As the Holocaust becomes distant history, the number of living survivors dwindles. Soon, there won’t be any left. But, their stories and the horrific genocide that took place must never be forgotten. Hoping to remind the world of those horrors, a drone flew over Auschwitz. The chilling footage it captured can’t be unseen.
Auschwitz, which opened in the spring of 1940, was just one of more than 42,000 camps and other incarceration sites, including ghettos, established by Nazi Germany and its allies between 1933 and 1945, according to Holocaust Encyclopedia. It was the largest and arguably the most notorious of all the Nazi death camps, according to History.
Although no one knows the exact numbers, historians estimate that at least 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz in five years with 1.1 million of them dying or being killed there, Wikipedia reports. These horrors were inflicted on the Jews during the Second World War as Nazi Germany’s government launched the “Generalplan Ost” or GPO, a plan for the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Jews, Poles, Romani people, homosexuals, and people with disabilities.
After the Germans attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, signaling the start of World World II, one of their first actions was to gather Jews in ghettos. Political prisoners were placed in concentration camps, which first began being built in 1933 and were scaled up between 1937 and 1939. The prisoners were used as an industrial workforce, which was of great use to the Germans during the war, but the ultimate goal was to make Jews extinct in Europe.
The vast scale of this movement to wipe out the Jews from Europe is beyond most of our comprehension, with Auschwitz being the primary example of just how big this plan was. Auschwitz was a complex of camps consisting of three main parts, including a concentration, extermination, and forced-labor camp. We’ve read about it in our history books, but most of us in the United States have never seen a death camp in person. One video, however, has brought it to life in a way that no Hollywood film ever could.
Filming for a documentary, a crew decided to use a drone to give a bird’s eye view of Auschwitz. After being given special access, they captured aerial footage, providing a much different perspective than most of us have ever witnessed. It showed, undeniably, just how big Auschwitz I, the main camp, and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the extermination camp, really were. And, it’s mind-boggling.
From the ground or even in a dramatization for the big screen, you simply can’t grasp the immensity of the Auschwitz killing machine. Even when you read about it or see pictures in a book, it pales in comparison to seeing it from the air. There are simply few words that can explain how vast and huge these camps were. But, thanks to a drone, there is footage.
The Auschwitz Memorial Site, where the footage was captured, covers a total area of 472 acres, but it is just two preserved parts of the camp: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. So, what you’ve seen, in all its vastness, is only a small piece of the tremendous effort by the Nazis to eradicate the Jews during the Holocaust.
The drone footage made a huge difference to the documentary. “It adds a new perspective and something unique to it,” the narrator explained. “Seeing it also just blew my mind because it’s one thing when you see the gas chambers that the Nazis destroyed in Birkenau, but when you see it from the air and you see the system — how they built things. They really thought everything out,” he continued, pointing out the very methodical planning behind Auschwitz. “You really see it more from the air.”
Indeed, seeing the complexity, planning, organization, and thought that went into the camp is nothing short of chilling when you then realize it was all for such a sinister purpose. It’s like seeing the gates of Hell as our gaze is set upon the sign over the entrance to the camp, which read, “Arbeit macht frei.” This translates to “work makes one free,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of freedom, labor became another form of genocide that the Nazis called “extermination through work,” the Holocaust Encyclopedia explains.
If the images aren’t enough to give you chills. The stories from survivors and their family members should be. “When my grandmother came to Sweden on the White Buses, she weighed only 66 pounds,” explained Ewa Dabrowski, editor of the Swedish outlet Newsner, describing her grandmother’s escape from the Holocaust. She is referring to buses, painted with red crosses to avoid attacks, organized by Swedish count Folke Bernadotte, who wanted to save war prisoners and succeeded in rescuing tens of thousand Scandinavians and thousands of Jews.
Ewa’s grandmother was far from her only family member affected by the Holocaust. Her uncle Moses, born in 1932, worked in a glass factory from the time he was just 5 years old by order of the Schutzstaffel (SS), a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler. “The children were considered good workers since their tiny hands could polish glass in places where adult hands were too big and clumsy,” Ewa revealed.
Moses worked in the factory for three years. Later, his mother, Miriam, was murdered, and he “was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp,” Ewa said. “There, he was taken care of by a woman who later was given the name ‘The Angel of Bergen-Belsen,’ for saving so many orphans. By the end of the war, Moses was sent to Sweden.”
After the war, Ewa’s grandfather Saoul, who was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, searched for over a year before discovering that some children were taken to Sweden. “He went there and managed to find his son,” Ewa explained. He also met Ewa’s grandmother Rosa there, but both had suffered tremendous loss. Both of their parents had been killed, 6 of her grandmother’s 7 siblings had been murdered, and her grandfather’s first wife and all 6 of his siblings were also killed.
Today, few of those who survived the Holocaust are still with us. It’s now our duty to remember and share their stories so generations to come will know the kind of evil that can exist when a government is able to strip its people of any power. This is the only way to ensure history never repeats itself. This must never ever happen again. We must remind the world that these terrible accounts and images are real, and they must never be forgotten.