It was a grey and rainy day in Krakow, Poland when I decided to jump on a local bus and head to Auschwitz. It is a place I learned a lot about in books and history classes. I thought I was prepared for what I was going to see and feel because of how much I had heard about Auschwitz.It is conceivably the most poignant image of suffering in World War II, and perhaps in the world itself. Standing there in the remains of this horrific piece of history is phenomenally thought-provoking. Auschwitz was the Nazi's largest concentration camp and is the site where 1.1 million people lost their lives - a truly staggering number.
Visiting a concentration camp should have a profound effect on anybody. It is important that we learn from history as to not repeat mistakes, and in my opinion, visiting the sites of such tragedy cements this understanding. In the hope of encouraging more people to visit Auschwitz and other concentration camps and learn from our history, I will discuss my time there.
Getting to Oswiecim
Auschwitz is not in Krakow itself but in Oświęcim which about 75kms away, so visitors need to find a way to get there. I decided to save my pennies and not take a tour from Krakow but took the local bus instead.
Arriving at Auschwitz I feels somewhat conflicting. You feel oddly nervous about what you are about to witness, but then also annoyed about the touristy buzz that exists in the memorial carpark.At certain times of the day, visitors must have a guided tour to explore Auschwitz I and II. You will join a guide at the entry centre with a group who also speak your language. You will receive a headset as well so you can properly listen to the guide. At first I was unsure why guides were necessary but in the end it is worthwhile because you learn an incredible amount.
Auschwitz I contains many buildings that were previously barracks for the Polish Army but transformed into the concentration camp in 1940. To arrive at the first section of prison blocks, visitors pass under the infamous sign "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("work sets you free").There are many awful areas to see within the prison blocks including Block 11 where many punishments were handed out by the SS. Different cell types were designed to punish prisoners. Some types of cells included: 'standing cells' where prisoners were forced to stand, 'starvation cells' where no food/drink was provided, and 'suffocation cells' where there is no way for air to enter the cell. People placed in these cells were often left there until they died.
As this is now the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, many of the prison blocks have museum-like displays and information. The aim of many of the displays is to show the sheer amount of life that was lost at Auschwitz. Towering displays of victims' shoes, hair and clothing are some of the things you will witness. There are walls full of pictures of the victims as well as rooms organised to show visitors what it would've been like at the time.
September 23, 2021