Trip To Auschwitz & Birkenau

I felt that after writing all my blog posts regarding Krakow, that this trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps deserved its own spot, with its own gallery and story. It is a place I had wanted to visit for many years, and although I had a sinking feeling that my emotions would be clouded a little by the consuming tourist vibe and over commercialisation, I did walk away feeling quite numb.





Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration was built outside of Krakow, and over 1 million Jews were exterminated in this camp during WW2 from all over Europe. Brought in on trains, they arrived at the famous tracks of Birkenau, separated from their families and chosen for either work and starvation, or immediate death in the gas chambers. The trip was taken with a local copmany, many hotels will offer this service and you can usually book the tours the day before if it is a little off season. It is around an hour's drive to the camp. Auschwitz and Birkenau are separated, in two separate spots in the village of Oswiecim. In itself, it's a sad town, feels a little forgotten, perhaps never quite recovered from the atrocities of WW2. Auschwitz is the main camp, the most preserved with the exhibitions inside the blocks.

Auschwitz

Walking through the security gates, you see a small courtyard and the famous sign, which translated into English simply means, "Work Will Set You Free". So eerily ironic. You can see the blocks that still remain in the camp. All numbered, and built in what almost feels like a communal village. Sounds silly, but the buildings are not imposing or ugly, the feel there is not solemn, there is a sense of peace and the preservation is incredible. Some of the buildings cannot be entred but many can be, and inside there are many glass cabinets of old posessions of the Jews brought here, hair, shoes, glasses. Far too many for your mind to comprehend, and even more so, knowing that they were taken from victims who most likely succumbed to the evil acts made here at Auschwitz.

Auschwitz does attract many people, even in colder months. Wear suitable clothing and shoes. The terrain isn't brilliant. After looking inside the small museums, as they felt like, we moved onto the horrific gas chamber which still stands today. Walking inside felt surreal, you cannot comprehend it, perhaps only afterwards, your main processes the images and you begin to realise where you have just visited. I was struck firstly with how small it was. I expected a huge space, they most definitely look bigger on television; and this is when you realise how much fear, and chaos there must have been inside when so many people were crammed into these chambers.















Birkenau

Birkenau is an area around fifteen minutes on foot from Auschwitz, where the famous train tracks lie. They remain untouched, and it's a particularly haunting place. The tracks are long, almost too long to see the end from the entrance. There are a few tourists who abuse the area, but you musn't let this detract from your own feelings and emotions. Birkenau is vast. This is where the majority of the work was done, and it is so vast and flat, it does feel a little more abandoned than Auschwitz, particularly because this is less museum-like. There are blocks to walk in, you can see the bunkers where they slept, the toilets, and there are still remnants of the destroyed gas chambers. The ruins of the chambers and buildings are in some ways, more eerie, there's a sense of abandonment, as if it is forbidden territory. Make sure you walk to the bottom to the end of the track you can see the train trakcs in their entirity, and it's the best place to sit and think and realise where you are, you can almost see the horror of the past unfold in your mind.

You can spend as much time at Birkenau as you wish, it feels a little less rushed and chaotic there as it's all outside. The wire fences are particularly disturbing; as during the war, these would have been live, and any prisoner who tried to escape would have had a large voltage surge through them, most likely killing them should they try and touch it. These are all difficult things to imagine; or even comprehend, but well worth a visit if you enjoy history and want to pay your respects to the victims.









Tips

I would recommend visiting the site alone, without a tour group as you are not restricted to time or areas you can wander. Tours are more specific in where you go and how long you have, and whilst alone, I imagine you could truly feel the essence of the place much better than stringing along with a large group.

For more information on Auschwitz, please click here.

For my Blog post on Krakow, please click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment