and had the iconic train tracks that brought the trainloads of innocent people. Upon losing the war, the Nazi soldiers were instructed to bomb the concentration camps in order to prevent any evidence being left behind. This can be particularly seen at Birkenau.

The visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau was a reflective experience and a tour that I am glad I have taken. I will end this blog with a quote from George Santayana:

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Roneil Callo