Today my plan was to catch the train from Krakow out to Auschwitz. Like always I’d over researched everything and planned it all out. Before I’d even left Krakow those plans were thrown out the window. I had an 8.40 entry time into the museum/memorial so I only really had one window of time to travel the 50 odd km. I’d prebooked a ticket on the train and there was one that left at 5.56am. They don’t run frequently in the morning.
When I got to the station the train has been changed to a bus, however in the bus terminal there was no indication which bus it was and the info desk was closed and no one could help me find it. I could have just cut my losses for the day and done a prebooked tour on Thursday instead, but if that fell through or one wasn’t available at late notice I would have lost my opportunity to visit this site completely. So I just walked back into Krakow and ordered an Uber. This cost me $70. The uber was way faster than the train and I had enough time to get breakfast and coffee.
The main website is not clear, but there is food available at the main Auschwitz site (nothing at Birkenau though). There are also three bookshops there, they are all independent and the same book can be a different price.
I will update a seperate page later on the actual logistics of visiting Auschwitz and some of the options available and link to it from here.
Why visit Auschwitz ? This is a part of WW2 history that has interested me for a long time and given I had a few free days in Europe to see what ever I wanted, this was high on my list of potential candidates. Its a strange place to visit. Its a museum, a grave yard and the largest crime scene in human history.
I expected the place to be really spooky and inside some of the buildings it truly is (especially the crematorium and the displays with human hair, luggage, shoes, glasses). I think it was the shoes that stunned me the most, over 1 million people were killed here yet there is only a small selection the shoes on display, but its none the less vast. It ran almost the entire length of the building and there would be enough shoes (including children’s shoes) to fill a number of shipping containers. There was also human hair that had been *woven* into fabric. After leaving that building I really felt like I just wanted to vomit.
One thing that I didn’t think about at the time but I realise now since I’ve left is that while there were people everywhere, apart from the odd guide talking the place is virtually silent inside the grounds. The only thing you hear really are people walking around and birds chirping. Photographs were allowed in most places except the crematorium and the rooms with actual human remains.
Auschwitz gets a lot of tourists and they do a good job of managing the sheer number of people that want to visit. I was here in the peak summer period, and yes it was crowded but also it wasn’t. In some sections I had difficultly manoeuvring around the guided tours that were stopped in building looking at things and at other times I was the only person there looking at displays. There is so much to see here, if you were to read every display in every building it would take you days. I spent about 3 hours just at the Auschwitz 1 camp before taking the shuttle to the Birkenau camp.
Not everyone realises that Auschwitz is not just “one” place. There were multiple camps here all serving multiple purposes in the shared goal of death on an Industrial scale. Whilst thousands upon thousands were killed at the Auschwitz 1 camp, the majority of people were killed at the Birkenau camp. Thats the one where you see the iconic railway tracks going into the camp. The other iconic symbol of Nazi death the “Albeit Macht Frei” sign (“Work sets you free”) is at the Auschwitz 1 camp. Auschwitz 1 is on the left, and Birkenau is on the right. They are about 3km from each other and there is a free shuttle bus between them every few minutes.
On the second photo you see where the train entered the death camp and the majority of people were sent directly to the gas chambers to be murdered. This is something I’ve not seen anywhere else on the web, the train tracks leading away from the camp. Something almost everyone who went here never saw themselves.
Some Photos from around the grounds of the main Auschwitz camp. They have tried to keep it in as original condition as possible. The suggested route around the camp is very well marked and you can enter a significant number of buildings. To escape the suffering and horrors some prisoners threw themselves on the electric fences.
Model of what the gas chambers looked like :-
Used canisters of Zyklon B (Cyclone B) which produced cyanide gas when exposed to air. This would be been a slow scary death. Utterly horrifying.
Living, washing and toilet facilities in one of the brick buildings.
Wall between block 10 and 11 where many people were shot.
Each country that lost people to the holocaust have their own display in a building. They are all slightly different but convey the horrors suffered by their people in various ways. the French one was a little terrifying with the sounds of train shunting playing loudly as you read the display about how people were rounded up and shipped off like cattle in train carriages to their ultimate death. You could spend 2 hours going through each building in detail here at Auschwitz, and there are at least 10 open to the public. You will end up skipping some sections. Read the guide book first and decide what you really want to see.
The Dutch display had a partial focus on the Frank family with various pictures of Anne, as well as the story and her book. There was also a very moving display of what looked like patterned wallpaper but on closer inspection is the name of every Dutch person who was killed in the holocaust. Its scarily massive.
The Hungarian display had you walk around on glass over train tracks and through a glass train carriage as you learnt about the holocaust from the Hungarian perspective.
During the renovation of one building, a stash of tools and supplies was found. It is presumed someone had planned an escape. If would seem he never did.
The last building I visited at Auschwitz 1 before taking the shuttle bus to Birkenau was the crematorium and gas chambers (reconstructed versions). I didn’t take any pictures inside, but this website has a good overview of it.
After this, I waited a few minute and took a shuttle out to the Birkenau camp. The thing that took me aback about Birkenau was the sheer scale of the place. The documentaries just don’t convey the true scale. I only spent about an hour here as there was an Electrical Thunderstorm coming and I did not want to be caught in the open in the middle of it.
In the remains of these two underground gas chambers which the Nazi’s destroyed to hid the evidence of their crimes, over 1 million human beings were murdered.
The Nazis did unspeakable horrors at Auschwitz-Birkenau (and elsewhere all over Poland and Europe), but we need to speak about them and remember them to prevent them happening again.