A visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau
I pre-booked online my day tour to Auschwitz-Birkenau and The “Wieliczka” Salt Mine on Viator before arriving in Poland. It cost AUD $121.11 and that included lunch, hotel pick up and drop off. Krakow Shuttle Tours was the company that handled the tour. All communication was done via e-mail. On the day of the tour, the driver/guide was extremely prompt for my hotel pick up, on the dot at 07:30. Vehicle was a Mercedes Benz mini bus, comfortable with a total of 8 passengers including myself.
Oswiecim /Auschwitz is about 66 km west of Krakow. Journey time was 1 hour and 30 minutes, we passed through some beautiful countryside. A short film showing the liberation of Auschwitz was shown en-route. According to our driver, we arrived early so he took us first to the site of two original box cars used as transport, now stationed at Judenrampe (The Jewish platform) near Auschwitz-Birkenau. Listening to the sobering narrative about this place, heartfelt sadness had started to build up within. This was the selection and processing area, men were separated from women and children, then those who were deemed fit for work were separated from the others who were sent immediately to the gas chambers.
I’ve seen Auschwitz-Birkenau in several movies, documentaries and reading Holocaust books growing up, but being there was an utterly moving experience. Established by the Nazis in 1940, Auschwitz-Birkenau has become a symbol of terror, genocide and the Holocaust.
After handing out our entry cards our driver forwarded us to our Auschwitz Memorial guide who conducted the whole tour. There were a few tour groups ahead of us at the entrance but our movement through was generally swift. Note, they only allow a camera and a small backpack that can not exceed dimensions of 30x20x10 cm inside the museum complex. Admission to the grounds of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial is free of charge. The fees are charged only for engaging a guide, renting a headphone guiding system and watching a documentary movie. At the gate your bag will pass through x-ray scanners at the security checkpoint.
The Auschwitz concentration camp was a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II. It consists of two parts: Auschwitz I, the first and oldest camp and Birkenau (Auschwitz II).
We visited many of the “Bloks” or buildings. All the displays are very well described in several languages giving a moving insight on life and conditions there.
It was eerie and haunting, sending me chills as we proceeded from Blok to Blok. Piles of mobility aids, hair from victims, personal possessions like glasses, shoes, pots, jewellery, suitcases as well as empty Zyklon-B canisters.
Blok 10, a disturbing medical experimentation unit where the “Angle of Death” Dr. Josef Mengele practised some of the most evil things imaginable. One of Auschwitz practising physicians, he studied among other conditions, the phenomena of twins, as well as the physiology and pathology of dwarfism with little or no regard for the health, safety or lives of his victims. As soon as the experiments were finished, Mengele ordered them to be killed by phenol injection so he could go on to the next stage of his heinous acts.
Prisoners lived in dreadful living conditions, leaky, uninsulated barracks made of either brick or wood. Sparsely furnished with three-tier wooden bunk beds sometimes layered with straw as bedding.
When we reached the crematorium area, I was totally speechless. This is an awful and monstrous place, the unfathomable reality of it was more than my mind could handle.
This was the last part of Auschwitz I tour. The tour guide gave us a 15 minute break before we headed back to the mini bus for Birkenau.
Birkenau is located 3.5 km from Auschwitz I, just a short drive away. From 1943-44, Birkenau was a killing centre as well as a concentration camp. It’s an unbelievably a huge area.
There isn’t a large number of things to see there as most were destroyed, only few complete huts, barbed wire and concrete perimeter posts remain. Our guide took us to the far end where the ruins of two crematorium and gas chambers once stood. The Watch Tower is available only for groups accompanied by a guide with no more than 30 visitors at any one time.
On January 27, 2020, world leaders and Holocaust survivors gathered in Auschwitz to mark the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.
After the Birkenau tour, everyone proceeded to the car park where lunch was served.
Getting to Auschwitz-Birkenau can be arranged by tour operators. There are several itineraries on offer, I opted for the full day tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau and The “Wieliczka” Salt Mine, lunch included. If you intend to visit by public transport, there are options available. Bus from Krakow to Auschwitz or Train from Krakow to Auschwitz.
Buses from Krakow to Auschwitz:
Catch a bus at Dworzec MDA (MDA Station), Bosacka St. just behind Krakow Main Railway Station. Check bus time table here: https://www.busy-krk.pl/en/oswiecim-krakow/?godz=12
- From: MDA Bus Station Krakow
- Price: 10-12 PLN for one way ticket
- Travel time: 1:30-2:00h
- Distance to Museum after stop: 10 mins by foot
(From Discover Cracow)
Train from Krakow to Auschwitz:
Catch a train from Krakow Main Railway Station to Oswiecim. Check train time table here: https://rozklad-pkp.pl/en
- From: Main Train Station Krakow
- Price: 9,00 PLN for Adult one way ticket
- Travel time: 1:50h
- Distance to Museum after stop: 20-30 mins by foot, 5-10 mins with bus
(From Discover Cracow)
To be continued….. next stop The “Wieliczka” Salt Mine