Going to Krakow means that you have to have one day to go to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Somewhere 60 kilometers from Krakow, you can easily get there by bus from the main bus station.
As the official website says, in order to take in the grounds and exhibitions in a suitable way, visitors should set aside a minimum of about 90 minutes for the Auschwitz site and the same amount of time for Auschwitz II-Birkenau. It is essential to visit both parts of the camp, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, in order to acquire a proper sense of the place that has become the symbol of the Holocaust as well as Nazi crimes against Poles, Romas and other groups.
Auschwitz I was the first camp opened by the Nazi, where they had the first experiments, where they tortured and killed the first prisoners, but also where all most of the SS offices were located.
Birkenau is the place where all the mass exterminations took place. Being the largest concentration camp, here were killed over one million Jews. Birkenau still has the wooden barracks where prisoners were kept and ruins of the gas chambers and the crematoria.
Visiting the camp is done only with a guide. Although at the beginning we were a bit disappointed that we had to go with a group and not take our time to explore everything, in the end this was actually a good thing. The guides are people from the area who know what happened, they have inside stories and they give you a very clear view, quite neutral, of what happened in the camp during the Nazi occupation. They offer plenty of information and details, they answer every question you have and they are very well trained on the subject.
The guided tour takes about 4 hours in total (for both concentration camps) and you get the chance to see not only the buildings where most of the atrocities happened (torture cells, gas chambers, barracks), but also the belonging of the prisoners, photos, the way they were living in the camp, their daily routines.
All around the camps there are plaques with historical information, mentioning important scenes or events from the life of the people imprisoned there.
If you really want to understand what the Nazi occupation meant and what a concentration camp did, this is the place to find out all you want to know. From how people where brought there, how the SS officers decided who can live and who should die, what they ate, how they were punished, which were the camp rules, which were the prisoners rights (none actually), which were the living conditions (if they can be called conditions), everything you need to know, is here.
There were some shocking images we saw during the visit, that made me shiver, only thinking about the cruelty that happened in Auschwitz. All the belonging were taken away, everyone was shaved. There is one room, where we couldn’t take any photos, full with human hair, used to make blankets. Rooms with shoes, clothing, glasses, combs, everything people had when they got to the camps.
As I mentioned before, the tour takes about 4 hours for both camps and the entry fee is 40 zlots (about 10 EUR). Before the visit begins, you will see a 10 minutes documentary on Auschwitz. The Memorial site is opened from April until October, being closed for the rest of the year. Easy to get to the camp from Krakow as there are frequent buses leaving from the main bus station and stopping right in front of the Memorial Site. Consider taking one full day for visiting Auschwitz.
The official website has all the necessary information, so feel free to consult it.
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