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Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camps Poland

A rose is left on the charred ruins of what once were the inner circles of hell. Weeping willows lovingly embrace guardhouses. Endless rows of barracks make a pleasing pattern.

Welcome to Poland’s biggest tourist attraction.

Gas chaimbers concentration camp Birkenau

Auschwitz 2.0

Birkenau is the improved version of Auschwitz. The concentration camp was constructed near Auschwitz to ease congestion at the main site.

Birkenau camp, with four crematoria, a reception building and hundreds of other buildings, was constructed to house in each barrack 550 prisoners (one-third of the space allotted in other Nazi concentration camps). This was later changed to 744 prisoners per barrack (source Wikipedia).

Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camps Poland

Birkenau

Most Europeans will have learned at school that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. What I never knew before visiting Birkenau, was that of those killed almost three million were from Polish descent.

In Auschwitz and Birkenau combined more than one million people lost their lives during World War II, mostly during the last two years of the war. Exact numbers are unknown but let’s say roughly a thousand people a day were killed during that period. Let me repeat that number:

a thousand people a day.

Imagine what a major undertaking this must have been trying to get rid of so many corpses and not just one or two days, but the whole year round.

This must be the place where Lucifer met German efficiency.

Poland Concentration Camps

Poland’s most popular tourist attraction

Whilst I contemplate those numbers a couple of Jewish girls make a selfie on the railway tracks where once fellow believers were offloaded as human cargo.

I wonder what I am doing here during my holidays.

Do I really need to see this? More importantly, should I want to put my young children through an experience like this?

More than one million people from all over the world visit the Auschwitz Museum annually. I understand the need for those that are second or third generation victims of the genocide, the relatives of the Jews, the Roma, the disabled and others that lost their lives. But for me, an ordinary girl from the Netherlands, I am not sure what I am doing here.

According to the museum´s website:

There is no way to understand post-war Europe and the world, without an in-depth confrontation between our idea of mankind and the remains of Auschwitz.

I am not sure.

Should I want to look at a hellish horror show? Secretly I am relieved we didn´t succeed to obtain tickets in time for the main attraction: the Auschwitz museum, because what has been seen cannot be unseen.

train station Birkenau

Visit Auschwitz & Birkenau

As we found out too late, a visit to Auschwitz needs some planning. To obtain tickets at the museum you need to queue early in the morning. With a ticket, a timeslot is allocated when visitors can enter the building. Alternatively, tickets can be reserved in advance through the internet.

Admission to the grounds of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial is free of charge. No queues, no tickets.

Opening hours

The Museum is open all year round, seven days a week, except January 1, December 25, and Easter Sunday. You can start the visit during the following hours:

  • 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM December
  • 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM January, November
  • 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM February
  • 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM March, October
  • 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM April, May, September
  • 8:00 AM – 7:00 PM June, July, August

Getting to the Museum

The concentration camps are located on the outskirts of the city of Oświęcim on national road 933, approximately an hour’s drive from Krakow.
The Museum is about 2 kilometres from the train station and can be reached from there by local buses. (GPS coordinates: GPS coordinates: 19.20363 E, 50.0266 N).

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