While visiting Kraków in 2013 we also took the opportunity to see the site of one of the world’s worst crimes. Susann and I visited Kraków together with my two siblings and it was my sister who wanted to see Auschwitz. Susann had previously been to the concentration camp Majdanek outside of Lublin. For her, the thought of going to yet one more was more than enough. She decided that she would stay in Kraków during the day. So, my siblings and I arranged a tour to the site of these horrendous crimes. It included both a visit to the main Auschwitz camp in Oświęcim as well as a visit of Auschwitz-Birkenau outside of Brzezinka.
I will stay away from the history and information about each camp. There is plenty of information is available from reliable sources that we can not compare with. A good place to start reading about the camps is at the museum’s home page here >>
We were picked up in the morning by the tour bus and were soon on our way towards Oświęcim. The town is some 50 kilometers from Kraków. It is in the town of Oświęcim that the main camp of Auschwitz or Auschwitz I is. Once we arrived our group was at once given an English speaking tour guide and we started our walk through the camp. The fences and watch towers really give a creepy feeling also today.
The camp consists of several brick buildings and it is hard to imagine the number of people that once was forced to stay within their walls. Seeing the piles of suitcases, the collection of hair and other items taken from the prisoners is a good way to put it into perspective. But no matter how many photos you see of it, there is just no way to really understand the magnitude without going there yourself.
The tour group that was just behind ours, happened to have a Swedish speaking guide. So there we walked, trying to listen to our English guide, but all the time hearing what was said behind us in our mother tongue.
Once finished at the main camp, we were back on the tour bus. This time we headed to the much larger Auschwitz II–Birkenau camp. This is the camp that is infamous for the exterminations. The first thing that meets you when arriving at the camp is the camp gates. There is the structure with a large tower and the railway tracks leading through the center. Here we had the opportunity to walk around a bit for ourselves for some time before the tour started. Well, we had time to see the tracks get a feeling of how big the place actually is.
Walking along the tracks is actually what gave me the worst pictures in my mind. Some people say that they can still smell death in the barracks. For others, the sight of the gas chambers would probably be the worst part. For me, it is just the grand scale of the camp. How well planned the logistics really was. That is what is for me frightening, how it was built to be able to take as many people as possible.
We were eventually led around the camp by a tour guide and even though not all buildings still exist there is still a lot to see. None of the gas chambers survived the war as the Germans blew them up while retreating. But the ruins still tell a story. And it is a story that needs to be told today.
I’m one of those people who like to read up on what you have seen from home. If you’re like me, then a day tour from Kraków or another town nearby is enough. You will have the chance to see a lot, even though there is a limit on how much you can explore by yourself. Check out the museum’s web page before going to get familiar with all rules and recommendations.