Visiting Auschwitz is something you must do when you are visiting Poland. It is important to acknowledge and learn from the past to stop it from happening again. I have read so many books about prisoners inside Auschwitz and my partner is a history teacher, so for us it was a must do when we were in Poland.
It is not a walk in the park and it can be quite confronting but it is still well worth a visit.
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A brief History
It is almost impossible to cover the whole history behind Auschwitz and its significance.
During the Second World War, Nazi Germany committed the largest genocide in history. It is estimated during this time that approximately 6 million Jewish people were murdered. Alongside the Jewish population other undesirable humans such as Political Prisoners, Slavic people, Prisoners of Wars and Homosexuals were also imprisoned or murdered.
Whilst there were many concentration camps set up around Europe, Auschwitz was the place were the most murders were committed. It is estimated that 1.1 million people – 1 million of those were Jewish – were killed. 90% of these people were killed in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The Germans occupied these camps until it was finally liberated by the Soviet Union in 1945. Prior to liberation, the Nazi’s had destroyed a majority of the games before fleeing.
The parts of the camp that were not destroyed by the Nazis have been preserved and are maintained on the site of the Auschwitz museum.
When we visited Auschwitz there were many visitors that were talking when asked to be silent and taking selfies when asked not to.
Remember: When visiting Auschwitz you need to be respectful of the lives lost during the horrendous time in history
Getting to Auschwitz Museum
Auschwitz is approximately 2 hours by train from Krakow. The train runs from Krakow to Oświęcim, which is the nearest town to Auschwitz. We walked from the train station to Auschwitz Museum and it took about 20 minutes. Walking from the train station was a very odd feeling as there were not many people around, or shops and we knew the horrors that occurred near by.
You can also take the bus from the main bus station in Krakow to Oświęcim, this takes an hour and twenty five minutes and costs between $11-$14.
Visiting Auschwitz Museum
The Museum is open seven days a week all year round except January 1, December 25, and Easter Sunday.
- 7:30 AM – 2:00 PM December
- 7:30 AM – 3:00 PM January, November
- 7:30 AM – 4:00 PM February
- 7:30 AM – 5:00 PM March, October
- 7:30 AM – 6:00 PM April, May, September
- 7:30 AM – 7:00 PM June, July, August
The hours above indicate the last entrance time – you can stay in the museum for 90 minutes after this time.
You can enter the museum without and use the free shuttle bus without a guided tour but I highly recommend a guided tour to get the most out of your visit.
If you are doing a tour get there early! There are limited numbers for each tour in each time slot and they do sell out early. The website is slightly confusing in regards to booking a tour so you may choose to book through an outside agency or do as we did and, just turn up.
The first stop on your tour, is at the entry gate with ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (work makes you free) and huge barbed wire fences surrounding it.
It’s quite daunting to see the entry gate knowing that Nazi soldiers were upholding the vision of it being a working camp when in reality it was a death camp
In 1940 Auschwitz I (the first camp and now the site of the main museum exhibit) was built as a concentration camp for political prisoners (primarily Poles). In 1942, under the Nazi’s Final Solution, Auschwitz I and the newly constructed Auschwitz II (Birkenau) became camps of mass execution using gas chambers.
There are a lot of deeply haunting photographs lining the rooms depicting the arrival, daily suffering, final moments before being sent into the gas chambers, and terrible state of the remaining prisoners after liberation (taken by German photographers and in secret by prisoners, and later by Soviet photographers).
In each room there are piles of shoes, suitcases, hair, eye glasses and brushes which of depicted what life was like within the camp.
One of the most harrowing and heart breaking moments of the tour were the piles of suit cases with the owners names and address inscribed on them. Many of the prisoners were told to pack their finest belongs in order to begin their new lives. They were there with the understanding that they would be starting a better life or…..returning home one day.
Auschwitz II or Auschwitz-Birkenau
After a 30 minute break the tour began again with a short bus ride to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
As soon as we entered the gate to Auschwitz-Birkenau it seemed to get so much colder and it began to snow. Considering the evil acts that were committed here it seemed almost fitting that the weather was so frightful.
Just inside the gates a train car sits on the tracks in remembrance of where the trains carrying hundreds of thousands of Jewish people would stop, and the place where selection would take place as to whether you would be sent straight to the death chambers or sent to work.
Many of the buildings are no longer original or have been destroyed all together. This is because shortly before the camp was liberated in 1945, the Nazi’s realised that their atrocities would be discovered and began to destroy any traces of the crimes they committed including the gas chambers. The foundations of the chambers still exist but they are ruins.
The cold, icy and muddy ground made it so much easier to imagine what life would have been like for the prisoners, except they would not have had the luxury of wearing warm coats, shoes and having a belly full of food.
There are many reminders around the grounds of the crimes committed, there are the remainders of the gas chambers, the pond where a sign stands to say that ashes of the prisoners were scattered and an example of what prisoners sleeping quarters would have been like.
Should I visit Auschwitz?
Many people have said that they don’t want to visit Auschwitz because of how it would impact them. In my view, it is important to that these places remain as a reminder of the atrocities that were committed and what caused these things to happen in order to ensure they do not happen again. It is also a time to remember and pay our respects to those 1.1 million people that were murdered.
If you are in Poland it is worth a visit and should be on every bodies travel list.
Tips for visiting Auschwitz
Take your time – there is a lot to take in so take your time. You can stay in the museum after your tour so you can go back through
Prepare yourself – I found the visit much more emotional than I expected. I felt like I was the only one in the place sobbing but I found it quite confronting seeing the place I had read so much about
Get there early – tour spots fill up well before the tour starts so if you have a specific tour you want to get on, get there well before your tour time
Check your return transport time – there are not a whole lot of transport options going back to Krakow, so check your time before you go to Auschwitz in order to plan your visit accordingly
Be mindful of others – Try to stay with your tour group and be mindful of the other people that are also visiting the site. Auschwitz can impact on everyone in different ways, be respectful
Have you visited Auschwitz-Birkenau before? What are your tips for visiting the concentration camp?
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