A PLACE YOU WILL (SADLY) NOT FORGET
The UNESCO-protected site of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is a place where the bleak reality of WWII conditions suffered by its inmates has not lost its intensity, sending shivers down the spine of its visitors and remaining reflection-provoking for years to come. Located in the city of Oświęcim, about 60 kilometres west of Cracow, the museum opens its gates at 8 a.m., with the minimum recommended age of its visitors set at 14. The largest German Nazi-operated concentration camp of WWII, established in 1941 in the former barracks serving the Austria-Hungary and Polish armies (Auschwitz I), was later extended of by the establishment of the extermination camp of Auschwitz II-Birnekau, incorporating the infamous gas chambers which contributed to the horrifying scale of Holocaust. During a 3,5-hour exploration of Auschwitz-Birkenau, you will realise the tragic dimension of losses these inhuman facilities caused, depriving over 1,000,000 inmates of their lives.
AUSCHWITZ I – THE TERRIFYING EXHIBITION OF NAZI TERROR
The main entrance gateway to Auschwitz is where the barbed wire surrounding a high fence to encompass 140 ha of the camp begins its course. The ambiguously ominous meaning of “Arbeit macht frei” phrase (“Work will make you free”) placed atop the gate opens its way to the grim site filled with sordid barracks.
This part of the complex has been adapted to house an exhibition comprising a collection of personal belongings of its inmates inside one of its blocks. The view of piles of glasses, dolls, prostheses or shaven-off hair of the murdered, which the Nazis wanted to further use for utilitarian purposes, is definitely one of the most memorable parts of the exhibition. Once you enter the remaining blocks composing Auschwitz, you will be introduced to the darkest recesses of human mind which made the Nazis treat the humans of unwanted categories like objects to horrific medical experiments, tortures or starvation.
Visiting the concentration camp of Auschwitz, the cold interiors of blocks where the process of dehumanisation of the newly-transported prisoners was proceeded with, will make you wondering how desentisised and cruel the camp staff must have been. The offices of Nazi officials, rooms where the inmates of Auschwitz would be categorised according to the principles of Nazi ideology, tattooed with camp numbers which were to serve as replacements to their identities from then on, and given striped camp uniforms, are open to the public. The efficient machine of death implemented in Auschwitz becomes exposed to you when you are given a chance to see heaps of cans with Zyklon B gas stored within the exhibition, or particular elements of gas chambers put on display there.
Many visitors claim that Block 10, where “the Angel of Death”, doctor Joseph Mengele, would carry out his diabolical experiments on selected inmates of Auschwitz, provides them with the most uneasy of feelings. After you explore the legacy of one of the most barbaric ideologies Auschwitz I, the pictures of prisoners to the camp (particularly, the child ones), thrilling stories told by the competent guides to the place or the view of gallows where Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz, was executed after the war, will stay in your mind for a long time.
AUSCHWITZ II (BIRKENAU), THE REAL FACE OF HOLOCAUST
After you leave Auschwitz I, you will enter a quiet space where over 150 additional barracks were placed as subject to a couple of military victories the Third Reich achieved in 1943 – Auschwitz II (Birkenau), the actual death-camp part of the complex. Designed with the capacity of 400 inmates, the barracks of Birkenau would actually be filled with over 2000 prisoners each at the time, as disposed of running water, heating and barely fed; in fact – striped of human dignity by their Nazi oppressors.
This horrific place begins behind the towered gate where the railway ramp for transports of Jews from different parts of Europe would find its end. The same ramp where the fate of the transported would be decided of, by finding its immediate end in one of the chambers or having their lives prolonged in the inhuman conditions of the camp. The five crematoria located in Birkenau, as well as its gas chambers with their high chimneys of brick, do not leave room for any doubts over what purpose the camp was to serve.
The extermination of prisoners of Birkenau was a systematically-conducted and well-planned process whose interruption in the January of 1945 unveiled the dark secrets of the Nazis, which was way too late to save many human beings. Do not miss a chance to visit the concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, whether staying in Cracow or elsewhere in Poland – this exceptionally worth-visiting place opens the eyes of millions of visitors to the part of world’s history that should not be forgotten.
Witnessing the International March of the Living, annually held in the camp to commemorate the deceased victims of Nazi terror, will enable you to find a ray of hope after the sad visit to Auschwitz, witnessing the offspring of the survivors paying respect to the inmates of this bleak place.