So far all the traveldestinations on this travelblog have been touristic destinations like Hong-Kong, Oslo and Prague. The traveltip of today is a destination which fits in a different category: Words like impressive and confrontating fit better to the concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland. Auschwitz is a piece of european history which must not be forgotten. It should make its visitors realize that Europe has not always been like it is nowadays.
Before World War II, Oświęcim was still a pieceful and unknown town in the south of Poland.Nobody could’ve expected that this town would be the homebase for the largest German concentration camp during World War II. After the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, they needed concentration camps to keep the political enemies locked up. It was in April 1940 that the German leaders decided that the Oświęcim would be a suitable location. Short after that decision, the Polish name Oświęcim was changed into the German Auschwitz. Nowadays, the name Auschwitz is still symbol for the horror and terrifying events during World War II.
Travel to Auschwitz (from Krakau)
One of the main reasons that Auschwitz was chosen as a location, was the fact that the town was very easy to reach. Auschwitz was located between Katowice and Krakau and the trainstation was relatively near to the concentration camp. Now in 2013, it is still quite easy to reach Auschwitz by train. Although it sounds a bit weird, it is easy, comfortable and quick to travel by train to Auschwitz. A return-ticket costs about 6 Euro. Keep in mind that you still have to take a taxi or a walk from the trainstation to the actual concentration camp.
Besides the train, you can also decide to travel to Auschwitz by Bus. Many visitors plead that this is the best possible option because the bus will drop you off straight in front of Auschwitz 1. From the busstation in Krakau (address: E-1, ul. Bosacka 18), you can just take a direct bus to Oświęcim which will cost you about 5 euro.
As a last alternative, you can also decide to visit Auschwitz by car. If you own a car, it might be the most convenient way after all. Parking is quite easy and cheap and if you share the care with some friends it is the most economic way as well. The ride Krakau to Auschwitz is about 70km.
Concentration camp Auschwitz
Normally, Auschwitz 1 will be the first concentration camp you will visit on your trip in Oświęcim. Initially, the concentration camp was meant for only 10.000 prisoners but we all know that this number is not based on the reality. Although Auschwitz I was the smallest camp, still more than 70.000 people died in this camp during World War II. In June 1940, the first transport of prisoners arrived in Auschwitz: 720 Polish political prisoners had the “honour” to be the first prisoners in Auschwitz.
Interesting fact: One of the prisoners of this first group was a 31 years old Polish guy named Wiesław Kielar. Wiesław ended up being one of the only prisoners who survived 5 years in Auschwitz and he wrote a book about it “Anus Mundi: Five Years in Auschwitz”.
The tour in Auschwitz I starts at the famous entrance with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei”. This is an example of one of the many lies which was told to the prisoners. Most prisoners arrived in Auschwitz with a suitcase: They were told that they were going to build a new life. The Auschwitz-museum shows the confrontating evidence of thousands of suitcases, tablewear and toothbrushes of dead prisoners.
Auschwitz I was also the place where horrifying medical experiments were permormed on prisoners. Prisoners were used as living experiments and many of them died in horrifying circumstances. Besides that, Auschwitz 1 also had its own camp-prison which you will also enter during the tour. In this special block (block 11) the prisoners were threated even worse than in the rest of the concentration camp. An example are the one square meter cells where 4 people were locked up: Prisoners had to work 11 hours a day and were not able to lay down at night because there was simply not enough space. Many of these prisoners died of suffication or exhaustion.
These are just a few of the many examples you will be confrontated with during your trip in Auschwitz.
In August 1940, two months after the first arrival of prisoners in Auschwitz, the concentration camp already kept more than 8000 prisoners locked up. Although daily executions were already taking place, the capacity of Auschwitz I was not sufficient for the plans of the German leaders. For that reason Auschwitz II – Birkenau, a camp with a capacity of 100.000, was build. Auschwitz II – Birkenau was opened in 1942 and was located about 3km from Auschwitz I. During World War 2, almost one million people died in this concentration camp.
From Auschwitz I you can use the free shuttle-busses to reach Auschwitz II – Birkenau. In this second concentration camp you will see a large memorial place, several gas chambers and the exact spot where the prisoners arrived and had to participate in the selection process. This process was used to examine the prisoners and only the strong men, who were able to work for the Germans, were allowed to enter the concentration camp. Most of the prisoners who arrived in Auschwitz, were send to the gas chambers immediately.
The bizar reality of this selection process was, that most prisoners had been travelling for several days without food and proper sleep. The small train on the image below transported about 70 prisoners and obviously there were no toilets aboard. So the prisoners who survived the ride, had been travelling between dead corpses and faeces for a few days and then had to participate in a selection process. This cruelty is almost unimaginable.
Life in a concentration camp
During the trip in Auschwitz, it is very impressive and confrontating to get an image of the life in a concentration camp. You get to see the barracks, the beds, the toilets and the arrival spot. It is not hard to imagine how hard it must have been for families to be ripped apart after arrival. Visiting Auschwitz will make you realize that the luxury life we have at this moment is a blessing. Auschwitz is defenitely an impressive experience and I would advice everybody to visit the concentration camps in Poland at least once.
Tips for a trip to Auschwitz
- When you decide to visit Auschwitz, I would advice to pay for a guide. In Auschwitz it is not about the sights or the beautiful buildings, it is about the background-stories and the history. Only a guide can give you all the information you need to experience Auschwitz the right way. The prices of guides are very reasonable by the way (check the paragraph Prices and Opening Hours)
- If you still prefer to visit Auschwitz without a guide, you are only allowed to do so at certain hours. During the main season you are not allowed to visit the camps without a guide between 10.00 and 15.00.
- Visit Auschwitz in a chronological order. It sound obvious, but some people decide to visit Birkenau first because it is not so busy in the morning. Still, the whole history and chronlogical order gets lost.
- Personally I would advice to visit Krakau the day before you want to travel to Auschwitz and leave to Oświęcim early in the morning. You will receive a lot of information so it is smart to arrive rested.
Prices and opening hours Auschwitz
During the busiest period (June, July and August) the opening hours of Auschwitz are from 08.00 till 19.00. During the other months the camps open at the same time but close one, two or three hours earlier. For a full list of the opening hours of Auschwitz, you can check this website.
The prices of concentration camp Auschwitz are very reasonable compared to other touristic attractions in Europe. For 40 PLN (about 10 euro) you get entrance and a 2.5 hour tour including guide. Students can even get a discount of 10 PLN and if you arrive with a group (at least 10 persons) you can also safe quite some money. More information about the prices of Auschwitz can be found on the official webite (download the document).
During World War II, about 1,3 million people got deported to concentration camp Auschwitz. Almost all of them, 1,1 million to be precise, never returned back to their family, friends and hometown. Partly because of this history, Auschwitz is different from all other touristic attraction. This attraction is about War, genocide and appreciation of the life we have nowadays. Every European citizen should visit Auschwitz at least once in his life.
A trip to Auschwitz can be easily combined with visiting Krakau. Krakau is a great city in the south of Poland and is located about 6 hours from Berlin. Auschwitz and Krakau are only 70km apart.
Books and movies about Auschwitz
About an interesting historical event like the concentration camps in Auschwitz many books and movies have been made. Many of them are also for sale in the shops surrounding the concentration-camps but it is normally cheaper to buy it online. Below you can find some of the alternatives if you are looking for movies or books about Auschwitz.