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
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
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
Please join in our discussion forum about... Jews in Malopolska,
Memory of the Shoah
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).
You are welcome to discuss about "Oswiecim"