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My Tour of Auschwitz

Updated: Jun 27, 2023




This blog will be all about my personal thoughts, guide and tips following my recent visit to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.


**PLEASE BE AWARE - Some of the content within this blog may be upsetting**


I turned 40 this month and spent 4 days visiting Krakow and it's surroundings as part of the celebrations (watch out for the blog about the whole trip, coming soon). The main reason that I chose Krakow as a destination is that I am a bit of a geek when it comes to WWII history and have always wanted to visit the site of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where Nazi Germany and SS soldiers murdered 1.1 million people, 90% of which were Jewish people in the latter years of the Second World War.


Originally the site at Auschwitz I was a Polish Army Camp for training soldiers, until the start of WWII when Poland was taken under Nazi rule and eradicated from the map.





We pre-booked our tour so as not to be disappointed and miss the opportunity by leaving it until we were there. I was recommended a site called Get Your Guide and I have to say that the experience was outstanding. I have tagged their site so please feel free to check them out if you are looking for any tours or ideas on your travels around the globe.


We were staying pretty central to the Old Town in Krakow, and there was a central pick up point there so we made the 1.5 hour coach journey to Auschwitz.


As we were approaching the parking area adjacent to the museum entrance at Auschwitz, you can see the original train tracks that serviced the camps running alongside the road. This is your first glimpse and immediately my mind began working overtime and I found myself picturing and trying to fathom the journey's that so many European Jewish communities made all those years ago.


We parked up and walked across into the entrance of Auschwitz I. A sense of eeriness washes over you as the mind begins to wonder. We met our tour guide and collected our headphones and receivers and headed off into the camp.


You are first greeted by the infamous sign "ARBEIT MACHT FREI", which translates to Work will set you free. The idea behind this sign was that Auschwitz was portrayed to the Jews as a working camp where they would be able to flee from the war and be put to work and earn....... This was all part of the deception!!





The main camp at Auschwitz consisted of 28 barracks. A few of these barrack buildings have now been transformed to make up the interactive museum tour and they show various artifacts such as living conditions, original belongings and hoards of photographs.


Some of this section was so harrowing, its not even possible for me to truly describe in words. There were exhibitions of all of the shoes that were stripped from the arriving "prisoners". It was very sad seeing the odd couple of small shoes that clearly belonged to children in amongst them......... THEN, as you turn the corner into the next room, there is another exhibition consisting solely of small children's shoes!!! This really got me.... As a father of 2 young children, the mere thought that these shoes were once the property of happy little souls of a similar age to my children put the biggest lump in my throat and completely took me aback.





PHOTOGRAPHY AT AUSCHWITZ


I had seen on various social media platforms recently that there had been a big uproar over pictures being taken by the general public of various parts of the camp and that it is deemed insensitive so I was a little apprehensive at first and thought that maybe I may not get to photograph a lot. However, our guide was very open about this. Basically, they are absolutely fine with pictures and videos being captured on the tour if done in good taste. For example, laying on the train tracks and in the poses of the latest TikTok trends is NOT acceptable, and rightly so. It is just in such bad taste. In fact, "selfies" are seen as insensitive and inappropriate full stop. Other than that, it is absolutely fine to capture your experience. There are a couple of sections where photo's/video's are forbidden and these are clearly marked.





As you near the end of the tour of the first camp, there is a large wall, completely covered with portrait photographs (almost like mugshots) of a large number of the victims that perished in Auschwitz. Underneath each photograph showed the person's name, age/date of birth, the date they arrived at Auschwitz, and the day that they were killed. I don't know why, but one in particular stood out to me at random. I have taken a picture of that person and have decided to embark on a research project to find out everything I can about this man...... For sensitivity, I will not disclose the person's name or show the picture on this blog but I will keep you all posted.


The final part of the camp one tour brought you to the one and only gas chamber that resides in camp one. It looks like the entrance to a small underground bunker. Once you enter, you walk into a large open room. This was where the prisoners would be ushered in with the door locked behind them. Above, there are a few small hatches which would then be opened and Zyklon B crystals would be poured into the room. Zyklon B is Cyanide based pesticide that was invented in Germany in the 1920's. Once exposed and oxygenated it creates a lethal gas and within 20 minutes, every person in that room would have suffocated. There was another room that led off from this main room. In the next room were ovens. Once the main rooms had been ventilated, the bodies of the prisoners were then loaded into the ovens.



Gas chamber entrance at Auschwitz
Gas Chamber Entrance





Outside the entrance to the chamber was a single set of Gallows. Our guide explained that when the Soviets liberated the camp in 1945, the commander of the camp, Rudolf Hoss, fled to Germany and lived out the next year as a farmer. British Intelligence were able to locate Hoss and he was extradited back to Poland in 1946. The Polish Supreme National Tribunal sentenced him to death by hanging and on 16th April 1947, Rudolf Hoss was hanged in these very gallows, outside the chamber where he had overseen the mass killings just a few years previously.






Auschwitz-Birkenau (AKA Auschwitz II)





A common misconception is that the above picture is of Auschwitz I, when actually it is the entrance to Auschwitz II, more commonly known as Auschwitz-Birkenau.


Unlike the main camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau was not in use for other purposes prior to World War II. It was originally farm land. The camp was purpose-built as an addition to the main camp. Also unlike its counterpart at Auschwitz I, Birkenau was much much larger. As mentioned, there were 28 barracks and one gas chamber situated in the main camp. At Birkenau, there were 300 barracks and 7 further gas chambers!!! Continuations of the rail tracks were also added which entered right into the camp, as seen above. Birkenau was built to deal with the sheer volume of Jewish people that were being captured and transported to Camp One and is where the vile regime would then soon ramp up.


To refer back to earlier in the blog regarding deception. For me, this was just unfathomably cruel. Hoards of Jews, of all ages, would arrive in cattle carts on the tracks (pictured below). Some may have been travelling for 5 plus days with 80 people to each cart, no food, no water, all in search of a getaway to a working camp for freedom.


In the museum, there is a very substantial picture showing the scene of an arrival. A platform rammed with new arrivals can be seen departing the train. On the platform there are literally a couple of existing "workers" and only THREE SS Guards!!


Why so little???


Again, here comes the deception...... These people were taken from their homes and were even told to pack their belongings and valuables. They were told to clearly write their names onto their cases so as to not get lost from them. They would then arrive at Birkenau, alight the train and be told to leave their belongings to one side and they can be collected later after registration.


The next stage in their journey was then completely unknown to them. A single SS Officer would take one glance at each individual and point either to the left or to the right. One side would be a line of young, healthy, fit people that could be put to work on the camp. The other side, a trove of elderly, sick, or pregnant women would be in a line, and unbeknown to them, were being sentenced to immediate death!


This line of people were then taken straight to a chamber and told to hand over any remaining belongings or valuables and to also remove all of their clothes and put them somewhere safe to return to.


They were told that due to having travelled so far, they were to be given showers and freshen up.


As explained earlier, this was not the case.


They were put into the "Shower Area" with fake shower heads and then suffocated to their death.


Each of the Birkenau Gas Chambers could kill 2500 people in 24 hours and the ovens here could cremate 1500 in the same time frame (as mentioned, there were 7)!!!!





Above is a picture of what remains of Gas Chamber 2.


The Nazi's knew that the war was coming to an end and the Soviet Army was on it's way to liberate the camp. They blew up the gas chambers at Birkenau to hide evidence.


Just behind Gas Chamber 2, there is a small pond. After the camp was liberated and emptied, a small amount of ash was found in that very pond. It is the ONLY evidence and remains left of the 1.1 million lives that were taken. The picture below are of those ashes that are kept in an urn within the museum of Auschwitz I.





The final part of the Birkenau tour led us back towards the entrance. To the right, there are some of the remaining barracks that housed women and children.


We were fortunate to be able to go inside one of the barracks which looked nothing more than an average stable with hard wooden platforms serving as bunks over 3 levels. Each level would sleep 3 people. Each of these barracks would hold 500-700 people at any one time, with no heating, and barely any food or fuel.





In summary, it was a truly humbling, saddening, informative, educational and once in a lifetime experience all in one go.


To really be in the thick of it where so much happened in such a pivotal time in World history is just madness and a totally surreal feeling.


Having said that, I would 100% encourage anyone and everyone to go and see it for themselves and book a tour.


To the 1.1 million that lost their lives may you be resting at peace.


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Guest
Jun 07, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Sad to even imagine what those poor people went through. Bet it made the hair on your arms stand up 😢

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