Auschwitz is a town’s name (adopted to German) which you typically link with murder, cruelty, state-organized mass killings, injustice. A place which is unfortunately not unique in history, but definitely one of the most depressing ones. I have been to Oswiecim – that’s the Polish name of Auschwitz, a couple of years ago – but I felt, this place should definitely also be featured on Flyctory.com. Thus, I went back to Southern Poland in August 2021. Now, I am sharing my thoughts with you.
KZ Auschwitz Museum – Location & Admission
The former KZ (Konzentrationslager) Auschwitz is located in the Southwest of the Polish city of Oswiecim, which is roughly in the middle between Krakow and Katowice. I would typically recommend to go there by car (rental cars are cheap in Poland and driving is not that bad), but there are also organized tours or you catch a driver. Most of these tours start in Krakow, even though Katowice is slightly closer. There is free parking in front of the museum, but space is rather limited. If you do not visit Auschwitz at a very early time, you will likely end up in one of the moderately priced parking lots around.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum features both places, Auschwitz and the Museum and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Camp (separate posting, see link). Their opening times differs by month, also due to the lack of artificial light, especially in Birkenau. Between June and August (when I visited the place), there are the longest opening times, 8:00 to 19:00 hrs. In December, the museum already closes at 14:00 hrs. You may always stay up to 90 minutes longer than this last admission time.
Admission & Guides
Admission to Auschwitz and Birkenau is generally free. However, the majority of the day is blocked for visitors of guided tours, the guides are arranged by the museum. During my visit, the earliest possible time slot for a non-guided tour free ticket / reservation was 16.00 hrs. Thus, time is limited. The museum suggests to have 90 minutes at each place, I would rather go for two hours in Auschwitz, plus the bus transfer. Guided tours are available in multiple languages, from 2.5 hrs (too short in my point of view) to 3.5 hrs to a six hour study day. Pricing for the guide is generally moderate, but differs by duration of your tour. You may also hire a private guide.
In general, I would recommend to book Auschwitz tickets early, weeks or better months ahead. They sell out quickly. Guides in Auschwitz work with an audio system, so that you can listen to them (even over quite large distances) during your visit by headphone (technology is provided).
KZ Auschwitz Museum – The Visit
The tour starts at the main gate with the famous Arbeit macht frei (“Work is freeing”) words above. Our guide Patrycja was amazing and told us about the camp in very impressive words. The first camp (so: this place) was really thought to be a prison, a concentration camp, where you gather your prisoners and enemies. They may die there due to starvation and other reasons. It has been chosen as there has been a Polish military barrack before. The structure was also not planned – the Nazis just what was there. In contrast to that, Auschwitz-Birkenau was an extermination camp, majorly designed for killing people and built from scratch (this explains why the rails enter the camp and why the route from the trains to the gas chambers is relatively short).
Museum about Auschwitz and Birkenau Cruelties
The Auschwitz Museum does of course illustrate what was happening that place, but also illustrates the cruelties in Auschwitz-Birkenau. For example you learn about the routes on which the the over one million victims have been transported to Auschwitz. You also learn about the selection of people (which just means: selecting the people who are sent into the gas immediately) and get to learn how the gas chamber system did work. You even find old Zyklon B capsules, the biocide which turned into poisonous gas at some 28 degrees.
Sample Belongings of Victims
The most impressive part of the exhibition to me are the former belongings of Auschwitz victims. The most famous part are likely the cut-off hair (majorly female hair, which has then be processed into different products) – this is one of the rare places in which the museum does not allow you to take pictures. A very impressive part is the huge collection of shoes. But there are also glasses, prothesis or suitcases, which even had the name of the people on it. They were told that Birkenau will be their new home – a majority of them lived there just a few hours.
Life at Auschwitz
A very important part of this museum is of course to tell how the prisoners lived in the concentration camp Auschwitz. For example, the guide told us that they had to sleep on one side to safe space. Diarrhea was rather common as well as other infections and illnesses. The prisoners however knew that if they were regarded to be ill, they would likely be killed. Block 11 is the block, where trials again Oswiecim locals have been performed (with hardly any chance to defend yourself) and people have been shot and hanged. The prison cells in the basement were closed due to Covid-19. Photography there is not allowed, as it was nothing but torture and a preparation to be murdered.
Other parts of the visit are the “hospital” (where ill people were typically killed by a lethal injection into the heart and the square where prisoners were counted to ensure nobody fled. The Auschwitz Orchestra shows how well these places were organized: prisoners had to play marches so that prisoners had to walk along in the rhythm of the music. The only rationale for that was that it was easier to count them in rows of five.
The Gas Chamber
The KZ Auschwitz also had a gas chamber – however, the capacity was rather small and too low. Nonetheless, you can walk through the gas chamber and also see the ovens. In front of that place, there is the gallows at which the former lead of the camp, Rudolf Höß, has been hanged after WW2.
There are temporary and special exhibits. These are not part of the 2.5 / 3.5 hour tours. For example, I visited the afternoon before my tour the exhibition block about Russians in Auschwitz (randomly, could have been any other place). I felt that the stuff there was really interesting – the more I would recommend to go for them. More details how I would suggest to spend a day in Oswiecim are in the Auschwitz-Birkenau posting.
KZ Auschwitz Museum – Services
Surprisingly, the list of services at the museum entrance is rather small. There is a snack bar, a small book store, a post office and a money exchange.
After you visited Auschwitz, the second part of your tour heads towards Auschwitz-Birkenau. Buses left every ten minutes during my visit. The transfer is free.I would definitely recommend to go for the bus rather than using the (only one) parking lot at in Brzezinka.
KZ Auschwitz Museum – My View
The visit to Auschwitz was amazing. One huge factor for that was the impressive Patrycja, who did an awesome job explaining the cruelties, but also the “management” of the two cruel places. The organization with the headset is perfect. If you can stand this place mentally, I absolutely recommend to go there. It is one of the most impressive (and most saddening) places I have ever been to.
Nazi Germany Memorials
Here are all places memorizing about the cruelties during the German Nazi leadership:
Flyctory.com in Berlin
Here are all postings related to the German capital: