In the summer of 2017, as part of my European road trip (blogpost: 25.000 km Europe road trip part 9 : Warsaw and Krakow in Poland) I planned to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps and the museum nearby Krakow, Poland. Established by the Nazis in 1940, the Polish city of Oswiecim was selected by the “Third Reich” to be the location of the world’s most well-known Holocaust location.
The location is divided between the main camp (also known as “Auschwitz I”) which had a close to 17.000 prisoners. The second camp was the Birkenau which held close to 90.000 prisoners (in 1944) and where the majority of the murdering took place.
How to visit the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps?
The Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps are located about a hour and a halve drive from the Polish city Krakow. If you are traveling with your own transportation then I recommend finding a good accommodation (blogpost: 5 Tips on finding cheap accommodation) in Krakow and make it a day trip to visit the site. In the city you can also book the tours in advance in which a travel agency will provide you with a guide and transportation. Keep in mind they are still doing a lot of construction on the DW780 (highway), so check beforehand if the routes are clear of construction. An alternative route (which I took) is the DW44, which takes you through a few charming little villages.
At the dworzec autobusowy (bus station of krakow) there are buses going to Auschwitz several times per hour. Just look for the bus that says “Auschwitz” or “Oświęcim”. Price is about 25 złoty. It will drop you off right in front of the enterance.
Buying tickets to visit the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps
There are two different options when it comes to visiting the site. You can either go by yourself or under the supervision of a tour guide. This is how each option works:
This option is free of charge. You can only visit Auschwitz 1 before 10.00 AM or after 4 P.M between the 1st of April and 31st of October. Order your tickets online (Link: Visit Auschwitz) or get one at the white kiosk (right next to the parking lot) that also sells the tours. On the ticket it will say at what time you can enter the site.
Group tours are available in a wide variety of languages. When booking through the official website (Link: Visit Auschwitz) you will see what language guide is available at what time. Sometimes you need to make booking well in advance (up to 3 months) so do not wait till the last minute. Also keep in mind that there will not be many English speaking tours.
If all these options are not available you can always book an organized tour from Krakow. They will provide for you a guide in your native language and bus transportation to the camps.
Difference between Auschwitz 1 & Auschwitz-Birkenau
The Auschwitz 1 site has most of the factories and labour compounds. This is where the famous “Arbeid macht frei” sign is hanging and where the prisoners everyday had to work, but also where the Nazis conducted horrible medical experiments on woman and where the Death Wall (execution by a fire squad) is located. In the museum you will see pictures, materials and personal belongings of the prisoners, which were taken by the guards upon arrival. Several times per hour there is a free transport bus going between both sites. The ride is about 5 minutes to Auschwitz-Birkenau (also known as Auschwitz 2)
The Auschwitz-Birkenau site might be the most confronting part for most people. This is the location where the train goes inside the camp. At this site most of the murdering took place. No ticket is needed to visit this part of the camps. You will be able to have a glimpse of a train wagon that they used to transport the prisoners into the camps. It is also possible to visit the sleeping area’s, which was nothing more then a farm like woodshed with too many people camped up in a small space.
My grandfather was a Lt. Colonel in the KNIL army in WW2 and was captured by the Japanese and stayed 3 years in a concentration camp nearby Nagasaki (Japan), survived the atomic bomb and flew to The Netherlands in a bomber plane after the war with my grandmother and my oldest aunt on their lap to start a new life. He never ever spoke about the war and after my visit today to Auschwitz Birkenau I am sure I only saw the smallest glimps of what a hell these camps must have been for men, woman and even childeren. Visit if you have the chance.. #auschwitz #poland #birkenau #peace #ww2 #concentrationcamp #auschwitzbirkenau #auschwitzmemorial #history
What did I personally think of the experience?
I would like to remind the reader that visiting the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps can be a very confronting experience. Although, these days you will see busses full with tourists, Fast Food around the corner, the visit to both locations itself is humbling yet a horrifying experience. I wanted to visit this location for my own education and I am very happy I did. If you also visited, please share your experiences in the comments at the end of this blogpost. If you plan to visit and have any questions, please feel free to ask me anytime.
Today I visited Auschwitz Birkenau after reading (one of the best books out there) "Man's search for meaning" by Victor E. Frankl in 2013. It is a heavy and humbling experience, but such an important part of our history.. My photo shows a sight that must have been a daily view for the inmates of the looking through the barbed wire seeing the trainwagons come in with new prisoners.. 1.1 million people died here. #auschwitz #poland #ww2 #peace #war #humanity #auschwitzbirkenau #auschwitzmemorial #war #history