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Auschwitz, Poland | Visit the Hell on Earth

by Steven
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If there was one place on earth that was supposed to represent hell, it was Auschwitz. In this concentration camp in southern Poland, about 1.5 million people died in a bestial way by gassing them. Those who visit this complex get a clear picture of the conditions under which people had to survive them. Finally, you can also take a look at one of the gas chambers that is still standing.

How could it all happen? How do you arrange a visit to Hell on Earth? And why should everyone visit this complex at some point? In this travel guide, you will learn everything about your visit to this former concentration camp in Poland. Let’s go to Auschwitz …

In this article about Auschwitz-Birkenau

Arbeit macht Frei, sign of Auschwitz
The text Arbeit macht Frei above the entrance to Auschwitz I. The German writer Lorenz Diefenbach (1806-1883) came up with this maxim in his book, the Nazis later adopted it. Work liberates is the translation, but it turned out not to be the truth….

The history of Auschwitz – How could this happen?

When Adolf Hitler wrote his book, Mein Kampf, during his imprisonment in the 1920s it contained quite a few anti-Semitic statements. No one could have ever imagined that he would come to power, but his eloquence and his plans for a Germany in crisis struck a chord with some of the Germans. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Jews left little by little for other countries in Europe or the United States. This included the Frank family, who left for Amsterdam in July 1933.

The first camp for political prisoners was established in March 1933 in Dachau, near the city of Munich. It was a model for what a camp should look like, although it was not specifically an extermination camp. Gradually, camps of this type arose in several places in Germany.

Map of Europe and Auschwitz-Birkenau
A map of Europe with all the places, from which people were deported to Auschwitz

Conditions in Auschwitz

When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and within six weeks had largely conquered Poland, a number of camps developed in the country. On May 5, 1940, Auschwitz was inaugurated. Political prisoners and minorities including Jews were imprisoned and died mainly from exhaustion, forced labor and poor hygiene. Auschwitz was expanded during 1940 and 1941 to include a second camp, Birkenau. The number of political prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau continued to increase.

At the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, the final solution to the Jewish question was discussed. It was decided that the Jews should be gassed, as this was a quicker solution than executing a shot in the neck. Auschwitz, by now considerably expanded could become much of the solution the Nazis had in mind. Zyklon B proved deadly enough and Birkenau was suitable for the intended mass murders….

The train arrives in Birkenau, Poland
May/June 1944: After the train arrived in Birkenau, people were selected to work or be taken immediately to gas chambers.

The atrocities and liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau

One of the most famous victims of the genocide was Anne Frank. She and her family arrived in Auschwitz in September 1944, having been on the last train from the Netherlands that was to go to Auschwitz. By then, the Germans were already suffering major defeats and it was only a matter of time before everything would come out. Anne Frank, like her sister, died in Bergen-Belsen in March 1945

From the end of 1944, the Germans were busy destroying all the evidence. Crematoria were blown up, files were burned and most of the camp guards left on foot with prisoners heading west. On January 27, 1945, the Russian Red Army entered Auschwitz and what they saw was revolting. 7,500 exhausted prisoners, thousands of shoes, more than a million uniforms and costumes, and 7,000 kilograms of women’s hair. It was clear that something terrible had happened here….

An estimated 1.3 million people perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau, including 1.1 million Jews….

History of Auschwitz Birkenau in Poland
One of the most famous photographs taken at Auschwitz-Birkenau: a photograph of prisoners liberated in January 1945…

Practical information for visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau?

By now you know more about the history and background of this terrible place in Poland. But how do you arrange a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau? It’s just over an hour’s drive from the beautiful city of Krakow and opening hours are between 9 am and 6 pm, depending on the season. Is it free? Can I visit it myself or with a tour? What about transportation? What will you get to see?

Map of Concentrations Camp Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau
Auschwitz also consisted of a third camp: Auschwitz-Monowitz. Here, in particular, were a number of factories, including those of IG Farben (bankrupt in 2003) and Krupp Stahl, now Thyssenkrupp. Prisoners were forced to work in these factories.

Is Auschwitz free to visit?

Yes, it is possible, but should you want to? Anyone who wants to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau should buy a ticket in advance at visit.auschwitz.org. But there are only a limited number of free tickets and they sell out quickly. In addition, you may only visit at the end of the afternoon without a guide. On the website, you can get a ticket like this up to three months in advance.

By far the most people choose a ticket with a guide. This costs 75 zloty and the tour of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau takes about 3.5 hours. When purchasing a ticket, choose English as the official language and during the tour, you will be given all the information you need to know by an audio guide and a normal guide. Personally, I liked this very much.

Important: Do not forget to bring your passport, because you may need to identify yourself.

A tour throught Auschwitz I, Poland
A tour of Auschwitz begins in Auschwitz I with the famous text Arbeit Macht Frei

A tour or arrange everything yourself?

The easiest way to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau is via a tour with one of the many organizations that can be found in Krakow. The transportation from and back to Krakow is arranged for you, as are the tickets. The costs for such a tour are around 35 dollars. This is the most expensive option, but the easiest way.

If you arrange everything yourself and get the free tickets, you will only have to spend money on public transport. This will cost you about 6 euros for a return ticket. The disadvantage is that tickets are limited and you can usually only visit the camp in the afternoon.

If you plan to arrange everything with a tour of 3.5 hours, it will cost you, as mentioned earlier, 75 zloty p.p (20 dollars). Total that comes down to about 25 dollars p.p. Tickets with a guide you need to book online.

The concentration Camp Auschwitz I in Poland
The concentration camps were fenced with barbed wire with electricity. Some prisoners, out of sheer desperation, decided to end their lives by jumping into the barbed wire.

What about transport?

If you book a tour, you don’t have to worry about this. If you want to arrange your own transportation, there are a number of options: car, bus, cab or train. The cab is the most expensive option and costs €85 euros for a one-way trip. Therefore, the train or bus is the best option. From the Central Station in Krakow, trains leave for Oświęcim several times a day. For more information, visit the Polish Railways website.

The best way is to catch a regional bus near the Central Station. There are several buses a day and you buy a ticket from the bus driver. In addition, you will end up at the entrance to Auschwitz I. Look for buses with the text Oświęcim or Auschwitz. Look here for more information on bus schedules.

Finally, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau are about 3 kilometers from each other. You can use the local bus or a cab.

Barbed Wire, Auschwitz I
A watchtower in Auschwitz I

What will you see in Auschwitz-Birkenau?

Anyone visiting Auschwitz will be impressed by the insane things that once took place here. This brings tears, but it is also good for consciousness, because above all you want something like this never to happen again in the world (however untrue that may be).

Evidence: shoes of victims at Auschwitz I
The Germans failed to destroy the evidence before the liberation of the concentration camp on January 27, 1945.

Auschwitz I is the oldest part of the camp. Here, people were put in barracks under appalling conditions. This part of the former concentration camp is the museum: lots of information and text, but also many objects, such as shoes and clothing. You will also find the famous Arbeit Macht Frei above the entrance to the camp.

Barbed Wire at concentration camp Auschwitz II Birkenau
After Auschwitz I, you will visit Auschwitz-Birkenau
Barracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland
Some of the barracks in Auschwitz-Birkenau are still standing. So you can take a look at the miserable conditions under which people had to live here.
The train to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland
One of the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Upon arrival, the healthy people were separated from the sick. The latter group was taken straight to the gas chambers

Auschwitz-Birkenau is the section that was added in 1942 and is best known for the entrance gate and the train tracks. Trains arrived here between 1942 and 1944, determining immediately whether people had to work or were gassed directly. A visit to one of the gas chambers is part of the tour. Be warned, it is certainly intense and it will stir up emotions in many a person.

Gas Chamber, Auschwitz-Birkenau
One of the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Upon arrival, the healthy people were separated from the sick. The latter group was taken straight to the gas chambers
Crematorium at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland
After people were gassed, the bodies were burned in the crematorium.

Do you have more tips or comments about Auschwitz in Poland? Or would you like to share your experience? Then feel free to leave a message below.

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