Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Visiting Auschwitz Birkenau

Auschwitz concentration camp was the largest Nazi death camp. It's estimated that about 2 million people (Jews, mostly) perished in it. It was declared World Heritage Site in 1979. It was directed, under Himler's supervision, by Rudolf Hoss until 1943 when it was replaced by Arthur Liebehenschel and Richard Baer .
It housed some famous prisioners as the prestigious psychiatrist Viktor Frankl , who survived and wrote his memoirs in the camp in " Man's Search for Meaning "or the beatified St. Maximilian Kolbe , who died after voluntarily changing the position of a condemned man.

The complex is divided into three camps: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) and Auschwitz III. Today you can only see the I and II..


The best way to get to the camp is to catch a bus at the main bus station in Krakow (location here ). It runs every half hour and the ticket is purchased directly on the bus. The ticket price is 20 zlotys outward / return ($7). The bus direction is Oswiecim (signposted both the bus and on the platform where parking). It takes half an hour to arrive and it leaves us in the parking of Auschwitz I, next to the entrance. If you go by train to Auschwitz, you will have to walk 1.2 miles to the entrance of Auschwitz I.


Location here .
Official Website:
Open every day except 1 January, 25 December and Easter Sunday.
Opening hours:
  • 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 PM from December to February
  • 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 PM March, November
  • 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 PM April, October
  • 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 PM May, September
  • 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 PM June, July, August

From November 1 to March 31 admission is free, but guided tours are 40 zlotys ($13).  
Guided tours schedule:
• Polish: 11.00 am, 1.30 pm (except 27/01/2013)
• English: 10.30 am, 11.30 am, 12.30 pm, 1.20 pm (except 01/27/2013)
• French: 12.30 pm (except 13.11.2012, 14.11.2012 and 01.27.2013)
• German: 12.30 pm (except 01/27/2013)
• Italian: 24:30 (except 14.01, 23.01, 27.01, 09.03, 17.03 and 03.18.2013)
• Spanish: 12.30 pm (except 27/01/2013)
From April to October is mandatory ent with tour, 40 zlotys ($13).  
Guided tours schedule:
• Spanish: April, October: 12.00 am from May to September: 10.00 am, 12.00 am, 2 pm
• English: October: every hour between 10.30 am and 3.30 pm from May to September: every 30 minutes between 9.30 am - 3.30 pm
It is estimated that the tour lasts about 4 hours.

It's better to visit the camp during the fall-winter months. In the summer months there are many visitors and the visit is more uncomfortable. Moreover, in summer months it's required to enter with a guided tour and it's not the best way to see it. I would recommend to spend a full day to visit the camp on your own, without a guide. You can cross the entrance with the guided group and once inside go by yourself.

If you want to plan your visit, the official website offers a virtual tour where you can find what is in each barrack. You can click here go there.

Auschwitz I is the most touristic part of the field. It has the ticket office, a screening room, shop ... and in some barracks there are exhibitions about the Holocaust with photographs, clothing, documents ...
During the war, this area housed the administrative center of the camp. This is where they began to bring Polish political prisoners and resistance fighters.
This place is famous for the experiments to camp inmates by Dr. Mengele among others. Also in block 11 , considered a punishment place, there were all kinds of torture and extreme testings. There is still a part of the punishment cells, some of them so small that people could not sit.
In front of the block 11 is raised the "wall of death" where prisoners were shot.
Wall death.

You can also visit the only stading crematorium. Here began the first experiments with Zyklon B .

Antigua electrified fence.

You can visit some famous cells like Maximilian Kolbe's . In 1941 there was a scape in the camp. In retaliation, 15 prisoners were chosen randomly to be brought to this cell without food or water to let them die. Maximilian Kolbe was not chosen but he volunteered to take the place of a family parent. In the same cell block, we can find too Edek Galinski's , known for their love story on the camp. He and his girlfriend Mala Zimetbaun escaped but they were captured and executed within days. It is not allowed to take photos inside the barracks.

In front of the crematorium, the gallows where it was hanged Rudolf Hoess who led the camp until 1943.



Location: here .  
Virtual tour on the web .

It is more than 1.2 miles away from Auschwitz I. A shuttle bus runs between both camps. You can take it at the entrance. It is free and it usually departs every 15 min. It is best that you check the bus schedules upon arrival.
Admission is completely free, you have to go through any post. If you go to the previous field guide will teach you just a hut, the memorial and the ruins of a gas chamber. Then you can stay to continue the visit on your own.

If you go individually through the entrance, you can access the main watchtower where prodéis access a comprehensive overview of the field and a plan of the grounds, with which you can plan this visit. The entrance to this tower is usually closed by a poster of "prohibited" placed on the ladder, but everyone goes though this. 

Birkenau was built after Auschwitz I, in 1941, as a part of the Final Solution . The prisoners were mostly Jews and Gypsies. It was a death camp created to mass murder. The prisoners arrived by train across the tracks reaching inside the camp. Most of them were taken directly to the gas chambers. Only those who passed the selection were assigned to work in the field. On the right side (at the picture above) there were the men barracks and on the left we can see women's (even one set just for kids).
In November 1944, the SS destroyed the gas chambers and crematoria, keeping only the barracks, to destroy evidence of the slaughter. We can see the ruins of a gas chamber:

If we go the way to the end we found a memorial to the  victims with plaques written in all languages ​​of the prisoners.

If we continue to the right of the monument, we can find what was called the "sauna" or sluice room. It was where the newcomers stripped of their clothes and their heads were shaved, while being forced to wait naked outside. Today it has been rebuilt and you can find inside a memorial panel with photos of prisoners.

Inside the sauna.

You can enter to several barracks, both men and women and one belonging to Polish children.

Views from inside the hut.
Barrack  with toilets.
 Interior of the women barrack.
 Children barrack.
Views from a barrack bed.

In these areas of the camp, there is usually no one because most people remain at the entrace or simply follow the tour guide so you can walk around the place alone.

 Women's toilet area.

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