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Monumental Auschwitz & Birkenau Camps. Why & How To Visit?

Updated: Aug 14, 2022 @

Entrance to Auschwitz with famous sign
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A Visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau: I debated about the writing about our visit to Auschwitz and Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau) for quite a bit. It was a very horrifying place where so many people lost their lives and l didn’t want to dilute the story or make light of it by lumping it into an overall experience post.

I ultimately decided to write and share the experience because l know not everyone would get a chance to visit. Federico more than me had always wanted to see Auschwitz. He had read about it as a youngster in Rome and actually gave more information to our guide (who welcomed the interaction) about the camp and some of its survivors.

Even though l knew bits and pieces of the history (not part of our school curriculum), growing up in Boston, it had become watered down with too many episodes of “Hogan’s Heroes”. Being at the camp was a real gut punch, and l am indeed glad we left visiting till the end of our stay. The sights and sounds stay with you forever.  How does it feel to visit Auschwitz? I’ll try and describe it.

should l visit Auschwitz post sign at cell block
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Monumental Auschwitz Krakow: A sad time in world history

Where is Auschwitz concentration camp?:

Auschwitz sits about 50 miles outside of Krakow. It was originally constructed to hold Polish political prisoners. Rudolph Hoss (Hoess) was the camp commandant who oversaw the development of the camp.

It became the administrative quarters of the Nazis. Birkenau was built later to facilitate the extermination of Jews, Russians, Gypsies, and pretty much everyone that Hitler deemed inferior to the German race.

monumnetal Auschwitz visit photos of victims
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Some of the victims of Auschwitz. Many died of diseases and starvation.

Auschwitz  Concentration Camp Tour:

Upon entering Auschwitz, the first gate you see has a sign above it saying “Arbeit macht frei” which means “work sets you free”. This was used as a motivational slogan to get people to believe they were being “resettled” and not enslaved. You worked to earn your freedom l gather. The original sign had been stolen but was later recovered we were told, what hangs now is a copy.

auschwitz guard house
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A guardhouse in monumental Auschwitz with barbed wire fencing.

Next, we visited some cell blocks where we got a glimpse of life in the camp. There were old photographs of prisoners upon arrival at the camp. This practice was stopped soon as more and more people arrived. Most of the prisoners lasted two to three months tops. Most of the victims died from disease and starvation. Some of the most horrifying things to see?

A huge mound of canisters of Zyklon-B, a cyanide-based poison that was used to gas the prisoners.

Visit Auschwitz tour zykon b canisters
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It took approximately 5-7 minutes for the gas to kill. Hoss thought he had found a “humane” way to kill.

Mountains of shoes were collected from the prisoners who were told they needed to be disinfected and returned. Most people were given 2 hours or less to pack before being deported to the camp. A lot hid their valuables in the soles of their shoes and so the Nazis were able to get gold, diamonds, and other precious metals.

shoes in Auschwitz concentration camp behind glass
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It was insane the number of shoes behind the glass. This is just a portion.

The soup bowls of the prisoners. They were fed soup and a sliver of stale bread in exchange for an 11-hour work day.

The guide said it wasn’t uncommon to be killed for that piece of bread or have people anxiously waiting for the last breath just so they could steal the bread which was used as currency around the camp.

soup bowls collection behind glass at Auschwitz concentration camp
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The day’s ration was soup and a tiny amount of bread. A German was given roughly 5,000 calories per day while the victims had less than 500.

Suitcases that belonged to the Jewish victims. Some had the owners’ names on them:

Luggage of camp prisoners at Auschwitz with visible names on them still in the monumental Auschwitz krakow post
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Luggage of Auschwitz victims, some with the names prominently written on them.

Human hair cut off from the victims after death in the gas chambers. They were collected and sent off to factories to be made into other products like bolts of cloth. We were not allowed to take pictures of it.

The room was made dark. The sight was really disturbing and made you almost ill. The hair is deteriorating due to the gasses used to kill the victims. This is one of the reasons why l think everyone should visit Auschwitz. You can’t unsee something like this.

block 11 sign monumental auschwitz
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Infamous cell block 11 in monumental Auschwitz.

We were taken into the basement of one of the buildings, In Block 11 for instance, we saw some very small rooms (instructed not to take pictures). There were “standing cells” where victims were put nose to nose and had to crawl to get into.

They could only stand and 4 people were in a space about the size of a phone booth basically holding each other up, the floor filled with excrement from the occupants. In the morning, they still had to work their full shift before being returned there.

The punishment was usually for 3 days at a time. It was also in the same basement where mass killing experimentation with Cyclone B began with the killing of 600 Soviet prisoners of war and 250 sick Polish prisoners in 1941.

Block 11 basement at Auschwitz concentration camp Krakow
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Block 11 Auschwitz basement.

We saw the “Death Wall” where prisoners were executed. There was a gray removable wall in front and we were told it was a replica. The original had been placed there to prevent the bullet holes from damaging the lovely brickwork behind.

After Hoss left, the interim commander had it removed and ordered the executions stopped. We also saw some portable gallows next to it.

Auschwitz camp changing room women
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Women would strip in here before being taken to the death wall and executed.
death wall Auschwitz with flower pots on the ground
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The Death Wall

We saw a typical room where the victims spent the first few weeks at the camp. The rooms were just bare with straw for bedding on the floor. The toilets were disgusting and the rooms where they slept just as bad. All l could think to ask was how people found the strength to keep on going.

A slow rage like the one l felt at the museum in South Africa burned. I kept trying to picture what life could have been like for them, how hopeless they must have felt. How abandoned by their God they must have felt.

One thing l know for certain is that no matter how strong my urge to live would have been, I would have gone for a quick death rather than so much misery. Of course, it’s easier to say that knowing the history, but it would have been a different story as it happened.

Straw bedding on floor in Auschwitz camp Krakow where the prisoners slept.
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Imagine being forced to live in these conditions like livestock. Human beings can be so heartless.
Toilets at camp Auschwitz, barely sanitary
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The toilets for the prisoners in Auschwitz. These were not the ones in the victims’ barracks. We didn’t see any there.

Read about the East Side Gallery in Berlin.

Washing area for the prisoners at Auschwitz concentration camp Krakow
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The washing area, again for the prisoners.

The guide mentioned talking to one of the Auschwitz survivors who was 99 years old and who told him that most victims wanted to live for the next day and the next, hoping to be liberated and reunited with family. That is some strength that l do not possess.

The first part ended at the section where the officers of the Third Reich lived, including the residence of Rudolph Hoss (we could only see the rooftop of the building, but if it was anything like the mansions before it, it was huge).

The guide also told us how Hoss was transferred at some point in 1943 and he hated to go as did his wife who cried buckets because she loved her life at the camp. He was soon back in 1944. I was delighted to hear that he was hanged in 1947 after being tried for war crimes.

You can read more about his murderous life here. You can’t help but wonder what kind of man could order the deaths of so many, yet go home at night to his wife and five children as if it was just a regular day.

Auschwitz tower from which the guards could count the prisoners
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The tower from which they counted the prisoners. The longest count took 19 hours! Imagine that after slaving for 11 hours!!!
Our visit to A Nazi officers house in brown colour at Auschwitz concentration camp
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One of the houses where the Nazi officers lived.

Our Visit to Auschwitz II (Birkenau):

 Birkenau train tracks leading with people walking
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The entrance for the trains that led victims to their death.

We were driven to Birkenau (Auschwitz 2) which was only about 2 kilometers from the first camp. You notice the train tracks that dead end at the camp right away. This was one of the reasons why Auschwitz was desirable. All the open land and railways are in place for transport.

When the tour started up again, we were led into the interior where the end of the rail had an example of the trams used to transport victims. Each car was originally meant to transport 5 horses, but instead carried 80 people each.

Victims were shipped in from all over Europe to the camp. Greece, Italy, etc. all on the pretext of being resettled. There was just a few small slots for rubbish, waste, etc. to be thrown out. A lot of people died on the trip and l can only imagine having rotting flesh next to you for days.

Auschwitz prisoner wagon train sitting on tracks that ended in Birkenau
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Those little slats at the top left were the only openings to dispose of waste. Imagine 80 people squished in there :-(.

When the victims arrived, they would get separated. Men on one side, women and children on the other. The doctor would then determine who was strong enough to work and who would go straight to the gas chamber for a “shower” to freshen up.

We saw the remains of the 4 crematoriums which had been dynamited by the Nazis to hide the evidence. Each crematorium could kill 2,000 people at a time. After death, workers were sent in to collect hair and take gold fillings in teeth, etc.

crematorium auschwitz ruins
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The crematoriums were dynamited by the Germans when defeat was eminent.
Auschwitz Birkenau crematorium oven furnace
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The furnace in the crematorium. 2200 murdered victims per hour.

At some point, the Nazis were collecting over 12 kilograms of gold per day! That is over 25 pounds of gold. This goes to show that it was not only racism behind it, but greed. He told us of some of the companies that benefited from the camps, including:

  • Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes Benz made cars with slave labor
  • Hugo Boss made all the prisoners’ clothes and Nazi outfits
  • Bayer used prisoners for experimentation on new drugs
  • Deutsche Bank gave Hitler a loan and bought the gold.

Our trip ended with a walk to the women’s camp where we saw the wooden beds that accommodated thousands of women and children at a time. He told us how babies were separated from mothers and fed to rats or drowned and how women were injected with x-rays to lose their uterus.

The barrack was so depressing, and at this point, you feel almost numb. This was the most somber experience l have ever had and l was glad when it ended.  Primo Levi was an Italian Jew who survived Auschwitz and wrote about it in “If this is a man- Survival in Auschwitz” in case you want to read the first-person experience.

Birkenau prisoners living quarters and fence around it
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It turned out to be a warm and beautiful day, but the ugliness underneath is still evident.
Beds at the women's camp in Birkenau, basically wooden cubicles
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The “beds” in the women’s camp. Slats of wood and each building housed over 700. Each building was originally a horse stall to house 52 horses.

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Reasons to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps:

Should you visit Auschwitz? Or should you stay away with all due respect?  Only you can answer that, but l think the answer is yes. I think it is a good idea.

  • The most important one is to remember the victims. Over 1.6 million people were killed in Auschwitz as part of the “final solution” to the Jewish problem. It is a horrible and ugly part of history and should not be forgotten.
  • “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. This quote by George Santayana is the very first thing you read at the first Block you visit. This must never happen again. In these stressful and hateful days, it serves as a visual reminder that we can not let greed and hate win.
picture of Auschwitz barbed wire fence and lamps
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Monumental Auschwitz. Electrified fencing everywhere.


How to visit Auschwitz? How much is it to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau? Answers here:

Things to keep in mind on your Auschwitz visit:

  • Only small bags are allowed.
  • You will have to go through a metal detector.
  • Even though entry is free, there are only a limited number of tickets sold daily. Apparently, they are usually all bought up by the tour companies so you basically have no choice but go with them. It is worth it though.
  • What Auschwitz concentration camp tour company to use? We used GetYourGuide and were very pleased. It cost roughly $25 per person (in the 2022 currency rate). We were picked up at our Airbnb apartment and returned there at the end. The driver and guide were both excellent and it made for a very informative experience despite the big crowds.
  • It was also great to leave my bag in the car as it was oversized. If you insist on DIY, there are buses that will drop you off in Oswiecim (Polish name for Auschwitz) at the camp but make sure to see if there are any tickets to be had. You can find Anwar’s more extensive tips on visiting Auschwitz here.
  • On the day we visited, there was one ticket left for an Italian-speaking tour at 9.45 AM. If you’re thinking about sneaking in with a group, just know they usually have someone in the back making sure this does not happen.
  • Bring your lunch. There are a couple of stands to get snacks, but you’re better off with something substantial. You can bring bottled water (in plastic) only into Auschwitz.
  • Dress conservatively as a sign of respect. Skip the selfies too.
  • Respect the “no photo” rooms. Despite the signs and the verbal warnings, l still saw some people doing just that. Shameful!
  • Wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of walking and no sitting at all during the tour.

A virtual tour of the Auschwitz concentration camp can be seen on this page.

What does it feel like to visit Auschwitz and Auschwitz !!?

Our feelings after visiting Auschwitz were sadness, weirdness, and tiredness. It drains you and it definitely takes a while to shake the experience off. Once back at the apartment, we didn’t feel like going out and instead got some kebab from the cafe downstairs and called it a night.

monumental auschwitz front sign pinterest #auschwitz #poland #nazi #holocaust #WW2 #deathcamp
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Auschwitz and Birkenau Tour #auschwitz #birkenau #concentrationcamp #WWII #krakow #poland #krakowdaytrip
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Have you been to Auschwitz? If so, what was your experience like? Would you recommend it as a place to visit on a trip to Krakow?

79 thoughts on “Monumental Auschwitz & Birkenau Camps. Why & How To Visit?”

  1. Extremely sad. What happened there was definitely one of the darkest things in recent history. Reading about your experience and looking at the photos gave me the shivers… I can only imagine that actually being there makes everything even more intense.

    This is indeed something that would seem best to be forgotten, but as the quote you shared towards the end – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – it’s best to keep it there as a horrible reminder of what we’re capable of doing. Unfortunately, the world has been a bit too peaceful in recent times, it seems, and many are starting to forget…

    Reply
    • You’re so right C. We really are starting to forget. We definitely shouldn’t as this should not be allowed to happen again. It was a sad and emotionally draining day and it almost felt surreal, like you were watching a horror movie because it’s hard to contemplate how evil people can be. We’re slowly getting wake up calls and we need to pay attention before we have a full blown war. I purposefully left it till the end because l knew it would disturb me, and it did.

      Reply
  2. This must have been such a difficult post to write Kemi and your writing was sincere and heartfelt. Your reasons to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau say it all. We’ve visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and recently went to Terezín (also known as the Theresienstadt concentration camp) in the Czech Republic where the harsh conditions of the camps contrasted starkly with the beautiful landscape. Horrifying and heartbreaking. It really is impossible to fathom the sheer cruelty and evil that existed at that time and it’s terrifying to see echoes of the nationalistic fervor that has propelled DT into the White House and other authoritarians and dictators world wide. You’re so right when you say, “We need to pay attention! Anita

    Reply
    • You guys must have felt the same kind of numbness when you visited the camp. I was almost hoping for it to be a rainy and horrible day like we had the first few days of our visit. I felt it would have been a better fit or something. Instead it was a lovely day. I worry that this sort of extremist fanaticism that is creeping up slowly but surely in places is only going too grow bigger and people will keep on being complacent until it’s too late. What started out has a joke is slowly becoming a huge threat. It makes me feel helpless. This horror can not be repeated.

      Reply
  3. I’d love to visit Poland and Auschwitz for the mere fact that I like visiting historical places like this. What the Nazis did was beyond disgusting. I don’t understand how humans can treat other humans like that, and it just goes to show that they truly believed that Jews were less than human. It’s sad that these kinds of sentiments persist today. And I think the camp leader got off way too easy by being hung. He deserves to be tortured the same way he tortured the Jews and other prisoners.

    Reply
    • It’s a really important place to visit for sure. I’m with you on how Hoss was killed but yeah..you kind of wish that he would have suffered more. I saw a picture of him and there was not a hint of regret on his face. He was just the devil answering to another devil. I really hope history does not repeat itself, but with the flare ups happening here, there and everywhere, I’m afraid we’ll be in for a rude awakening. I really hope it doesn’t come to pass. It it insane that people can hate so much :-(.

      Reply
  4. What a chilling and terrifying place to visit. I have never visited Auschwitz, but I had a chance to go to the Dachau Camp in Germany and that same slogan was written on the front gate there. It is important to remember such tragedies so that we may never repeat this horrible history again.

    Reply
    • Dachau is someplace l would love to visit as well. I can imagine the feeling would be much the same. Very sad and overwhelming. Those Nazis were just all around bad guys. We definitely need to remember, and yes…it can’t and must not be repeated. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  5. I didn’t know if I would make it through the post. Just, wow. When you said, “Dress conservatively as a sign of respect. Skip the selfies too.” it reminded me of how angry I was in Berlin. People were taking selfies and running around the memorial like it was some sort of joke. Sigh.

    Reply
    • I understand the sigh! Seriously, people have lost their minds. When did we get to this point where people don’t even think and are interested only in vanity and being seen? How can you be at such a somber place and still smile for the selfies? How do you look at the pictures on the wall and think of millions dying and all you can think of is.. “I can’t wait for this pic to be on IG. I wonder how many likes l’ll get”. It is absolutely disgusting and something that needs to change, but l’m afriad we’re just stuck with it and will only get worse. Now l understand the new trend is to take a bare butt picture at forbidden places for IG. The dumbing down of the world :-(.

      Reply
  6. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to visit this place for the reasons outlined here. Just reading your descriptions was overwhelming. And how depressing to be in a place where over a million innocent people were slaughtered? Have mercy. I think I will be content experiencing it vicariously.

    Reply
    • It is indeed depressing so l understand how you feel. Slaughtered is exactly the right word too. We heard of only 194 escapes. Th cruelty of the Nazis was at another level altogether. It was really quiet considering what a large crowd there was. Everyone lost in their own thoughts.

      Reply
  7. As a traveler and history buff this post just made me want to visit these sites all the more despite the extremely sad, gruesome, and almost unbelievable nature of the crimes committed in these institutions. It is amazing the depths human beings will plunge to in the name of racism, xenophobia, and greed. Seems we are on that path once again … sigh, hope we can learn from our past and this post is a good reminder of just how far it can go.

    Reply
    • It was a place we felt we had to see too. We didn’t want to forget and l’m glad you want to see it too. I am scared for the world because as you say, we seem to be going down the same path again which makes it all the more important for their silenced voices to be had. History can not repeat itself. I would like to hope as humans, we are better than that.

      Reply
  8. This is horribly depressing. Now I really understand why folks are still being charged with these horrendous crimes so long after the fact. This just makes me sick.

    Reply
    • Yes it certainly is. Exactly. People should be brought to justice for the atrocities they committed despite all the years that have passed. Standing at one point in a room that felt stifling with 50 of us into it and being told minimum 700 people were squeezed in the same space, it was sad, and yes..sickening.

      Reply
  9. This is such a sad event that happened in history. That we all need to beware so nothing like this will happen again.

    Reply
    • I really hope we learn from the past, even though it doesn’t seem that way with the way things are progressing. We seem to have taken 10 steps back which is really scary.

      Reply
  10. Kemkem, I am glad that you have decided to write about your visit. It is a tough read, but one must never forget about these awful atrocities. I know that I will visit it one day, looking at your pictures and reading this post tells me that it will be a very distressing visit. But I do think everyone should visit it at least once in their lives. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply
    • Me too Gilda. It was a tough write as well. You’re right, we can not forget. I really hope you get to visit and experience it. Depressing, but absolutely important. Thanks for reading :-).

      Reply
  11. This was really hard to read. I can not imagine how you felt in the moment. I am from Charleston SC and there is a lot of history as well of untold stories from slavery there. It is hard to fathom I come from such a beautiful place with such a complex history. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I doubt I could ever visit Aushwitz.

    Reply
    • Yeah. It’s absolutely amazing how evil is in so many people everywhere. So many millions killed just for something silly like religion and the color of their skin. I sincerely hope history does not repeat itself. With the way we’re going, I can’t be so sure :-(, but we must hope good outweighs the bad.

      Reply
  12. Kem, I have read many of your posts but have never been so captivated as I am reading this. It’s extremely grievous but I’m glad that you shared your experience. It’s important that we remember that horrible events that took place.

    Reply
    • It really is important. You almost become numb as the guide kept telling us things. It must have been such a bleak time for those poor souls to be just dragged away and have everything taken from them, even their dignity. A horrible time in history. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  13. This was very hard to see and read! Thank you for sharing this journey with us although I know it was a very hard one to share. Sometimes showing those hard images helps us really take in all that has happened in our history!

    Reply
    • It was hard. I wanted to convey the horror and the disgust l felt. I hope it came across. I just feel it is important to not just travel and gloss over just the good stuff. There is a lot of bad stuff to go with it and all l can do is share that as well. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  14. Kem, this post was so heartfelt and horrible at the same time. I agree that we must know the past in order to make sure they are not repeated in this day and time.

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading Evelyn. Especially in these times, we must not have it repeated. We need to learn from this horrible past. Life is not all Instagram selfies :-).

      Reply
  15. Wow. Very disturbing and must have been distressing to visit. Thanks for sharing your photos and your thoughts. I can understand the numbness you felt afterwards.

    Reply
    • Yeah Cheryl. Wow just about covers it. I knew it would be hard, just had no idea how much. It felt like you were watching a really horrible movie and couldn’t leave. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  16. Sad places like this are A part of our history. We certainly aren’t proud but thank you for sharing this information with me.

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading Mimi. It is a sad part of history, but we can’t afford to sweep it under the rug. We must never forget.

      Reply
  17. Very particular pictures and a very well written post. The shoes behind the glass window gave me chills down my spine. It is hard to comprehend what they went through however many books you read or movies you watch. It is a dark chapter of history and the lowest point of humanity that we have to live with.

    Reply
    • You’re right. No amount of books or movies could prepare you for the reality. “Lowest point of humanity” is a perfect way to put it. There were so many shoes. Those were only the ones found, many more were of course taken by the workers.. Once can only imagine the horror. Thank you so much for reading.

      Reply
  18. Its very disheartening to read this article , and It must be very difficult to experience this

    Reply
    • It was really difficult, but in the end very worth it. Thanks for reading and the comment.

      Reply
  19. I can’t handle such places. I am far too emotional. I would cry my eyes out for an entire week. What a sad reality that something soo terrible took place and it is part of our history. I just wish peace for all the victims. Thank you for the share though, you are brave.

    Reply
    • I totally understand your reluctance to visit. It is very emotional. I think the numbness overtakes you at some point. I was definitely very happy that we did this tour on the last day as opposed to the first. I hope we can make sure that this never happens again. I would like to think we’re better than that. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  20. I’ll not say Yes o this place where so many innocent people met death.. I’ll hate it rather

    Reply
    • It was a very sobering experience for sure. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
    • Thank you Agness. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

      Reply
  21. A sad reminder about how awful hunans can be to each other hope we never return to this ever.

    Reply
    • All we can do is hope. It’s not looking too good now, but hopefully good will win out over evil.

      Reply
  22. What a great post! Always wanted to visit but never had the guts, but I feel I could handle it now (in my fifties). It is also very timely with every(scary)thing going on right now. I would also recommend “Schindler’s List” as it is so beautifully done. Heck, it took me five years to get my nerve up for that movie. I know the experience will stay with you, as the South Africa museum has. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m glad you deciding to write this.

    Reply
    • I can definitely understand about having the guts. You really have to be mentally prepared for it. I’m 52..haha..so if l can handle it now, so can you. The world is certainly very scary right now and if we don’t remember the past, we are totally doomed to repeat it. I haven’t watched Schindler’s list as of yet because l know it’s really sad, but l think l could handle it now. I am glad l decided to write it, you’re right :-).

      Reply
  23. Oh wow, it is definitely a sad reminder of a horrible time in history. Very well thought out and put together post, you shared a lot of additional info that I didn’t know!

    Reply
    • Thanks :-). I learned a lot that l didn’t know either. The guide was really good. We are going to try and use the same company whenever we travel now. I was impressed :-).

      Reply
  24. I have done a lot studying and research on the Holocaust in order to teach it. I am not sure I could ever visit but I understand the importance of doing so.

    Reply
    • It was emotional for sure and l understand it’s not for everyone. You have to be ready for it even after knowing all the facts and history. Sad place for sure.

      Reply
  25. whole heartily thank you for giving out valuable information

    Reply
  26. Thank you for sharing this KemKem. I’m a great supporter of Jewish rights, and spend a lot of time visiting Jewish museums, memorials, and events, in order to remember what has happened. I wrote an article about Poland 3 years ago, and mentioned the prickly issue of Auschwitz in both Germany and Poland. Unsurprisingly, I’m still getting abuse about it!

    I have been to Krakow many times, but I just couldn’t pick up the courage to visit Auschwitz myself, as it’s just too painful. Being that I live in Berlin, the past is all around me and in fact, Prenzlauerberg where I live, and Mitte, has the only Jewish synagogues and schools left. And sadly, the army still has to mann each and every Jewish institution, home, or place of rest, against Nazi fanatics and Holocaust deniers.

    Would I recommend it as a place to visit on a trip to Krakow? Yes.

    Reply
    • I still find it hard to believe that there are people out there who refuse to den the holocaust. It’s insane. I am also amazed at how evil some of our fellow “human beings” can still choose to be. Choose to be. So sad. I understand not being able to visit Auschwitz. You really have to be in the right mindset as it is quite harrowing. I know your area still has some problems. It is quite sad that the army has to still protect all these places in this day and age. I remember the subway ride with you and the Music Producer and some of the looks we got when you talked about the past..haha! A bit scary and was glad we had the two men with us.

      Reply
  27. Hi Kemkem. A visit to Auschwitz is definitely not on my wish list. But I appreciate why people would want to visit this place of historical significance, and commend you on the tremendous post.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much Doreen. Yes, I understand how people can choose not to see it. It definitely isn’t for everyone. I however, love history that l get to see, not just read as does my husband, so for us, it was so worth it.

      Reply
  28. I am very moved by your account and photos of Auschwitz. I felt chills with nearly every photo — some of areas in the concentration camp that I haven’t seen before. As you said, ” You can’t unsee something like this.” I appreciate your tips, too. I had hoped to get to Poland (including Krakow and Auschwitz last year, but couldn’t make it happen. Hoping this will be the year.

    Reply
    • No, you definitely can not unsee that. I hope you get there soon. It really is quite moving along with a whole host of emotions. I just worry sometimes that the world is heading in the same direction once again. We just can’t seem to learn from the past it seems. 🙁

      Reply
  29. Thank you for finally writing about it. I will probably not have the guts to visit such a sad monument to the worst crime in history. I don’t have to now. You have revealed through this personal essay the whole horror that I only saw in pictures and in movies.

    Reply
    • You definitely have to be ready for it in order to visit. It’s such a horrible part of history and it is shocking to see it up close. It was a very somber tour. I had read about it, but never saw any movies really depicting it, like Schindler’s list for instance. I just hope history never repeats itself when it comes to that.

      Reply
  30. I remember going here almost 30 years ago and it was so difficult to explore and see the magnitude of loss, this all brings it back to me so clearly and I remember so many of these rooms again.

    Reply
    • I imagine 30 years ago, it must have packed even more of an impact..more so than now for sure. It is haunting and when l think of just how mean human beings can be, it bogles my mind. I am so glad that it’s there to remind people of the atrocities of war and l pray that it never happens again. I try to be optimistic, but l fear we will head there at some point in the near future which is really sad. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  31. This is a tour I never intend to take, yet I do think it is an important one. Especially for younger people who might not have a clear idea of what a death camp is.

    Reply
    • It is definitely something that the younger generation need to be keenly aware of. I’m afraid there is this romanticized vision of what happens. You also have to be ready for it, and l understand that it’s not a tour for everyone. It is emotional.

      Reply
  32. This would be a very disturbing place to visit. I’m not sure I could do the visit, but it is important not to forget the horrors. Some of your photos are chilling enough. This was a very respectful and insightful post.

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading Donna. It sure was a very haunting visit. When you see the rooms, you are just gobsmacked. A couple of the rooms we were not allowed to take pictures in, like where the deteriorating hair is was just mind blowing. I really hesitated to schedule going as it was a holiday after all, but l am so glad we went. Federico had read the book by one of the survivors and seen movies and he really wanted to see it, as did l.

      Reply
  33. I have very mixed feelings about whether to visit Auschwitz or not. I’ll be in Krakow in May, so I could go there. I think it’s incredibly important for as many people as possible to visit Holocaust sites to combat the tendency to minimize or excuse or out-and-out deny the Holocaust. As a Jew, though, I feel like I have a clear sense of the enormity of the Holocaust, and I find the emotional toll of visiting such places really difficult. I’ve been to Holocaust museums in several cities, and even that is hard. On the other hand, the Jews who lived and died in Auschwitz went through unimaginably worse, so I want to honor their memories, not protect myself from a little emotional pain.

    Reply
    • I can’t even begin to imagine just how emotional it would be for you. I also think it is extremely important for people to see and be confronted with the atrocities. Often times, everything gets glossed over in the movies or in books, but to see the faces and hear the stories, it was just heartbreaking and so real. It’s insane to me that people deny something as monumental as that. I think once you get to Krakow, you’ll have a better idea as to whether to visit or not. If you do, I would do it towards the end of the visit for sure. We so loved Krakow totally. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  34. Hi KemKem. Very chilling and insightful post. Your photos have brought the history to life. I’ve always wanted to visit Auschwitz and hope to get there as part of a group as the idea might be too gruesome for some.

    The electronic fence reminds me of the film, The boy in the stripe pyjamas and it’s interesting to know about the companies that benefitted from the slave labour. Thanks for the share.

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading Bola. It is indeed chilling. I hope you get to visit it, it’s such an important part of history, an ugly part that l hope never gets repeated, but l have my doubts as we don’t seem to be moving in the right direction. I’ve never heard of that movie, I’ll have to check it out. Yeah, it was really eye opening seeing all those companies that literally had blood on their hands :-(.

      Reply
  35. We’ve been there, and as you say, it’s exhausting and depressing. But you can’t think of how you feel. It’s better to think only about the site and what happened here. Because what happens to you when you visit it is nothing in comparison. It’s a site of unparalleled evil. That’s what you need to take away. And that it can’t happen again.

    Reply
    • Unparalleled evil. I can’t think of a better way to describe it, for it is exactly that. No, it can not happen again. I know the horror we imagine can’t even begin to compare to what actually happened. It’s quite unnerving and l think you do have to prepare yourself mentally for it, which might not exactly jibe with vacation mode for some, but l agree with you that it’s something that l think everyone needs to see. It might hammer home the effects of hate and maybe even stop the worshipping of the Nazi past that some embrace. We seem to be taking a step backward though as a society, and that scares me. Thanks for the comment and for reading.

      Reply
  36. Thank you for sharing your experience at Auschwitz Birkenau. I haven’t been able to watch Schindler’s List in two decades, so I don’t think I’d ever have the guts to do through Auschwitz.
    The sad thing is that most of the perpetrators were never punished, and go away with their crimes and loots. Unfortunately, this is true not only for post 1945 Germany and Austria, it is true across the globe and across time periods. I’m thinking of the Thirty Years War (in which many Germans died) on the 17th century , the Albigensian and Bosnian Crusades in the 13th century, the various genocides in the 20th century, the attempted genocides of various pagan tribes in Germany and the Baltic from the 9th century onwards.

    What makes the Holocaust different is the technology used, the systematic extermination of people (Jews, gypsies or Romani, and others) and the collective insanity and self delusion of the German people. I can understand why some people will not visit Germany even now.

    Again, thank you for describing the details of how Auschwitz Birkenau and other death camps operated. I agree that a quick death rather than slow starvation under terrible conditions would have been more merciful, but the Nazi’s were not given to mercy. It was more profitable for them and their business supporters to work these unfortunate people to death and then steal whatever they could.

    Reply
    • Thank you Shinjinee for such a wonderful and well said comment. It was a very sobering experience. I haven’t watched Schindler’s List either, along with most movies with that sort of cruelty to people. You’re so right in saying that the guilty more often than not, get away with such horrid things. I tend to believe in Karma and my husband and l have arguments because he does not believe in it at all. When Auschwitz officers live out their lives in relative comfort, after being responsible for thousands of deaths, what kind of karma is that he says? I understand the fury, but l think as human beings, we have to believe in a power higher, otherwise, it would be impossible to go on living, especially when you have very little or have been persecuted. Probably one reason why religion has such a hold on people, because what is the alternative? My dad was religious and firmly believed in turning the other cheek and that they would get theirs on judgement day. My mom was also religious, but she believed in “judgement now”, so if you wronged her..well..hell has no fury… They made a good fit. I like what you said here

      It is so insane to think how gullible people can be. Sometimes, I read things now, and l get frightened because l truly believe we are headed down the same gory path. Evil personified straight from the handbook. Thanks so much for reading and adding your voice to the discussion :-).

      Reply
  37. Thanks, Kem Kem for posting. Must have been tough to write. We visted Neunengamme outside of Hamburg about 5 years ago (a smaller “work camp” where many, many people nonetheless died or were killed, including Nabakov’s brother.) and all felt sick for the rest of that week. It makes you feel guilty to be living and on vacation…
    I think it is essential for all of us to visit these sights of “conscience” because it is too easy to forget that true horror (not hollywood scripted) is common and is only kept at bay by conscientious people standing up in defiance and calling it what it is whenever evil shows it’s face. Places like Auschwitz serve as mental cattle-prods to ensure we don’t take the easy way out when we see injustice.

    Reply
    • You’re right about places like this needing to be seen. We can’t afford to forget, especially in this trying time. It does make you check yourself and realize how lucky you are, something a whole lot of people forget. Seeing the sugar-coated versions that are trotted out by Hollywood does not give you the right story, and it seems they don’t teach any of these in schools which is such a pity. It’s scary thinking there are people out there today who feel such hatred for others. It’s sometimes hard to keep the faith, but let’s hope goodness wins out. A “work camp”. Let’s hope all those rotten people of the regimes all keep rotting in hell.

      Reply

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