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AUSCHWITZ ****** MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM On an overcast, gloomy day, with rain pouring from the darkened sky we made ourselves on our way to Auschwitz. The weather seemed very appropriate to set the stage for the horrors we were about to see. The Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau Museum and Memorial is the authentic site of the extermination camp that according to estimates claimed anywhere between 1.1 to 1.5 million lives during World War II, most of them Jewish. If you are interested in a more detailed summary of the Holocaust, please click on the Holocaust Summary link. This is one of the few places that everybody should visit at least once in their lives to understand just how far human beings are willing to go if subjected to enough morally corrupting propaganda. It helps to know the history behind the Holocaust, but even a complete Newbie will quickly grasp the extent of the crimes committed here. I have been researching the subject of Shoah for a very long time now and have acquired quite an expertise in the matters regarding it, but nothing could have actually prepared me for the sheer emotional blow of seeing it with my own eyes, experiencing first-hand what all the victims dealt with in their daily existence. This is a truly powerful and eye-opening Monument to Evil in all its forms; nonetheless it also commemorates such virtues as Perseverance, Heroism and Kindness. I honestly cannot recommend this Museum highly enough. It is the most significant Holocaust Memorial in the world. HISTORY Auschwitz was initially meant to house political prisoners, mostly Polish citizens. It wasn’t until 1942 that it became the center of genocide for the European Jews. In the West the Nazis had to keep up appearances and approached their prisoners in a somewhat humane way. But as soon as those unfortunate captives got deported to Poland they became fair game and were treated with the utmost brutality. The SS saw them not as people, but inferior creatures not worthy of any respect or consideration. Pigs, vermin, bugs, excrement: those were the names associated with them and readily used when addressing a person of Jewish descent. A great majority of the Jews transported here were sent straight to the gas and exterminated on the spot; the ones who were momentarily spared had to die a much slower, crueler death, working for the glory of the Third Reich. Shockingly enough some of the German companies still on the market today used this forced labor to their advantage, namely: BMV, Hugo Boss or Volkswagen. The infamous IG Farben was liquidated after the war and divided into its founding companies: Agfa, BASF, and Bayer. These also operate to this day. The structure and functional aspect of these death factories is a truly remarkable example of efficiency: no part of the murdered victims ever went to waste. Their belongings were stolen, hair shaven off, precious metal fillings extracted, even ashes from the burned bodies served as fertilizer. First experiments involving the methods of mass killing were carried out as early as September 1941 and established Zyklon B as the most promising means of murdering such enormous numbers of people as swiftly as possible. As the whole operation gained momentum, the original concentration camp quickly became too overcrowded and a new one was built in Birkenau. Additionally over 40 smaller labor sub-camps were constructed in the surrounding area to fulfill the ever growing industrial needs of the Nazi Regime. For a detailed description of the dynamics governing the camps as well as the everyday horrors the inmates had to face, please click on the Holocaust Summary link. LOCATION AND TRAVEL Auschwitz (Polish: Oswiecim) is situated about 50 km (31 miles) from Cracow and can be reached in a number of ways. We took the train from the Main Station (PKP) in Cracow (this city served as our base). These run every hour or two and it takes approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to your destination. From the train station in Oswiecim you can take a taxi, a bus or even walk to the camp, which is only 2 km (1.2miles) away. You can also take a bus from the Main Bus Station (PKS) in Cracow, which can be found next to the train station (bus stops outside the camp). Many local travel agencies offer organized tours; most of them will even pick you up from your hotel, supply guides and deliver you back in the evening. However if you do decide to go this route, please remember that you will have to adjust to their schedule and participate in all the activities as a group. Using a train or bus will certainly offer you much more flexibility. TOURING WEBSITE: http://en.auschwitz.org/m/ The Konzentrationslager Museum open to visitors consists of two parts, namely Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). A free shuttle bus runs regularly between these two camps, making it easy to see the unique and gruesome nature of them both. The Memorial attracts thousands of tourists every month and can therefore get rather congested. That’s why most of the time touring takes place in an organized capacity: between 10 am-3 pm (April-October) only guided groups are allowed to enter the grounds of Auschwitz I. The Museum offers tours in several different languages, as well as provides the necessary audio equipment. This form of sightseeing usually takes about 3 hours and involves a visit to both of the camps. Personally I would have much preferred to explore the grounds individually as I often felt rushed, but to be honest I do realize that this modus operandi would result in utter chaos due to the extremely high volume of visitors. After 3 pm everybody may walk about as they please. Photography is permitted in most places; there are however some exceptions you will be informed about in advance. The two camps are quite different in character and I would sincerely recommend spending some time in both of them in order to develop a better understanding of the conditions and challenges the inmates had to deal with. One full day should suffice to acquire a good impression of the Museum, however if you have enough time and want to view everything thoroughly, two days would be the ideal solution. AUSCHWITZ I Auschwitz I with its universally depicted “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Set You Free) gate is very condensed, the main administration buildings and most of the museum’s collections are located here. Various thematically organized exhibits are available for touring and entail the whole tragic history of the Memorial and the countless men, women and children of so many different nations and origins (portrayed in the National Exhibitions), who fell victim to this blood-thirsty Regime. Displayed pieces range from documents, photographs and means of abuse and murder (such as the original Zyklon B canisters) to actual physical objects brought to the camp by deported prisoners. Amongst those you will find eye glasses, suitcases (most of them with names of the owners still written on them), clothing, prostheses, personal hygiene items, kitchen utensils, shoes, religious artifacts, toys and works of art (many of which were created in the actual camp despite such practices being punished most severely). In my opinion the most chilling element of the display features the long, often braided tresses of real hair shaved off the heads of female prisoners to be used for industrial purposes. A genuinely macabre sight, this truly is what nightmares are made of. The exhibits address different Holocaust related subjects such as Extermination, Evidence of Crime, Living Conditions or Life of Prisoners. The lodgings are recreated in close detail and provide an invaluable insight into the personal hell that was Auschwitz. The striped inmate uniforms and the few items they received upon being admitted to the camp (such as bowls or wooden clogs) remind us in what extreme deprivation those people had to endure their fate. Here you can also see the Death Block full of unimaginable tools of torture, where the inmates were kept “in jail”: a prison within a prison, what a bizarre and ironic concept! Even for the constantly Tormented the Nazis continuously succeeded in inventing more and more intricate means of inflicting pain. The Death Wall, where executions were carried out or Gas Chamber I are of particular importance as the prime locations of annihilation within this detention facility. AUSCHWITZ II-BIRKENAU This camp is very vast and concentrates more on demonstrating the physical environment in which the inmates lived and died. Starting with the dreaded unloading ramp where selections took place one bears witness to every level of bestiality those confined here were subjected to. The horrific living quarters (inhabitants were forced to sleep as many as 8 persons to a single bunk) and sanitary appliances (mind you I use this term very loosely) are presented in the original barracks formerly occupied by the prisoners. By touring this particular Memorial you can comprehend to a much greater extent how the whole Nazi machinery functioned, as well as view everything you ever read about regarding these “establishments”: the guard towers, the barbed wire fences, the train tracks or the ruins of the barracks where the plundered goods were sorted (Canada). Birkenau also house a rather large monument designed for the remembrance of those who perished here. As the sun finally decided to grace us with its golden presence we continued exploring. Walking through the green and beautiful grounds it’s so hard to believe that this peaceful, tranquil place was the scene of such indescribable atrocities. The site of the partially destroyed gas chambers and crematoria makes an especially devastating impression. Standing there I really felt the presence of all the hundreds of thousands of people murdered there, sensed the particles of their beings floating around in the air, forever a part of the atmosphere. Anonymous, but never forgotten, honored until the end of time. My favorite exhibition in the whole Museum consisted of boards and boards filled with personal photographs, which miraculously survived the war. Depicted there are entire family trees of Jews murdered during the Holocaust. They gaze at you from those pictures, their whole essence reduced to this one image. It gave me the shivers to look into all those smiling faces, into their twinkly or earnest eyes so full of life. I held my breath as I imagined what these people were like, what made them happy or sad, how they laughed and cried. I swallowed my tears as I pictured how all those vibrant, unique human beings were all extinguished in a matter of a few years. Sometimes a sole member of a family survived, but those were few and far in between. The biggest tragedy: with literally whole bloodlines wiped from the face of the Earth, there was no one to mourn the Dead, no one to remember them. Like they never existed. And the ones portrayed on those snapshots are the lucky ones: generations to come will look at them and acknowledge their place in the whirlwind of history. A lot of the victims, however, remain faceless, nameless, lost forever.  It is up to us to preserve their memory.
 RATING     ****** excellent     ***** very good     ****good     *** average     ** pretty bad     * horrible
NAVIGATION MENU
AUSCHWITZ ****** MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM On an overcast, gloomy day, with rain pouring from the darkened sky we made ourselves on our way to Auschwitz. The weather seemed very appropriate to set the stage for the horrors we were about to see. The Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau Museum and Memorial is the authentic site of the extermination camp that according to estimates claimed anywhere between 1.1 to 1.5 million lives during World War II, most of them Jewish. If you are interested in a more detailed summary of the Holocaust, please click on the Holocaust Summary  link. This is one of the few places that everybody should visit at least once in their lives to understand just how far human beings are willing to go if subjected to enough morally corrupting propaganda. It helps to know the history behind the Holocaust, but even a complete Newbie will quickly grasp the extent of the crimes committed here. I have been researching the subject of Shoah for a very long time now and have acquired quite an expertise in the matters regarding it, but nothing could have actually prepared me for the sheer emotional blow of seeing it with my own eyes, experiencing first-hand what all the victims dealt with in their daily existence. This is a truly powerful and eye-opening Monument to Evil in all its forms; nonetheless it also commemorates such virtues as Perseverance, Heroism and Kindness. I honestly cannot recommend this Museum highly enough. It is the most significant Holocaust Memorial in the world. HISTORY Auschwitz was initially meant to house political prisoners, mostly Polish citizens. It wasn’t until 1942 that it became the center of genocide for the European Jews. In the West the Nazis had to keep up appearances and approached their prisoners in a somewhat humane way. But as soon as those unfortunate captives got deported to Poland they became fair game and were treated with the utmost brutality. The SS saw them not as people, but inferior creatures not worthy of any respect or consideration. Pigs, vermin, bugs, excrement: those were the names associated with them and readily used when addressing a person of Jewish descent. A great majority of the Jews transported here were sent straight to the gas and exterminated on the spot; the ones who were momentarily spared had to die a much slower, crueler death, working for the glory of the Third Reich. Shockingly enough some of the German companies still on the market today used this forced labor to their advantage, namely: BMV, Hugo Boss or Volkswagen. The infamous IG Farben was liquidated after the war and divided into its founding companies: Agfa, BASF, and Bayer. These also operate to this day. The structure and functional aspect of these death factories is a truly remarkable example of efficiency: no part of the murdered victims ever went to waste. Their belongings were stolen, hair shaven off, precious metal fillings extracted, even ashes from the burned bodies served as fertilizer. First experiments involving the methods of mass killing were carried out as early as September 1941 and established Zyklon B as the most promising means of murdering such enormous numbers of people as swiftly as possible. As the whole operation gained momentum, the original concentration camp quickly became too overcrowded and a new one was built in Birkenau. Additionally over 40 smaller labor sub-camps were constructed in the surrounding area to fulfill the ever growing industrial needs of the Nazi Regime. For a detailed description of the dynamics governing the camps as well as the everyday horrors the inmates had to face, please click on the Holocaust Summary link. LOCATION AND TRAVEL Auschwitz (Polish: Oswiecim) is situated about 50 km (31 miles) from Cracow and can be reached in a number of ways. We took the train from the Main Station (PKP) in Cracow (this city served as our base). These run every hour or two and it takes approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to your destination. From the train station in Oswiecim you can take a taxi, a bus or even walk to the camp, which is only 2 km (1.2miles) away. You can also take a bus from the Main Bus Station (PKS) in Cracow, which can be found next to the train station (bus stops outside the camp). Many local travel agencies offer organized tours; most of them will even pick you up from your hotel, supply guides and deliver you back in the evening. However if you do decide to go this route, please remember that you will have to adjust to their schedule and participate in all the activities as a group. Using a train or bus will certainly offer you much more flexibility. TOURING WEBSITE: http://en.auschwitz.org/m/ The Konzentrationslager Museum open to visitors consists of two parts, namely Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). A free shuttle bus runs regularly between these two camps, making it easy to see the unique and gruesome nature of them both. The Memorial attracts thousands of tourists every month and can therefore get rather congested. That’s why most of the time touring takes place in an organized capacity: between 10 am-3 pm (April- October) only guided groups are allowed to enter the grounds of Auschwitz I. The Museum offers tours in several different languages, as well as provides the necessary audio equipment. This form of sightseeing usually takes about 3 hours and involves a visit to both of the camps. Personally I would have much preferred to explore the grounds individually as I often felt rushed, but to be honest I do realize that this modus operandi would result in utter chaos due to the extremely high volume of visitors. After 3 pm everybody may walk about as they please. Photography is permitted in most places; there are however some exceptions you will be informed about in advance. The two camps are quite different in character and I would sincerely recommend spending some time in both of them in order to develop a better understanding of the conditions and challenges the inmates had to deal with. One full day should suffice to acquire a good impression of the Museum, however if you have enough time and want to view everything thoroughly, two days would be the ideal solution. AUSCHWITZ I Auschwitz I with its universally depicted “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Set You Free) gate is very condensed, the main administration buildings and most of the museum’s collections are located here. Various thematically organized exhibits are available for touring and entail the whole tragic history of the Memorial and the countless men, women and children of so many different nations and origins (portrayed in the National Exhibitions), who fell victim to this blood-thirsty Regime. Displayed pieces range from documents, photographs and means of abuse and murder (such as the original Zyklon B canisters) to actual physical objects brought to the camp by deported prisoners. Amongst those you will find eye glasses, suitcases (most of them with names of the owners still written on them), clothing, prostheses, personal hygiene items, kitchen utensils, shoes, religious artifacts, toys and works of art (many of which were created in the actual camp despite such practices being punished most severely). In my opinion the most chilling element of the display features the long, often braided tresses of real hair shaved off the heads of female prisoners to be used for industrial purposes. A genuinely macabre sight, this truly is what nightmares are made of. The exhibits address different Holocaust related subjects such as Extermination, Evidence of Crime, Living Conditions or Life of Prisoners. The lodgings are recreated in close detail and provide an invaluable insight into the personal hell that was Auschwitz. The striped inmate uniforms and the few items they received upon being admitted to the camp (such as bowls or wooden clogs) remind us in what extreme deprivation those people had to endure their fate. Here you can also see the Death Block full of unimaginable tools of torture, where the inmates were kept “in jail”: a prison within a prison, what a bizarre and ironic concept! Even for the constantly Tormented the Nazis continuously succeeded in inventing more and more intricate means of inflicting pain. The Death Wall, where executions were carried out or Gas Chamber I are of particular importance as the prime locations of annihilation within this detention facility. AUSCHWITZ II- BIRKENAU This camp is very vast and concentrates more on demonstrating the physical environment in which the inmates lived and died. Starting with the dreaded unloading ramp where selections took place one bears witness to every level of bestiality those confined here were subjected to. The horrific living quarters (inhabitants were forced to sleep as many as 8 persons to a single bunk) and sanitary appliances (mind you I use this term very loosely) are presented in the original barracks formerly occupied by the prisoners. By touring this particular Memorial you can comprehend to a much greater extent how the whole Nazi machinery functioned, as well as view everything you ever read about regarding these “establishments”: the guard towers, the barbed wire fences, the train tracks or the ruins of the barracks where the plundered goods were sorted (Canada). Birkenau also house a rather large monument designed for the remembrance of those who perished here. As the sun finally decided to grace us with its golden presence we continued exploring. Walking through the green and beautiful grounds it’s so hard to believe that this peaceful, tranquil place was the scene of such indescribable atrocities. The site of the partially destroyed gas chambers and crematoria makes an especially devastating impression. Standing there I really felt the presence of all the hundreds of thousands of people murdered there, sensed the particles of their beings floating around in the air, forever a part of the atmosphere. Anonymous, but never forgotten, honored until the end of time. My favorite exhibition in the whole Museum consisted of boards and boards filled with personal photographs, which miraculously survived the war. Depicted there are entire family trees of Jews murdered during the Holocaust. They gaze at you from those pictures, their whole essence reduced to this one image. It gave me the shivers to look into all those smiling faces, into their twinkly or earnest eyes so full of life. I held my breath as I imagined what these people were like, what made them happy or sad, how they laughed and cried. I swallowed my tears as I pictured how all those vibrant, unique human beings were all extinguished in a matter of a few years. Sometimes a sole member of a family survived, but those were few and far in between. The biggest tragedy: with literally whole bloodlines wiped from the face of the Earth, there was no one to mourn the Dead, no one to remember them. Like they never existed. And the ones portrayed on those snapshots are the lucky ones: generations to come will look at them and acknowledge their place in the whirlwind of history. A lot of the victims, however, remain faceless, nameless, lost forever.  It is up to us to preserve their memory.
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