Auschwitz Birkenau: The world needs to remember and learn

Definitely one of my most memorable trips, but not because how pretty and instagramable it is, rather how intense and emotional it was.

Auschwitz Birkenau was the largest of the Nazi concentration camp. Today, the original bunkers were modified into museum galleries. A visit to Auschwitz is easily a half to full day trip. You can start off at the museum where they have pictures and narratives, and take your time between the exhibits. It can be a lot to take in.

I particularly remember this bunker with glass displays and behind them were remains and belongings of the prisoners, e.g. hair cuts, shoes, suitcases etc. Being in that bunker, I had chills constantly up my spine. It is a sight you will never forget.

Photos are NOT allowed in some of these bunkers/ galleries especially those with actual remains of prisoners. Please respect. 


Background

Auschwitz Birkenau consists of three parts,

  • Auschwitz I, the main concentration camp, today the museum
  • Auschwitz II Birkenau, more barracks for prisoners, you can walk on the train tracks where the prisoners first arrived before they were separated
  • Auschwitz III Monowitz, another sub concentration camp, but today is converted into an industrial park, there is no more visible structures of the Holocaust
Auschwitz map (Source: http://adolfhitlersholocaust.weebly.com)

Getting in

Auschwitz is 72 km west of Krakow. You can get there by bus, train or car.

Bus is the cheapest method of transportation. From Krakow, it takes about 1 hour 45 minutes. Bus fare is about 12 PLN (3 USD).

The closest train station is Oswiecim, which is 2 km away from Auschwitz. From Krakow, the train takes about 2 hours.

The most convenient is to drive your own. From Krakow, it takes about 1 hour 15 minutes. There are paid car parks near both Auschwitz I and II.

If you do not have a car, you can also opt to join a tour. Definitely the most expensive, but everything is arranged including a guided tour of Auschwitz.

Entrance into the camps are free, but it is highly recommended to get a guide. You will learn so much more with a guide. You can book your tour online in advance.

Check out this very elaborate post for more important tips for visiting Auschwitz 


Auschwitz I

The main concentration camp and also where the museum is. As you enter, you will walk past a gate with an inscription “Arbeit macht frei” which translates to “Work brings freedom”. 

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Auschwitz I main gate

You want to spend some time in the museum. They put up some staggering statistics, more than 1.3 million people deported to Auschwitz, 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz, of which 90% are Jews.

I still remember walking through the museums, Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony No. 7 was constantly playing on loop. Not exactly related, but Shostakovich wrote this (his longest symphony) in response to the German invasion. He originally wanted to name the 4 movements as “War”, “Reminiscence”, “Home Expanses”, and “Victory”, but later just left them with their tempo markings alone.

It was not my first time listening to Shostakovich 7th, but now every time I listen to it again, I will get goosebumps.

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Barbwire and electric fences
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Brick barracks
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Entrance to the gas chamber

Auschwitz II Birkenau

Auschwitz II Birkenau is a few km away from Auschwitz I. We walked there on foot. If you are on a tour, your driver will shuttle you between two sites. There is also free shuttle bus that runs every 10 minutes between both camps.

Auschwitz II Birkenau is big ! Never could I imagine the extent of the Holocaust had I not witness it with my own eyes.

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Auschwitz II Birkenau
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Over 150 more barracks

The most emotional part for me at Auschwitz II Birkenau was when I am walking along the train tracks, where the selection and segregation process happened.

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This was where they all first arrived at Birkenau, hopeful of new lives and opportunities, only to be separated from their families. Men who can work were made to stay, and those who cannot (women, children, and elderlies) were sent straight to the extermination camps.


Is Auschwitz Birkenau for you ?

There is a lot of debate over whether one should visit Auschwitz Birkenau. Dark tourism has become a topic of controversy. For me, having personally witnessed it in person, I believe the world needs to be aware, to remember.

A visit to Auschwitz is sobering but it is important that we witness and remember this very horrifying sad part of European history, and remind ourselves not to repeat it ever again !

10 thoughts on “Auschwitz Birkenau: The world needs to remember and learn

  1. Why did they expect new lives there? Were they told good things were to happen before they came? I was just listening to an NPR about the camps. It said the camp was so big because of the work that happened there, but the camps just made as death camps were small as most people were murdered within two hours. I don’t know if I could handle touring there emotionally.

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  2. I agree with you the world does need to remember and visiting would be an eye opening experience. This tour must have been heart breaking.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this important place in history–this must have been a difficult journey. I truly hope that with the awareness you bring, it never happens again.

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  4. I think it is important to visit places where atrocities against humanity took place. I can understand why the train tracks were difficult emotionally for you. I think I would struggle with the entire visit but would definitely take the opportunity to go if it arose. It is still hard for me to imagine that this even happened. The numbers are staggering.

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  5. You’re absolutely right that this would be a truly emotional place to visit. It’s insightful to know that the scale and size of the three camps is a window into how real and extensive the Holocaust was. I absolutely agree that we should continue to visit Auschwitz to remind ourselves what’s possible.

    In terms of honoring the legacy of those who perished in Auschwitz and following through with the phrase “never again,” I think the best thing we can do is to spread awareness about the existence of modern-day concentration camps. Specifically, over a million Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China have been subject to many of the same horrors mentioned above such as family separation and forced slave labor. This is happening right now in 2020. We as an international community still have work to do.

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  6. I agree with you that the world needs to be aware. I am a very visual person and even though I know what went down there, I need to lay eyes on it. I am hoping to get there soon but I can already tell from your photos and description that the train tracks will also be my most emotional point. It already made me tear up.

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  7. This is definitely dark tourism and I go back and forth contemplating whether or not I should visit. It’s such a horrible time in our history, but also one that should never be forgotten. If I go, I know I’ll have to set aside a full day and possibly an extra day just to process it all. Those train tracks give me chills…

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    1. I have mixed feelings too. I do my best to give it most respect, e.g. taking time to really learn about the history instead of just ticking a box, and also not to take selfies. Yes walking on the train track was the most emotional part for me !

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  8. I so agree with you that we need to remember, but there is another aspect. For me visit there was a big shock, still have shivers thinking about it

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