Probably the best known ‘Dark Tourism’ site in Europe along with Chernobyl. The monstrosity known as Auschwitz is under 40 miles west of Krakow and you can get there by public transport or by an arranged tour with transport. Entry to Auschwitz is free but it is worth paying for a guide, ours was excellent.
The camp, under the command of Rudolf Hoss, was built in 1940 but by 1941, as the number of inmates increased a second camp was built a couple of miles away. This camp was called Birkenau or Aushwitz 2 and we were able to see both sites on our visit. Over one million people were murdered here, the majority were Jewish.
Auschwitz is the most horrific place I have ever been to and I will never forget what I saw. I do know that some people that will not visit here, but I feel it is a must, lest we forget.
Originally a Polish army camp, the brick buildings and barracks stand as they did over 70 years ago. we saw the barracks, offices, the ‘Death Block’ and execution wall.
The Nazi’s documented each inmate and took photographs. The photograph below right shows Maier Karas who died one day after arriving at Auschwitz. Our guide suggested he may have frozen to death given the time of year and the thin clothing he had to wear.
The displays of mountains of personal belongings taken from the prisoners are truly shocking and included teeth, hair, shoes, prosthetics and spectacles.
And then you see the large pile of used Zyclon B cannisters, the cyanide derived pesticide used in the gas chambers.
The tour also takes you through a gas chamber which was a bit of a shock as I did not expect this. Horrible.
After the war, Rudolf Hoss went on the run and disguised himself as a gardener. He was caught and went on trial in 1946. It is perhaps fitting that he was hanged at Auschwitz for his crimes.
Just a couple of miles away from Auschwitz is Birkenau or Auschwitz 2. You can get a minibus there from Auschwitz. The camp is enormous at around 425 acres. The 300 buildings were made of wood or brick and some still stand today. The prisoners were often brought to the camp by train where the majority were selected for the gas chambers. In August 1944 there were around 100,00 prisoners in Birkenau, all of them living in squalid conditions.
There are no exhibits here as such but you do get to see inside some of the barracks. You also can see the four gas chambers including the one that was partly destroyed by Jewish prisoners in the revolt of October 1944.
Many of the buildings were burned down by the Nazi’s in a vain attempt to hide evidence as the war neared an end but the hearths and floors are still clearly visible.
You also can see the small pond where the ashes of burnt victims were scattered.