The Baltic Rim: Latvia

Next stop in the Baltic region: Latvia!  Once again, our Latvia travel and cultural knowledge of its people was next to zero.  Although it is one of the least populous countries in the European Union, we were pleasantly surprised by its capital city, Riga.  Because of its phenomenal Art Nouveau architecture, the historical center of Riga was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were not surprised to find out that the city will be a European Capital of Culture in 2014.  The people of Latvia, however, suffered along with the rest of Europe during World War II.  Just southeast of Riga, in Salaspils, the Third Reich constructed a prison and work camp.  In addition to the German Jews who perished during the construction of the camp, about 2,000 to 3,000 people died at Salaspils due to illness, heavy labor, and inhuman treatment.  Additionally, it’s estimated that one half of the children at the camp died due to outbreaks of typhoid fever and measles.  After the war, 632 corpses of children of ages 5 to 9 were discovered in a mass grave at the concentration camp.  Today at the site there is a gut-wrenching monument composed of over-sized statues protecting their children or dragging themselves forward…. [Read More]

Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp

Train tracks dead-end in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Where to start?  Last year, Bobby and I visited Dachau Concentration Camp and it was a sobering experience.  However, our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau was even more horrifying. It is commonly said, due to the robust rail network built by Nazi Germany, “all roads led to Auschwitz.” It became the number one extermination camp for Jews, Poles, the Roma community, homosexuals, the elderly, young children, and political prisoners during World War II.  The Third Reich shipped the Jewish population, specifically, to Auschwitz from as far south as Corfu, Greece and as far north as Oslo, Norway.  80-100 prisoners were put on each boxcar with little room to sit, next-to-no food, and just a bucket to use the bathroom, for sometimes up to three weeks before reaching their final destination.  Many passengers died during the hellish journey.  For those that lived, the second they stepped off the train they were met by the head SS doctor.  In an interview lasting four seconds, he would give a simple “left” or “right” with the turn of his thumb, effectively granting life or death.  Those directed to the left were immediately put in the gas chamber.  Those put to the right, the “lucky” ones, were condemned to hard labor, until they were no longer fit or worked to death.  In all, 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz from 1940-1945; 1.1 million were Jews, 140-150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet POWs, and 25,000 prisoners from other ethnic groups.  An estimated 1.1 out of the 1.3 million people who entered Auschwitz died inside the gates and approximately 90% belonged to the Jewish community.  … [Read More]

Hell on Earth: Dachau Concentration Camp

I sure hope not.

Our last couple days of Christmas vacation were spent in a somewhat depressing, but very educational, fashion.  First, we stopped in Nuremberg, home of the Nuremberg trials, where Nazi leaders were tried (and mostly convicted) after WWII.  Although the biggest players in the Third Reich — Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels were not tried (all three committed suicide prior to the indictment), the proceedings brought to light the horrible crimes the Nazi regime had committed.  Every country around the world watched these trials, and it seemed as though “justice” was finally being served on an international stage.  Next, we traveled on to Munich, where we visited Dachau Concentration Camp, the site where it all began.  Built in March 1933, Dachau was the Third Reich’s first camp and served as the model for all those built afterwards.  Over 200,000 incarcerated prisoners passed through its gates, and over 43,000 died there.

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