Curious to know what to expect when making a visit to Auschwitz, one of the worst Holocaust camps? If you are planning a holiday in Krakow, it calls for a visit to Auschwitz. Or maybe Auschwitz is on your list, and Krakow just happens to be where you visit because of proximity. Making a visit to the most well-known concentration and death camp left us with an eerie and unsettling feeling. If you have wishes to visit one day or have plans to go, we are just showing you a little of what to expect on your visit.
Getting There From Krakow
Auschwitz camp was located in the Nazi occupied land of Poland. The name Auschwitz is actually the town renamed in German. The original Polish town name is Oswiecim. If you are visiting from Krakow, there is a bus that takes about 1hr 30min, which is what we decided to do. The central bus station at Kraków Główny has plenty departing. No need to book a ticket ahead. The name of the site today is the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau.
This tour starts in Auschwitz and then takes you on a bus to Auschwitz II. The total time takes from about 3 to 3 and a half hours.
- Book your ticket to the Memorial online in advance. The area itself is actually open to the public, but it is advised to book a guided tour in your language. The tour gets you into further access than if you just go on your own. It’s chocked full of details, and it still barely touches on everything there is to learn. Headphones are provided so you can hear your guide easily.
- At the Memorial, it costs about $2 to use the toilets.
- If you have a bookbag with you, it’s about $4 to store it as they won’t allow you to take it in.
- There are certain buildings that they request no photos be taken.
To start, I am no way a historian and didn’t major in anything like that. The information we are providing today are things that we learned from our guide through the camp and from our studies of the event. We hope you will find it useful and be encouraged to make a visit of your own.
What’s the Difference Between a Concentration Camp and Death Camp?
Auschwitz-Birkenau operated as both a concentration and death camp. A concentration camp meant prisoners were held without a trial in which they were tortured, worked to death, starved, and lived in incredibly horrible conditions. Many died from the poor conditions. A death camp is when the prisoners arrived they were immediately murdered.
Why This Piece of Land in Poland?
During WWII, Nazi Germany and Russia took over Poland. At this location, there already were barrack buildings and train tracks. The access by train and the multiple buildings made it an ideal place for a prison and transporting people from all over Europe.
In the beginning of the camp, most of the prisoners were Polish, and then Russian soldiers after the Nazis attacked Russia.
Over the course of the camp, it’s estimated that 1.3 million people were sent here, 1.1 million died in which most were Jewish. About 900 tried to escape, and only about 200 were successful.
Auschwitz was the largest concentration and death camp which were operated by the Nazis from 1940-1945. This camp was a complex that consisted of 3 main camps, and 40 subcamps. Auschwitz I is the first place and main camp we visited. Auschwitz II, or Auschwitz-Birkenau, was the second one we took the bus to. The third was was called Auschwitz III or Monowitz-Buna which is not accessible.
When you first start the tour, one of the most recognizable first things you see is the gateway with the German words “Arbeit Macht Frei” that translates to “Work Sets You Free”, which was clearly imprecise for the people here. You walk through some of the barracks which have images and information on plaques. The most disturbing room was a room full of hair shaved off from victims behind a glass wall. In other rooms there were shoes, suitcases, and artificial limbs. The barbed wire fences around the buildings still in place is haunting.
You will also be shown the Death Wall located right beside Block 11 camp prison. At this wall prisoners were shot in the back of the head. Doctors did experiments on twins, children and women, and killed them after to perform autopsies. The evil is unimaginable.
After Auschwitz I, you get on a bus with your group to Auschwitz II.
Auschwitz II Birkenau
This is the location where the train tracks lead right through the gate to death. Most of the exterminations happened here. The first experiments with the Zyklon B agent were used in Auschwitz I, but eventually buildings were built in Auschwitz II that included gas chambers and crematorium. These buildings are only remains that you can see today because of being blown up. A couple of the buildings where the prisoners slept, the guide lets you walk through and it shows a glimpse of the atrocities of the overcrowded quarters they were squeezed into. At the back of the camp, there is a memorial that was created.
At the end of the tour, we were overwhelmed with information and emotions of being there. To be able to make a better future, it’s important to learn from the past. I think that’s the message being put out by creating a Memorial Museum for allowing tourists to visit this mass murder site. It’s a place to be respected and remembered. As stated earlier, I hope this post will encourage you to make a visit of your own if you haven’t already. We barely touched the tip of the iceberg from all that we learned from this place. I put off writing this post for 7 months from the time we visited honestly, because I could barely bring myself to put into words the day we visited.