Lest We Forget
While we prefer to take a light-hearted look at virtually everything we cover here at The Sip Advisor, it would be criminal to not touch on the Auschwitz Concentration and Extermination Camp in Poland, as we make our way through the country. So, let’s trudge through this major blemish on human existence and I promise we’ll have a drink together when it’s all over:
There were actually three Auschwitz camps built during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The first camp held Polish political prisoners with the first exterminations taking place in September 1941. Auschwitz II–Birkenau is where most of the execution of Jewish prisoners took place, as the Nazi’s enacted their ‘Final Solution’ plans. Finally, Auschwitz III–Monowitz was a labour industrial camp which served the Nazi war effort.
A minimum of 1.1 million prisoners were killed at Auschwitz with approximately 90% of them being Jewish. Other victims included the Polish, Romans, and Soviets, although the Nazi’s weren’t exactly picky. The gas chambers were host to mass executions, using the pesticide Zyklon B. Others died as a result of the deplorable conditions, which led to starvation, diseases, and medical experiments.
When entering Auschwitz, prisoners were told that if they worked hard, they would be freed. There was even a banner overhead, en route to the camp that said: “Work Makes One Free” or “Work Brings Freedom,” depending on which translation you find. The sign was stolen in 2009, but found two days later in northern Poland, cut into three pieces, with the believed intention that the sign was to be sold to a Nazi memorabilia collector.
Ironically, 300 Jewish workers were brought in by the Germans to lay the foundation for what became the Auschwitz camp. Sounding like a professional wrestling gimmick match, the camp was surrounded by two rings of electrified barbed wire fences, as well as watchtowers. Auschwitz was the only Nazi camp to tattoo numbers on the left forearm of their prisoners.
Only 15% of the up to 7,000 Nazi SS members who worked at the camp were later convicted of committing war crimes. Camp Commandant Rudolf Höss and others were executed for their roles in the atrocities. Höss was even executed at Auschwitz, which is like being forced to return to the scene of the crime. In all, the Auschwitz Trials led to 23 death sentences, seven life sentences, and nine other sentences of varying lengths. Only one acquittal occurred, with SS doctor Hans Münch being released when a number of survivors testified on his behalf. Others involved in the operation of Auschwitz were tried in later hearings.
Infamous German doctor Josef Mengele (aka the ‘Angel of Death’… shouldn’t he be known as the ‘Devil of Death’!?) was based out of Auschwitz, where he performed a number of appalling tests on men, women, and children and had a fascination with twins, using them in many of his experiments. He would go so far as to infect one twin with a disease and then kill the other when the sick twin died to perform autopsies on both. He also preferred using dwarfs in his research.
Of an estimated 802 attempted escapes, 144 prisoners successfully fled Auschwitz during its reign of terror. There was also an unsuccessful uprising on October 7, 1944, led by prisoners (known as Sonderkommandos) working at the gas chambers, using explosives smuggled into the camp by women working outside its walls to destroy one of the crematoriums and the gas chamber connected to it. Unfortunately, the revolt was dealt with quickly by the Nazi SS, who only lost three men in the fighting.
One famed successful escape involved four prisoners stealing SS uniforms, weapons, and a vehicle, and driving straight through the camp’s main gate without issue. Another couple tried a similar plot two years later, but were captured, tortured, and executed.
The Allies failure to bomb the Auschwitz camp or the train lines leading so many to their deaths has always been a controversial topic. While some argue the Americans and British should have and could have done more, others experts point out that an accurate and precise attack on the site wasn’t possible without great losses.
The Auschwitz camps were finally liberated on January 27, 1945, a day which has since become International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 1979, on his first tour of his home country, Pope John Paul II performed mass on the train tracks leading to Auschwitz.
Anne Frank is perhaps Auschwitz’s most famous prisoner, thanks to the release of her diary years later. Sadly, she actually survived the camp, but died in March 1945 from typhus at the Bergen-Belsen camp. Her father lived until 1980, as he too was left behind when the German’s abandoned Auschwitz. Other well-known survivors include writers Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, Elie Wiesel (who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his work condemning ethnic violence), and Simone Veil, who became President of the European Parliament from 1979-82. The oldest known Auschwitz survivor, Antoni Dobrowolski, died in October 2012, at the age of 108.
Today, Auschwitz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a museum, with exhibits that include prisoner pictures, their belongings, canisters of the Zyklon B pesticide pellets, and more. The location is visited by more than a million people each year.
- 1.5 oz Crème de Menthe
- 1 oz Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka
- Splash of Lemon Juice
- Garnish with Strawberry Slices
Mrs. Sip has been to Auschwitz with her sister, while the two of us visited the Mauthausen Camp in Germany in 2007. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience. To finish our travels through Poland on an upswing, here’s a link to a collection of Polish jokes.
Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3.5 Sips out of 5):
It seems nearly every recipe involving Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka incorporates Apple Juice into the ingredients… until I found this drink. Every time I see Crème de Menthe or Peppermint Schnapps in cocktail recipes, I’m skeptical about how well it will work out. This rendition wasn’t that bad at all. It gives me hope for future experimentation!