Concentration Camp Auschwitz-Birkenaufree entry / tour guide fee
The same faith which applies to Oswiecim in Poland (better known under the former German name Auschwitz) is also valid, maybe even more, for Brzezinka. As Birkenau, about one million people were systematically murdered in the gas chambers of the Concentration Camp / Extermination Camp Auschwitzi-Birkenau (or Konzentrationslager / Vernichtungslager Auschwitz-Birkenau in German) during the Nazi regime. The second part of the 3.5 hour tour I took through these horrible places took me to the massively large grounds of the concentration camp, which has been built by the Nazis from scratch. Here is my review.
Auschwitz-Birkenau – Location & Admission
You typically combine a visit at Birkenau with a visit at the Auschwitz Museum. After you visited the main museum in Oswiecim / Auschwitz, free shuttle buses take you to the Birkenau site. You may also go there by car, there is an “official” car park (as there is only one: for a rather high price). I would recommend to take the shuttle if it is not really, really crowded.
The opening times are in line with the Auschwitz Museum. Refer to the review of this site for exact details how the system is working. In general, access to both grounds is free. However, a majority of the time is reserved to guided tours and you pay your guide, organized by the museum. If you try to go for an afternoon time slot without a guide, doing both places in one day is very challenging (especially as Birkenau is really huge).
Auschwitz-Birkenau – The Visit
Before you visit Birkenau, the tour gives you a short break to relax and the time you spent in the shuttle bus. While your time at Auschwitz is about two hours, you have about one hour in the extermination camp – with a significantly larger distance to walk in the same time. Furthermore, the comfortable headset commentary transmission of your first stage does not exist in Birkenau. Thus, I felt that the guided tour visit was significantly more stressful. You initially walk along the fences and the race track to the place where the Selection took place. Our guide also told us what the transport meant to the people (many people died during the trip already).
The guided tour follows the exact route people had to take when they were selected to follow the direction of the rails – or: right into the gas chambers. The people were rather relaxed on that route as the crematories were hidden by trees. Like most wooden barracks, the gas chambers have been deconstructed or destroyed in the last days of Birkenau – the grounds still feature the foundations of wooden barracks and some stone buildings. There were more explanations at the remainings of the gas chamber buildings (you can still reconcile the walking routes). From there, you also also learned how the Nazis got rid of all the human ashes.
Visiting an original barrack
The last stage of the tour was entering an original stone barrack. The very simple beds hosted masses of people, who – again – had to lie on their side to safe space. Seeing the conditions in the barracks, where these people had to work before they died as well, is absolutely breathtaking.
After the tour, I at least took some time to explore one of the few preserved wooden barracks. I just felt too lazy to go back to the very rear of the grounds to take some more pictures of the depressing killing facilities.
Auschwitz-Birkenau – Services
Like at the Auschwitz Museum, there are surprisingly few touristic services around. The main building features a book store. The commercial parking lot seems to have a souvenir store.
Auschwitz Museum – Auschwitz-Birkenau – My recommended Day Trip
In order to make full use of a visit at the concentraction camp grounds, I recommend the following:
- Book a 3.5 hour tour, rather in the morning. Best option is likely to stay in a hotel around before. I have been to the Hampton by Hilton Oswiecim
- The tour will bring you to Birkenau. At the end of that tour, stay on the Birkenau grounds and explore the places you like to see – or just be overwhelmed by the huge size of the never completed mass murder grounds on your own.
- Take back the free shuttle to Auschwitz.
- Based on a non-guided tour ticket, explore some of the temporary and special exhibitions in the Auschwitz Museum grounds.
I do enjoy traveling on my own – but for this special and depressing place, I highly recommend to travel with a mate – you might just feel a strong urge to talk about all the immense cruelties you explored during your visit.
Auschwitz-Birkenau – My View
I was thinking about splitting the two stages of your visit in Oswiecim and Brzezinka in two postings or not. I finally decided to do so – also because your visiting experience in the guided tour is very different. The short time frame tour in Birkenau felt too stressful to me, which I really disliked. I would have loved to spent more time at the former gas chamber sites. You can go back there after your tour, but it is quite a walk back – especially as rushing with your group all the time really exhausted me.
On the other hand, the huge size of Birkenau, the design of the place to be a deadly effective killing machine leads to an impressive visiting experience. As said in my suggested schedule above: don’t do the same mistake I did. Take sufficient time in your schedule after the tour and stay here for at least another hour. It is definitely worth it.
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