Auschwitz, Poland’s biggest tourist attraction
A rose is left on the charred ruins of what once were the inner circles of hell. Weeping willows lovingly embrace guardhouses. Endless rows of barracks make a pleasing pattern.
Welcome to Poland’s biggest tourist attraction.
Birkenau is the improved version of Auschwitz. The concentration camp was constructed near Auschwitz to ease congestion at the main site.
Birkenau camp, with four crematoria, a reception building and hundreds of other structures, was constructed to house in each barrack 550 prisoners (one-third of the space allotted in other Nazi concentration camps). This was later changed to 744 prisoners per barrack.
Most Europeans will have learned at school that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. What I never knew before visiting Birkenau was that of those killed, almost three million were of Polish descent.
In Auschwitz and Birkenau combined, more than one million people lost their lives during World War II, mainly during the last two years of the war. The exact numbers are unknown, but let’s say roughly a thousand people a day were killed during that period. Let me repeat that number:
A thousand people a day.
Imagine what a major undertaking this must have been trying to get rid of so many corpses and not just one or two days, but the whole year-round.
This must be the place where Lucifer met German efficiency.
Poland’s most popular tourist attraction
Whilst I contemplate those numbers, a couple of Jewish girls make a selfie on the railway tracks where once fellow believers were offloaded as human cargo.
I wonder what I am doing here during my holidays.
Do I really need to see this? But, more importantly, should I want to put my young children through an experience like this?
More than one million people from all over the world visit the Auschwitz Museum annually. I understand the need for second or third-generation victims of the genocide, the relatives of the Jews, the Roma, the disabled, and others who lost their lives. But for me, an ordinary girl from the Netherlands, I am unsure what I am doing here.
According to the museum’s website:
There is no way to understand post-war Europe and the world without an in-depth confrontation between our idea of mankind and the remains of Auschwitz.
I am not sure.
Should I want to look at a hellish horror show? Secretly, I am relieved we didn’t succeed to obtain tickets in time for the main attraction: the Auschwitz museum, because what has been seen cannot be unseen.
Visit Auschwitz & Birkenau
As we found out too late, a visit to Auschwitz needs some planning. To obtain tickets at the museum, you need to queue early in the morning. Then, with access, a timeslot is allocated when visitors can enter the building. Alternatively, tickets can be reserved in advance through the internet.
Admission to the grounds of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial is free of charge. No queues, no tickets.
The museum is open all year round, seven days a week, except January 1, December 25, and Easter Sunday. You can start the visit during the following hours:
Getting to the Museum
The concentration camps are located on the outskirts of the city of Oświęcim on national road 933, approximately an hour’s drive from Krakow.
The museum is about 2 kilometres from the train station and can be reached from there by local bus. (GPS coordinates: GPS coordinates: 19.20363 E, 50.0266 N).
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