The Museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau is the most visited museum in Poland, with millions of visitors coming from all over the world. It’s not necessary to explain how Auschwitz is different from other destinations. Passing through the infamous gate with “Arbeitmachtfrei” across the top, we pass into a zone of quiet reflection about the nature of evil and the dark side of humanity. Visiting Auschwitz is not only about paying respect to its victims, but attempting to understand the scale of what transpired here.
Auschwitz Tours – The museum exhibit
Creating the visitor experience at Auschwitz was a unique challenge. How were the creators of the exhibit supposed to approach this task? What they produced strongly relies on the spaces and structures as well as other material traces of camp life. This is supplemented by photographic documentation of various stages of the prisoners’ lives. Bear in mind that the Auschwitz Museum is comprised of two parts and Auschwitz tours start on the older of the two, known as Auschwitz I, where pre-war barracks were used to establish what began as a prison for Polish political prisoners. The second part, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, was completed in 1942 as an extermination facility for Jews from Poland and elsewhere in Europe. It is located about 2km from Auschwitz I and this is typically where Auschwitz tours end.
Read More about: Visiting Auschwitz and organized Auschwitz Tours
At the start of the tour, guests learn the historical context of the Nazi atrocities committed in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. The exhibit in Block 4 presents how the machinery of the the Holocaust operated as well as the evolution of the ideology that produced it. One of the most moving displays is a collection of empty Zyklon B containers that were used to administer death in the gas chambers. The next stop is Block 5, where huge amounts of personal effects confiscated from prisoners are displayed – eyeglasses, prosthetics, suitcases, shoes, children’s clothing. The amount on display is testimony to the scale of the murder of innocents here. The following parts of the exhibit are dedicated to presenting the daily life of prisoners in the camp and the conditions they endured, with reconstructions of furnished rooms where prisoners lived. We can see what they ate, how they slept and how they generally functioned over the course of their lives. Seeing the so-called “Block of Death”, the camp jail, is an unforgettable experience. The name speaks for itself – this was where sentences were carried out against those condemned in “trials” for various offences against the authorities. Visits to Auschwitz I end at the gas chambers and crematorium.
Auschwitz II-Birkenau is an enormous spaces filled to the horizon with barracks and the remains of the gas chambers and crematoria. Visitors enter by the iconic rail line that passes through the main gate of the camp.
Also at Birkenau are the preserved shower facilities, which have been transformed into a moving exhibit documenting the lives lost here.
Seeing Auschwitz with a guide
Many visitors to Krakow use their stay as an occasion to make a day trip to Auschwitz. You will find information about Auschwitz tours at http://guide-krakow.com/auschwitz-tours/ along with details about how to visit with your own private guide. The trip includes transportation, the guide and a documentary film about Auschwitz during the ride from Krakow. Please be sure check the regulations of the museum, particularly dress codes and security measures that do not allow bags larger than size A4.
Visiting Auschwitz is a unique experience and is not for everyone. Preparation, practical and otherwise, with the appropriate materials and perhaps some reflection will put you in the best state of mind for your time there.