A little controversial perhaps, but Therese and I both felt that Auschwitz was somewhere we both wanted to visit while we were so close, in Kraków, due to how much we had learnt about it in school and college. The Auschwitz Concentration Camp, now the museum, and the larger camp, Birkenau is located in the town of Oświeçim, the Polish spelling of Auschwitz. To get there, you can take the Museum Bus for 14 zł each way from the Bus Station next to Kraków Głowny, upstairs on platform G2. We bought our tickets the night before, when we arrived into Krakow from Warsaw, for the 09:10 the next morning, although many people bought theirs on the bus when we got on. The bus filled up and we arrived at the museum about 90 minutes later.You can walk around the museum alone, or with a guide. If you want to go alone, it’s free, but you need to download your ticket with your time slot before you go, from the Auschwitz Museum Website. You don’t need to print it if you can show them the barcode on your phone. We had to leave our handbags in the left luggage office as they were bigger than the requirements on the laminated sheet the man was holding up, so try to bring a small bag, if you choose to go.
Once we were through the security checks and barriers, we walked through the famous Arbeit Macht Frei sign. One of the many deceptions the nazis told anybody arriving into their camps, Works Makes You Free. Quite a few people took group photos under the sign, which we thought was a little strange. The museum doesn’t prohibit taking photos, as they want you to show other people, making sure nobody ever forgets, but they do say you should be respectful.
The whole place is surrounded by a double fence of barbed wire, lights and watch towers.
Auschwitz was originally built for Polish political prisoners before the nazis turned it into a concentration camp. The buildings were used to house the prisoners who had been sent here from all over Europe.
Now they hold various exhibitions showing how life was, some dedicated to the different races of people sent here and their stories, some showing the conditions they had to live in, including the beds, the bathrooms etc.
Other exhibitions showed some of their possessions which were taken from them when they entered the camp.
There was so much information to see and read; it was a very quiet atmosphere, nobody really speaking, just snapping away on their camera phones.
Most people visiting had chosen the tour guide option, so they were being led into the most popular exhibitions in big groups following an orderly queue, wearing a numbered sticker, or coloured lanyard to identify the group. A little ironic we thought.
There wasn’t too much information that we hadn’t heard before, from learning about it in college, and from the books I had recently been reading (The Girl from Krakow; Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account; The Boy From Auschwitz: A Touching Story of Tragedy) but still terrible to see it all for real.
Seeing these quotes, was unbelievable how some people could truly believe that was the right thing to do.
There was snow on the ground, and it was still quite cold, so we could only begin to imagine how hard it was to live and sleep with only the clothes, and little food they had been given.
Auschwitz I was the original site, but one of the smaller concentration camps that were used.
Next we could take the free shuttle bus to Auschwitz II – Birkenau a few kilometres away. Birkenau was built as an extermination camp, especially to kill large numbers of people. They would arrive here after days inside cramped trains, and be lined up for selection.
Again it was surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers.
Combined with all the books I read on Auschwitz over the last week, and visiting the place, I haven’t stopped thinking about how awful the whole thing was, especially as it wasn’t that long ago. It’s made me realise how important our lives are, and how we must fight for what is right so this can never happen again.