Last week I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps and well, nothing can really prepare you for the influx of emotions that will run through your heart as you walk from one cabin to another reading about all the atrocities that took place here.
Warning: For me, travel is about enhancing your own happiness so I would like to warn you that after reading this article you will be filled with sadness and anger after being witness to the pure evil that humans are capable of doing. Nevertheless, you’ll be filled with hope. And hope is the strongest weapon of them all.
Are you ready to venture into the gates of Auschwitz with me?
Why should anyone visit Auschwitz? Seriously
As I boarded the mini-van to reach the Auschwitz concentration camp, my head began to fill with doubt and second thoughts. “Is this really a good idea? I know I’m going to be sad. I know I’m going to be angry. I know I won’t be able to sleep tonight. Do I really want to go there?”
Then, something surreal happened. The driver played Nelly Furtado songs on the radio and some of the people in the mini-van started to sing Karaoke. I wonder if they knew about what they were getting into. And yes, I bet they were all silent on their ride back.
You see, the problem with Auschwitz is that it has become a must-see on the bucket-list of visitors to Krakow and many people go to Auschwitz just for the sake of saying they have been there instead of doing it to learn about the atrocities took place here.
The worst part? Organized tours that actually make a huge profit by bringing countless numbers of tourists to the concentration camps.
How to get to Auschwitz from Krakow without an organized tour
The price of an organized tour from Krakow to Auschwitz ranges from 135 to 100 PNL (roughly 30 to 25 euros). This includes transportation and a rushed three hour visit to both the Auschwitz and the Birkenau camps (located 3Kms away from each other).
You won’t be able to see all the rooms of the Auschwitz museum and you won’t ever have a solo time to reflect about what happened here.
In fact, a tour makes it way too easy to process since there will be a wall of security between you and the events and it makes it easier to think that you’re visiting a museum instead of a death camp. Instead, how about venturing to Auschwitz on your own?
From the Krakow Bus Station, you can take a minivan to Auschwitz (24 PNL return) and from there you can take the free shuttle to Birkenau every 30 minutes. Entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp is free after 3pm while entrance to the Birkenau concentration camp is free at all times.
Birkenau and why all these photos are black and white
I won’t lie to you: The Polish countryside is beautiful and so is Birkenau. Decades ago, Steven Spielberg decided to shoot Schindler’s List in black and white mainly because he didn’t want to beautify the places in which these atrocities took place and after reviewing the photos I took of Auschwitz-Birkenau I fully agreed with him.
Isn’t it sad how the Nazis converted this beautiful area into a place of death and despair? I cannot help but imagine the chilling contrast between the beautiful vegetation of the Polish countryside and the ashes of the dead bodies that were constantly incinerated out in the open.
You should spend at least a couple of hours exploring the huge area of Birkenau before continuing to Auschwitz, the smaller and yet more horrifying camp of the two.
The Auschwitz Museum: Work will set you free
We’ve have all seen this phrase in the media related to the concentration camps of WWII: “Arbeit macht frei”. Work will set you free, one of the many lies that the Nazis told the prisoners in order to encourage them to keep doing hard labor for them. And yet, I couldn’t believe my eyes when people were posing underneath the sign smiling to the camera.
“They don’t know what they’re doing” I told myself since I simply couldn’t believe that someone could be as insensitive as to do something like that in front of the gate where many people entered never to exit again. At least not alive.
The concentration camp of Auschwitz is unique in the sense that each of the barracks is actually a museum detailing the process of the executions, the life at the concentration camps and history lessons in general that will help you to gain a better understanding of what took place here.
Hearing an explanation from a guide is different from reading it since hearing offers you a safety net that helps you unplug yourself from the harsh reality of the place while reading immerses you into the pages of history and gives you time to fully process the pointlessness of killing someone.
I consider myself as a very strong and confident person, however, there was this room that completely broke me and left me shedding tears of rage and sadness after which I quickly left the museum and decided it was time to go back to Krakow. It was this one. I don’t think words are needed to explain why this is the saddest exhibition of all Auschwitz.
So…should you visit Auschwitz?
As I told you in the beginning, this was not a happy visit. But it was a necessary one.
Would I visit Auschwitz again? Probably not but I think that everyone should visit Auschwitz at least once in their lifetime. “It’s not about remembering what happened, it’s about never forgetting it”.