To say that we were ‘looking forward’ to our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau during our trip to Poland isn’t the most accurate way to express the sentiment. This visit was, however, a priority for all of us.
The Second World War has been a fascination of mine since I was about 14. I remember being in history class and learning about the Holocaust for the first time and being truly horrified by the information I was receiving. I continued to read books about the war and watch documentaries in hope that at some point it would all make sense. It seemed as though I must be missing a detail which explained how an atrocity of such vast scale could happen at a time not so distant from my own.
It was as incomprehensible to me then as it remains to me today.
The network of camps that comprised the Auschwitz complex was the largest of the Nazi-German concentration camps and included Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II–Birkenau, Auschwitz III–Monowitz, and 45 satellite camps. Here over 1.3 million people were murdered between 1940 and 1945, 90% of them Jewish.
It is difficult to accurately describe how it feels to be in a place such as this – where such atrocities were committed, where millions of people were murdered.
This is a place where true evil once resided.
Visiting Auschwitz was every bit as disturbing as I expected, it brought me to tears and I still feel physically ill when I recall the stories that were told to us by the tour guide. This is the type of place that one cannot help but be moved by and the type of place that stays with a person long after leaving.
Auschwitz serves as a memorial, not only to the millions of people who were murdered throughout the course of the war, but also as a memorial of the human capacity for evil. Maybe if more people could experience a place like Auschwitz there would be less racism and bigotry in the world.
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Our tour to Auschwitz-Birkenau was booked through isango! and included the one hour bus ride from Krakow to the town of Oświęcim, tours of both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II–Birkenau with an excellent English-speaking tour guide, and the return transfer back to Krakow. The whole trip was about 6 hours, including the return bus ride, but includes no food so I would strongly recommend bringing something along with you. Make sure you have a raincoat and umbrella as well because the tour of Auschwitz II–Birkenau is all outdoors.