There’s nothing will prepare you emotionally and psychologically when entering Auschwitz-Birkenau compounds. The eerie and desolate atmosphere feeling, as you walk through its empty grounds.
My visit to the concentration camp was organised a month before my trip to Krakow Poland. Getting to the camp from Krakow is easy, either take the bus or train heading towards Oświęcim. It is situated 50 kilometres west of Kraków about an hour journey. I opted to take the bus, it’s more handy it will drop you near the campgrounds. The grounds entry is free, but if you get there between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., visitors must have a guided tour costing 40 Zloty. I joined the 10:30 a.m English Tour, with an expert tour guide and headphone at hand I was ready for a walk through the past.
Passing through the infamous gate “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign mounted on a wrought-iron arch gate, a German phrase which means “Work sets you free”.
Noticing the high barbed wire fence, securing the entire site as you enter the spooky complex, with indescribable feeling of uneasiness as you walk passed.
We then guided towards the “Deportation unit” exhibition room. According to documents it was June 1940 the beginning of the poles deportation of 25,000 prisoners and almost half of them has perished while in the camp. In March 1941 deportation of 1.1 million Jews and Auschwitz became the largest site of the Holocaust, the mass murder of about 1 million as perpetrated by the Nazis using the gas chambers.
Then followed by a visit to the prisoner barracks in block 7 and 11 exhibitions for typical interior of the prisoner’s room laid out with hay on the floor, communal lavatory and wash room. As well as the display of tons of personal belongings from shoes to luggage bag. There’s even a mountain of shaved hairs from the prisoners. I can’t hardly imagine the torture and anxiety they have felt during that time.
An eerie silence descended over the corridor walls that were filled with photos of the prisoners. As if they are staring at you as you walked away.
In September 1941 the experimental use with gas “Cyclone B” took place. They also started their medical experimentation with the prisoners. The merciless act that no one could have imagined.
After the tour around Auschwitz I, we were then taking the free bus that brought us to Auschwitz II or called Birkenau complex.
Where mostly the mass murdered has occurred. The railway ramp at Birkenau is regarded as the Road of Death. As soon as the train stopped, the unloading and selection process starts. Women and children were directed towards the gas chambers being assured they had a bath for disinfection. They were willingly going and unknowingly what will really happen next. While men who are fit to work were segregated and were headed to the camp. The gruesome act lasted for couple of years until 1945.
There are barracks that is open to the public and exhibition displays that are included on the tour. And there are buildings not open due to ongoing preservation or due to safety issue. The usual tourist route does not include building 18 and 27. It is worth going back to visit after the tour in Birkenau compound. It was recommended by Lukasz staff personnel in the press department of Auschwitz. So after the whole tour I went back to Auschwitz 1. I swiftly got through the security and headed straight to building 18 and 27. The first building was dedicated to the Polish prisoners.
Then I came across to a room dedicated to the kids who were victims. The room was so dim, but you will notice straight away the drawings on the wall. A replicate drawings of kids that were discovered in the camp, and the very lively kids singing on the background music playing in the room. Roaming around the room my heart sunk and my tears slowly rolling down my face, not even realising I was crying in silence. This very moment will remind me and will never forget my visit to Auschwitz.
The visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau Complex was so surreal. I felt and think I wish I didnt go, but a part of me glads that I did. Being able to see and be there in that place makes me understand more of what happen in the past.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. Today with the Polish Government and other organisation works together to preserve the place and later converted into a museum and memorial. Up to this time there are continued plans of preserving the authenticity of the place. Requiring a big amount of money to fund the preservations. If there’s one thing we can do, let’s help the preservation of the site by donating directly to Auschwitz-Birkenau
- How to get there, it’s either take the train or bus at the Krakow Glowny, but the latter is more convenient as the bus will stop near the campground. Do keep it in mind that there’s two camp sites Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 11. The tour will start at Auschwitz 1 and there’s a free bus to take you to Auschwitz 11 and back. Travel cost 12-13 Zloty each way.
- Campgrounds entry is free. But if visiting between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. you need to book a tour guide through their official website Auschwitz-Birken 1&2.
I was a guest in Auschwitz-Birkenau the press department provided a press pass and free tour guide. As usual, I retained full editorial control and all opinions are my own.