I much hesitated to join the VT euromeet for the visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau. The reason may sound paradoxical, I feel too much concerned, impregnated by WW II and its horrors.
I was a child when Belgium was invaded - again - and occupied by Germany and I'm unable to forget.
I read a lot about WW II and the concentration camps, visited Breendonck (a small camp in Belgium) Dachau and Mauthausen. So I knew what to expect.
I didn't want a guided visit of Auschwitz; I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. This is only possible after 15.00 h (or before 10.00 h) when the groups have left and when individual visitors are allowed.
One of the blocks of Auschwitz, with nearly no visitors and not on the guided tour, is dedicated to the deportation of the Jews from Belgium.
About 70.000 Jews were living in Belgium before the German invasion, a large number of them were refugees from Poland and Germany. Between 1942 and 1944 the Germans (there was a German military governor "Militärbefehlshaber" for Belgium and the North of France) deported 25.000 Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau from the transit camp "SS-Sammellager-Mecheln" (Caserne Dossin in Mechelen) by 28 trains. Less than 2.000 survived.
I saw photo's of children of my age or a bit older on their way to death.
I could only think that if my parents had been Jews we would have ended our life at the railway terminal of Birkenau.
If I had not been visiting Auschwitz I would have felt guilty in some way I think.
These were the most infamous and largest of the Nazi concentration camps of WWII. Located about an hour from Krakow, a visit here is a must for anyone with an interest in the subjects of Jewish History, the Holocaust, the Nazi Party, WWII, etc.
Because of the amount of data and the pictures I want to share, I have opted to place those reviews and tips under the heading of the town near where the camps are located. Thus, in order to read and see, go to my pages under Oswiecim.
From the 28 one store brick buildings at Auschwitz I five have been transformed in museums with a permanent exhibition with photographs, documents, historical exhibits including prisoner garments, bunks and other furnishings from prisoner rooms, and items seized from Jewish deportees such as suitcases, shoes, spectacles, prosthesis, brushes, hair.
The themes of the permanent exhibition at KL Auschwitz I are the following:
Block 4 – Extermination
Block 5 – Physical evidence of crime
Block 6 – The life of the prisoners
Block 7 – Living and sanitary conditions
Block 11 – The death block
The Death Wall (reconstruction)
Crematorium I and the first gas chamber.
These are the blocks visited by the general guided tour. You can imagine that when there are many visitors (summer), groups are waiting after each other to move on. They leave no time for reflection.
That's why I visited these blocks 4 - 11 well after 15 h on an individual visit when the groups are gone. I prefer to be alone because I can not control my emotion when I see all the shoes of children or that photo of a skeletal Belgian young woman weighing only 35 Kg.
After Auschwitz I the general tour goes to Birkenau (Auschwitz II) to see some residential barracks nearly as they were, the unloading ramp, the ruins of gas chambers and the ruins of crematoria II and III.
This "General Tour" takes 3 1/2 hours.
There are also one-day study tours (6 hours) and two-day study tours (8 hours).
It should be noted that Blocks 13 - 21 at Auschwitz I contain interesting national exhibitions. I will come back on them. Ref. my review The National Exhibitions
Aside from the permanent exhibitions there are in blocks 13 - 21 & 27 at KL Auschwitz I permanent displays known as the national exhibitions.
These are from countries occupied by the Germans whose citizens were deported and died in Auschwitz. These exhibitions show the history of invasion and occupation, the fate of the citizens and the story of the resistance movement.
We visited block 20 shared by France (ground floor) and Belgium on the upper floor. It was not without emotion that I saw photos of kids from my age embarked for the deadly trip to Birkenau. They were assembled in the Caserne Dossin, Mechelen, a transit camp from where in 1942 they were transported by train to Auschwitz. Twenty six transports of 25.000 Jews. The Caserne Dossin is now a memorial and museum.
We also visited block 21 with Holland where are shown photos from Anne Franck and her family before the invasion.
Most terrible was block 15 for Poland. From all occupied countries Poland is the one that suffered most from the Nazis who considered the Poles as slaves. Six millions Poles, 18% of the population were killed during WWII (read "They lived under the nazis" by Laurence Rees).
What is unbelievable is the fact that the SS took so many photos of their own crimes. I can't forget that photo of a German soldier shooting in the head of a woman keeping a child in her arms.
The exhibition in block 27 on the martyrdom, struggle, and destruction of the Jews, 1933-1945, was installed by Poland.
Auschwitz Concentration Death Camp, I am not sure if you can call Auschwitz a tourist destination, but if you are in Krakow make it your destination to see how human being can be cruel, nasty and horrible to another human being. I am not going to tell you about Auschwitz as everyone in free western world should be conscious of and let’s hope nothing inhumane practice repeats. If you want to hear the nitty gritty of what happened in the death camp get a guided tour as they will explain to you without biased.
This is where it all hits home.
You arrive and see the gate, the railway tracks, and through the gate the empty sidings.
99% of the building were demolished by the germans before fleeing, but what is left tells the story.
These buildings (what are left,) are exactly as they were left.
The place is so quiet, so eerie, so desolate.
This is where it hits the visitor, this is what they imagined.
Everyone was very quiet on the ride home.
Also see my Travelogues on this place
This is somewhere I will only visit once in my life time.
This part of the complex was not quite as bad as I expected, but Auschwitz 2 - Birkenau (see seperate tip) was what I expected.
The place has an eerie calm and silence about it. It certainly is a museum, and one that should not be missed. Unless you have been here and experienced it, you miss out on a very important piece of history, history that never should have occured.
Photography is only permitted outside, which is understandable.
You have to come here to appreciate the enormity of it all.
But, this is nothing, wait till you get to Auschwitz 11 - Bickenau, That's when it hits home
Also see my Travelogues on this place
If you are well aware of what happened under the Nazi regime in the countries invaded by Germany you might opt for an individual visit.
Just buy a small booklet with the maps of the blocks-barracks to visit in Auschwitz I and in Birkenau. The summary description of this 24 pages guide is sufficient and is completed by a large number of signs explaining the most important places, objects, and events. All the signs are in Polish and English.
On my two visits to Auschwitz and Birkenau I made the choice of an individual visit because as a child I "saw" WW II with the occupation of my country. After the war I had for neighbour a woman whose arm was tattooed with her concentration camp number. There was an uncle of mine I never met because as member of the Belgian Resistance he had been shot by the Gestapo.
For me it was essential to be alone with my thoughts during my visit. For many visitors having lost members of their family during WW II, Auschwitz-Birkenau is first of all a place of remembrance and not a museum.
To commune with the millions of victims becoming individuals when you see their photos or their abandoned suitcase with their name is in my opinion only possible after 15.00 h at Auschwitz I (museum) when the groups are gone. At Birkenau the camp is so large that groups can easily be avoided.
Best is to start your visit around 13 h first with Birkenau and after 15.00 h enter Auschwitz I. (Stays open till 17 h, 18 h and 19 h in June, July and August). Doing so you will avoid the bumping of groups of visitors in blocks 4, 5, 6, 7, and 11.
If you are less aware of WW II German concentration camps then a guided visit is indicated. During the period from April 1 to October 31, visits are exclusively on a guided, group basis from 10.00 h to 15.00 h (for Auschwitz I). It appears that because of a large number of visitors (1.4 million in 2011) guides should be reserved at least two weeks before a planned visit.
For details and prices see the official website http://en.auschwitz.org.pl/z/
We discussed a lot about whether to go or not to go to see the Auschwitz concentration fFeld and in at the end we decided to go
It's a very sad place where they show you in detail the suffering and horror that was made in this Field
You go with your heart cringed thinking about the poor people who lived and died there without any sense and what worries you most is that it seems that this do not not served us as a lesson
Much respect and a pray for those who lived and died on this Field
Discutimos mucho sobre si ir o no ir a ver el campo se Concentración de Auschwitz y al final hemos ido .
Es un sitio muy triste en el que te muestran con todo detalle el sufrimiento y el horror que se cometió en este Campo
Te vas con el corazón encojido pensando en las pobres personas que vivieron y murieron allí sin nigún sentido y lo que más preocupa es que esto parece que no nos ha servido de lección
Mucho respeto y una operación por los que pasaron por allí
From the official website:
"Taking pictures on the grounds of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oœwiêcim for own purposes, without use of a flash and stands, is allowed for exceptions of hall with the hairs of Victims (block nr 4) and the basements of block nr 11."
That are the official rules but there are also decency rules.
I was shocked when I saw at the wall of executions between block 10 and 11 at Auschwitz I a woman (about 40) and her daughter asking another visitor to take a photo of them posing and smiling before the Death Wall where thousands prisoners were shot by the SS.
How can some tourists be so stupid to confuse Auschwitz with Disneyland!
All concentration camps in Poland where build and ruled by the Germans so that it came as a shock for Poland (and lead to a international petition* of protest with 230000 signatures) when in the U.S.A. some news media used the historically erroneous terms "Polish concentration camp" and "Polish death camp" !
The official and correct name is "German concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland".
The first victims of Auschwitz Concentration Camp (Konzentrationslager) were the Poles starting in 1940. Poland had been invaded by the Germans in September 1939. One-sixth of the population of Poland was killed in the war.
In 1941 already, over 26 thousand people were registered in Auschwitz: about 15 thousand Poles, 10 thousand Soviet POWs, and more than 1 thousand Jews. The mass deportation and extermination of the Jews started in 1942.
Historians estimate that between 1 and 1,5 million people perished in Auschwitz during the less than 5 years of its existence. The majority, from 1 to 1,35 million people, were Jews. The second most numerous group, from 70 to 75 thousand, were Poles, and the third most numerous, about 20 thousand, the Gypsies. About 15 thousand Soviet prisoners of war and 10 to 15 thousand prisoners of other ethnic backgrounds also died there.
*For details about this "Petition on German Concentration Camps" see "Kosciuszko Foundation".
located about 30 miles west of krakow is the town of oswiecim. oswiecim is home to the infamous auschwitz-birkenau concentration camp. there are three camps near oscwiecim, auschwitz I, auschwitz II (birkenau), and auschwitz III located near the former I.G. farben industrial complex. pictured is the main gate to auschwitz I. auschwitz-birkenau is a disturbing but historically significant place to visit. see my oswiecim pages for more information.
auschwitz II birkenau is located about 2 1/2 miles from auschwitz I. there is a bus service connecting to two camps. birkenau is much larger than auschwitz I covering over 300 acres. a very disturbing but historically significant place to visit. for more information see my oswiecim pages.
When we visited Krakow my famliy and I wanted to go to Auschwitz Concentration Camp and I most say we were very moved by the experience of our visit.
Our day started by going to the train station to find out about the train times to Auschwitz and it was here that we met Adam Kokoszka's son who told us about his father who runs a Taxi service, so we negotiated a good price for our trip about 60 Euro for the six of us. Adam took us to both Auschwitz I and II so if you are in Krakow and want to go to Auschwitz I can recommend Adam.
Home Phone: 012 649 42 22 (call after 8pm)
Mobil phone: 0602 701 194 (call anytime)
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial
Admission to the Museum is free. The Museum is open seven days a week during the following hours:
* 8:00 AM - 3:00 PM December through February
* 8:00 AM - 4:00 PM March, November
* 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM April, October
* 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM May, September
* 8:00 AM - 7:00 PM June, July, August
Oswiecim is 75km west of Kraków and is served by frequent buses (1.5hrs, 10-15zl) and two early trains (1,5hrs, 7zl) daily. Some buses drop you off at Auschwitz Museum, others will leave you at Oswiecim train station from where local buses N°2, 3, 4, 5, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30 (tickets at the kiosk, 1.20zl) go to the museum. The two camps are 3km apart. Buses leave for Auschwitz II - Birkenau every hour from the car park of Auschwitz I. Alternatively, take a taxi between the two for 10zl. Waiting minibus taxis run by Malarek Tour (http://malarek-tour.supernet.com.pl) can take you back to Kraków - a group of eight would pay 25-35zl/person.
Went on a guided tour in Auschwitz. It was interesting to hear about those horrible things and the guide could tell us so much more than we could have read in any guide book. You can also wander on your own and find lots of information written in English (and Polish), but as for myself, I'm too lazy to read all that... The tour took us through the barracks, where there was belongings of the jewish people who were sent to the camp on display. Watching the piles of luggage and shoes and hair (!) put a tear in my eye. It was shocking to realize that something so terrible has really happened and not so long ago!
Admission to the museum is free, but a fee is charged for guide services.