Travellers Guide To Visiting Auschwitz In Poland, Europe
Have you ever watched a movie or read a book, and just wondered to yourself, what a horrible, horrible thing and thank gosh that is not real!
How about visiting a place…
What if I told you there was such a place, that still to this day holds some of the saddest and most unthinkable history in the entire world.
Just imagining stepping off a train after being herded up by people that want nothing to do with you, whom have evicted you from your homes, stolen everything from you and now you are nothing but a spec in a sea of thousand lost faces, names and souls. Being completely separated from your family and friends, marched off into the unknown.
This isn’t a horror movie. It happened! And if you have never heard about it before, it’s time you learnt about it.
World War Two when the Nazis destroyed over 6 million people from the intended 11 Million, most of which where Jewish and being “exterminated” – murdered, slaughtered, tortured and killed for no direct real reasons.
Please stop reading here if you do not wish to be upset.
Over the course of almost five years, millions of people where tricked and forced out of there homes, away from there communities and into concentration camps across Germany and Poland. Most of which where young children, and women who where killed upon arrival by being gassed. Up to 1,500 people at a time where suffocated in small chambers. The worst part is they simply thought they where just going to have a shower before being put to work as slaves, but this wasn’t true. They were tricked and murdered, thousands a day, for years and years on end.
The men and strong children where put to work in the camps, and any young children that survived, where chosen by “doctors” who performed sick and tortuous experiments on them.
Almost everyone that entered the camps where either exterminated upon arrival, died of starvation, exhaustion or by execution. Some lasted a few weeks, others only a few months and the very few that did escape and survived, suffered a lifetime of confusion, anger, and depression.
I recently visited Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II “Birkenau” two of the most famous concentration, “death camps” in the history of World War II. These sites are known to be the very place millions of people lost their lives.
Now I’m going to be totally honest here, it was depressing, saddened me and made me deeply confused and angry. I only feel as though it is right to write a small guide about visiting to inspire you to go on your next trip to Poland.
Yes, it is extremely sad. Yes it is sickening, but it makes you realize some extremely important lessons about war, humanity, life and death. Lessons we can all learn from, and take home to improve our lives and how we live them.
I would not recommend young children under the age of 15 to visit. Unless they are happy too, it can be very confronting and even though these sites are wonderful because it makes you realize how strong the survivors are, it also holds horrible traces of unthinkable acts of violence and terror.
I personally think everyone should visit these sights at some point in there life. It is very historical and can teach many great lessons about sticking together; staying strong to yourself and what you believe, and it teaches us how much love we are as humans have for one and another.
Behind all of the unthinkable acts carried out in and around these death camps, the stories from survivors and those that perished show such strength and determination for the will to live. In a sad contrast, it also shows us, how when you really love those around you, such as your children, family and friends – that nothing can stand between you.
Getting to Auschwitz: Getting to and from Auschwitz can be a little confusing for those that don’t do their research before hand. So to save you the trouble here is the break down!
You can catch mini buses, which run from the main town of Krakow from the main bus stop, which is right next door to Krakow Glowny train station. You walk all the way through the station and follow the bus pictures and it will take to outside to an indoor bus station. Here you can purchase a one-way ticket for 12 PLN each and the bus takes around 2 hours and leaves every 30-45mins. It drops you off on a dirt road, but this is actually a car park behind the site, you follow the crowds and walk down and after 5 mins you reach the main gate of Auschwitz 1.
The other option is to take the train from Krakow Glowny Station and the train leaves every hour at twenty too (apart from 12:20) this train also takes around 2 hours, but arrives at the main station “Oswiecim” which is actually a 20min (1.5km) walk to the gates of Auschwitz I.
We caught the bus down to the sites and then got the train back. I liked doing it this way as the bus drops you off at the gate and then the train back is a lot smoother and misses all of the afternoon traffic! Either way, you should be able to get to Auschwitz if you go from Krakow Station /Bus station.
Entry Tickets and Tour Prices: Most people think that a tour with a guide is the best thing. I don’t like following a person around with a silly green flag on a pole (or a stuffed animal like some odd tour guides do! Hahah) but on this particular occasion I was very interested and wanted to listen along, about the history of the sight. Yep, I became an “Ant” for the day and followed a tour group around, and it was great!
You can book your guided tours online, but the English speaking tours sell out quick and there is not many compared to the amount of Polish and German speaking tours. Tickets cost 40 PLN per person and the tour runs for 3.5 hours taking you to both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II “Birkenau”. You can also buy the guided tours at the information booths when you arrive, but please note, these can sell out and means you may have to wait around outside all afternoon for the next tour available. I personally think it’s better to just book the tour when you arrive! See what time you get there, and then book the tour. They have so many tours running, and even online if they say they are booked out, they normally aren’t. Just book the tour when you arrive!
Now something to know is that you do HAVE to go on a guided tour if you plan on visiting the sites before 3pm. I don’t know why, but that’s the rules. If you rock up after 3pm it’s ok to go in without a guide and explore on your own!
What To Expect: Auschwitz is a place unlike anywhere I have ever visited. You don’t see bones or bodies, but you can just picture how it would have been all those years ago. I thought I was going to be a total mess. I know the history and impact from WWI and really thought I was going to ball my eyes out, but I didn’t. I was totally and utterly numb, I didn’t feel anything.
I walked through the old barracks, touched the gas chamber walls, stared into the crematories and listen to the horrible stories, which took place, but I didn’t cry. I didn’t even think, I just looked and listened and that was all.
Some people say that birds don’t fly over the sites because they can almost sense the atrocities that took place, and oddly I didn’t see any birds. I also thought I would feel weird vibes, the only strange thing I felt was like I was going to be sick walking past the tons of human hair in one of the museums. You could just smell death through the glass, and that picture is just burned into my mind. But nothing compares to the smells that came from around the burnt down Crematorium number two at Auschwitz II “Birkenau”. It was a funny smell, like charcoal, explosives and it just smelt really off.
Now even though I saw, smelt and walked by all these things in the Auschwitz concentration camps, it almost felt calm in the sites. Like a strange stillness, and had an peacefulness to it all. Your mind just can’t grasp what happened, so it turns to the next thing, blocking it all out.
I’m not telling you these things to scare you or frighten you away from visiting, because this was just my personal experience. I reacted completely opposite to how I thought I would, and even though everything you see is a cruel reality of what happened. It can’t be missed and must be explored to help remind new generations about humanity and how to live your lives for the right and true reasons. Not to fight and harm one and another, but to embrace, care for and bring up those around you.
Top Tips For Your Visit To Auschwitz:
– Pre book your tickets online if you don’t want to be disappointed when you arrive, English tours sell out fast!
– Try to visit in the early morning, it’s not as crowed. If you visit in the afternoon you may have to fight against the 3pm crowds.
– If you don’t know much about the sights or want to know more DEFIENTLY book a guided tour! They are wonderful and take you to all the right places. I am not a tour person, but I actually really enjoyed being an ant for the day and following along learning more about it all.
– Don’t bring a thing accept a small purse/handbag or camera bag. You will have to pay, wait for it…3 whole pol to store you bag! If your bag is not smaller than apiece of A4 paper (that’s actually how they measure the size of your bags) then it has to be kept in the baggage room.
– No strollers are allowed and you can take photos everywhere except for the room which is filled with human hair (you wouldn’t want to photograph it anyway, it’s too sad).
Have you visited Auschwitz before? How did you feel about the whole experience? Please Comment Below!