Well here it is folks my post about my day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Let me begin by saying it was sort of a conflicting day for me. On one hand you had the history student who was excited to visit a place that bore witness to one of the most horrific events in human history. Then on the other hand you had the regular human being who realized he was visiting a place that saw the systematic murder of over a million people. So it was a bittersweet moment when I finally arrived. It is about an hour and a bit bus ride outside of Krakow and you have many options of getting there.
You can take public transit where a bus leaves the main bus station every 30 minutes to Oswiecim the town it is located in. Or you can pay for a tour company to take care of everything. I went with the latter because I booked it through my hostel, it included a shuttle there and back as well as a tour guide when you enter. Another plus of being part of a group is you get to go through the group entrance and it is much quicker.
For me my tour first stopped at Auschwitz I, the original camp. It looks very similar to a military base with barracks for accommodations because most of the buildings had been former Polish Army barracks so it was easy for the Nazis to set up there because most of the infrastructure was already there. Auschwitz I when it was established was intended to be a political prisoner camp but over time it grew to house Jews, Roma etc. It eventually grew so much that it needed to expand and it did this twice.
The first expansion was that of Auschwitz II also known as Birkenau. I would have to say when most people think of Auschwitz they think of this camp in particular. It is the one with the building with a rail-road through it and the watchtower right above it. Many movies about the holocaust focus on this one particular because they can highlight how the rail network was utilized. The tracks once past the building split into three sets of tracks and run the entire length of the camp and the camp I must say is very long. The site is lined with rows and rows of chimneys, these are all that remains of the many wooden barracks. Standing on the tracks and looking north the chimneys run as far as the eye can see. After the war locals ransacked the site for wood and any resources they could get their hands on. A number of brick barracks still remain, and they are doing all they can to preserve them. Many have wooden braces built on their sides I imagine to avoid collapse.
My tour guide was very knowledgeable and very emotional. When inquired if she was alright she informed us that this is how she usually is when guiding because her grandmother had actually survived through a concentration camp and it just gets to her every time no matter how often she gives the tour.
Some of the things you see on the tour are gut wrenching and will hit you like a bag of bricks. Things such as a room filled with human hair, a room filled with peoples luggage, a room filled with pots and pans, a pile of eye glasses and so much more. The sad part is that most people who ended up here were told they were just moving or being relocated so many packed their lifes belongings to bring with them. The thing that I think bothered me the most was that Jews in Greece had to pay for a ticket to be taken to Auschwitz. I do not know why but that just stuck with me, you can actually see some of the tickets on display there.
I think everyone should be required to take this tour, I mean absolutely everyone on the face of this Earth. People need to see what we as a species is capable of to ensure that the events like this never happen again. If you are ever visiting an area that has a concentration camp museum you NEED to tour it. Im not sure if the others are like Auschwitz-Birkenau but if they bring the slightest bit of emotion to you then it has done its job. Like I said at the beginning it was a bittersweet day for me, but I am unable to describe how I felt during my tour. If I had to describe my feelings it would be a mix of grief with anger. Grief because so many people died needlessly. Anger because a modern civilized people committed these atrocious acts. I have simplified how I feel, it really is a mess of emotions when you are visiting.
One more quick note I feel as though my Canadian readers should know is this. In much of Europe before and during WWII many believed Canada was a land of abundance and wealth. When the valuables were collected in Auschwitz they were stored in warehouses, these warehouses were given the nickname Canada because they were home to an abundance of wealth.
Well thats my short post on my day trip. Please keep an eye out for my upcoming post about my whirlwind stop in Prague! I am currently in Berlin and have been doing a lot of walking because it is such a huge city and there really is no city centre or a place you would call the centre of the touristy part.