On my two visits to Auschwitz and Birkenau I made the choice of an individual visit. For me it was essential to be alone with my thoughts during my visit because as a child I "saw" WWII with the occupation of my country.
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. Stays open till 17 h, 18 h and 19 h in June, July and August.
At Birkenau (Auschwitz II) the camp is so large that groups can easily be avoided. There are some residential barracks nearly as they were, the unloading ramp, the ruins of gas chambers and the ruins of crematoria II and III. Therefore it is best to start your visit first with Birkenau around 13 h.
There are a large number of signs explaining the most important places, objects, and events. All the signs are in Polish and English.
Whatever horrors unfolded in Auschwitz , they were multiplied tenfold in Birkenau. Here we saw the remains of a “camp” where 200,000 people at a time were detained. The cruelty off the SS grew worse here and the plan of all out extermination was made. People arrived here from all over Europe and were unloaded directly from the trains and into the gas chambers.
Although not as well known and far less visited than Auschwitz, the Nazi camp at nearby Birkenau is in many ways more shocking, putting the scale and heinousness of the Nazi’s acts into even clearer focus. Designed purely as a death camp, the 175-hectare Birkenau camp had more than 300 prisoner barracks and four gas chambers with crematoria. Capable of holding more than 200,000 prisoners at a time, it was here that the majority of an estimated 2 million executions were carried out.