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Bear Witness to Genocide at Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Published by Bill Lehane, Writer

Country: Poland

The Experience

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people come to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland to pay homage to the one million people that died there. Indeed, some believe that the visit is an essential rite of passage lest humanity ever overlook this most unforgettable moment in history.

An official UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum is made up of two camps in which virtually every stone is untouched, and all areas are open to visitors.

The first camp, Auschwitz I, is where you will find the famous 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Work Makes Us Free) sign that prisoners walked under on their way to and from enforced labour at the camp. Here you can see the site of the execution yard where individual prisoners were placed in front of a reinforced wall and shot to death.

The museum of the first Auschwitz concentration camp also houses very large numbers of belongings that were taken from victims. Suitcases, household utensils and even shoes were stockpiled by the Nazis. One especially harrowing display case that stretches almost 100 ft. long is filled to the top with human hair which was gathered both before and after victims were killed.

The second camp, Auschwitz II, better known as Birkenau, was where the bulk of the Holocaust horror took place. A staggering 960,000 Jews, 150,000 Poles, and 23,000 Gypsies were exterminated at this killing factory; mostly with Zyklon B industrial gas. The holding areas, crematoria and gas chambers can all be visited at this Auschwitz concentration camp, but be aware that they are extremely distressing even if you feel well prepared for the visit.

Among the captives at the Auschwitz concentration camp was 15-year-old Anne Frank, famous the world over for her diary about living with her family in hidden rooms behind an office in Amsterdam to escape persecution. Her story is just one of more than a million tragedies tied to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Transported to the camp in September 1944, Anne was forced to strip for disinfection, had her head shaved and a number tattooed on her arm before she was put into enforced labour. If she had been just a few months younger, she would have been gassed upon arrival like all children under the age of fifteen were.

Anne was later transferred to another concentration camp named Bergen-Belsen where she died along with her sister during a typhoid outbreak. This was just weeks before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops on 27 January 1945. This date is now marked each year as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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When to Go to Auschwitz Camp

The most practical way to see the Auschwitz concentration camp is to stay in the city of Krakow (one of the prettiest in Poland) and travel to the camp from there. The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum is located 30 miles away on the outskirts of a small town named Oswiecim. You can either get a 90-minute train from Krakow to Oswiecim and then catch a local bus, or get a bus directly to Auschwitz from Krakow. Krakow's main train and bus stations are located on the same site.

Odds n' Ends

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum is open every day of the year except Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Easter Sunday. Given that it is visited by 700,000 people annually, consider travelling to the Auschwitz concentration camp in the off-peak seasons, such as spring or fall, when hotels also offer lower rates. Krakow's tourism office recommends not taking anyone under 14 years of age to the Museum.

There are several food outlets selling cafe-style and fast food around the edges of the Museum site. These are useful for anyone out for a full-day tour.

Carpe Diem! Book to do this experience now!

Auschwitz-Birkenau is the best-known cemetery and place of genocide in the world. Started in 1940 as a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners, in 1942 ...
Starting from $41.70 per person.

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