Auschwitz-Birkenau – An Important Experience

Heartbreaking but Necessary – What Makes Auschwitz-Birkenau an Important Experience?

The railway entry at Birkenau

Amongst all of the places in the world, Auschwitz-Birkenau is an incredibly important experience and one of the most impactful locations possible to visit. It is incredibly difficult to write about, and even more difficult to visit. But I believe it is an absolutely necessary experience for anybody.

The Auschwitz Concentration Camp stands right at the centre of one of human kinds lowest and most horrific times. Visiting this site is an opportunity to pay respect to the significant number of human beings that were held captive, mistreated and murdered here.

It also provides an insight into the horrors that people experienced on a mass level. This is deeply important for gaining understanding into the human suffering that occurred, empathising with the longstanding effects of such extravagant events, and improving the wider perspective on how to prevent such mass suffering from continuing to occur presently and into the future.

Preparing for Your Visit.

Historical Insight

World War 2 is regarded as one of the most historically significant and darkest times in human history. Auschwitz-Birkenau or Auschwitz Concentration Camp was the largest and most recognised death camp used by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

Originally conceived in the South of Poland in 1939 as a concentration camp for war prisoners, politicians and activists. By 1941, Auschwitz extended to become Auschwitz- Birkenau and converted to the largest and most notorious of the death camps, primarily used for the genocide of European Jews and other minority groups during the holocaust. Of the more than 1.3 million people sent to the camp during the war, it is estimated that more than 1.1 million were murdered at this site.

Knowing the full extent of the history of this location isn’t necessary before you go. As you will learn and feel it in depth during your visit. But as a notion of respect and understanding, I would strongly suggest gaining some basic knowledge before you go.

Inside the gates at Auschwitz Camp 1

NOT a Tourist Attraction

The next important point to take note of before attending, is that this is a deeply emotional location that hosted truly horrible and devastating events. Treating it that way is a necessity. This is not a fun day out. This is not a time for chatting and joking with friends. Most definitely not a place for selfies and group photos.

Tragic events of this scale ripple through many generations and are still deeply impactful on millions of people alive today. Treating this place with basic discretion and the utmost respect is very important.

It is also worth taking note that for most visitors, this is a very tough and emotionally draining experience. Aim not to plan too much around your visit, as it requires some heavy processing afterward.

Planning Your Trip

Auschwitz-Birkenau is located around 70km (44 miles) from the Polish city of Krakow. A beautiful small city, rich in history and full of character. If you’re going to visit Auschwitz, Krakow is by far the best place to stay. It is the most convenient place to stay as well as being a gorgeous city that is well worth the visit on it’s own.

From Krakow, there is a variety of options for both transport and time spent on site. For transport there is shuttle buses, public buses or private transport such as Uber. It is also worth noting that there is a 5-10 minute shuttle bus between area 1 and 2 which needs to be organised additionally. Once you are there you can join a guided tour, organise a private guide or self guided entry (only available on certain days/times.)

I would highly recommend saving the organisational hassle and booking a tour that is all inclusive. With this option, your transfers to and from Krakow, shuttle between sites, entry tickets and informational guide are all covered. On a very emotionally draining and difficult day trip, you will certainly be thankful for not requiring any organisation.

There is plenty of these available through a range of online platforms, at your accommodation reception, or at a tours office in town. As Poland is a relatively inexpensive country, tours are also very affordable. Averaging a cost of around 150 polish zloty ($51 AUD/ $34 USD/ £28 GBP) for the full day tour and transfers.

The historic old town of Krakow.

Some Impactful Factors to Expect From Your Visit.

The Power of People

Many people involved with guiding and operating both the memorial site and museum, have direct links to holocaust survivors. My guide was the relative of an Auschwitz survivor. His explanation of the impact it still has on himself and his own family today is seriously moving. These incredible people work within the sites of their own families horrors, all in the effort to inform the people of the terrible things that occurred there, the impact that these events have in the long term and working to prevent them from ever happening again. Having the privilege to encounter these kinds of people at all is hugely inspiring.

During your tour you will learn about many of the important people that took a stand during their time at the camp, despite considerable odds against them. The bravery displayed and the obstacles overcome by so many to survive. Learning about some of the bravest people in history fighting against true injustice is incredibly inspiring as well as completely heart wrenching.

Contrasting this, also learning about some of the truly horrific people and their unforgivable crimes is hard information to swallow. In the grand timeline of humankind, these events only occurring 80 year ago is terrifyingly recent. And trying to comprehend how anyone could ever treat another human with such unthinkable injustice is hard.

The Harrowing Stories

The stories that you learn of from this place are deeply haunting. Not only hearing these stories, but feeling them. Walking through the entrance gate, visiting the living quarters & stepping foot inside the gas chambers. Real places, real experiences, lived by real people. It’s over stimulating and hard to process just as a visitor all these years later. The feelings and the terror that the people that were forced to live these experiences must have felt, is impossible to even begin to imagine.

The museum is packed with a plethora of powerful information and stories, but one of the most impactful parts is the display of items left behind. To show the sheer number of victims affected, the museum has preserved hundreds of thousands of victims personal items. Shoes, luggage, clothes, homeware, left by the thousands, found during the liberation of the camp in 1945. All of these items, each representing a victim, representing their story and the horrors that they suffered through.

“The Death Wall” where thousands of people were executed.

A Humbling Experience

The entire visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau is a very difficult day and an incredibly humbling experience. It is certainly not pleasant or positive in any capacity, but in my opinion, is completely necessary. The well organised memorial combined with the people and guides involved, perfectly displays the significance of what occurred at Auschwitz while paying full respect to those who suffered there.

Additionally to the opportunity to pay respect to millions of lives unfairly taken, and to learn about the importance of eliminating prejudice and hatred. The experience is also immensely perspective driving. On a selfish level, one day at this memorial site is enough of a reminder to be appreciative of daily life and not to take anything for granted. The atrocities that confronted the victims are a constant reminder of the insignificance of modern day problems.

How to Handle the Experience After Your Visit.

Processing Time

Seeing Auschwitz-Birkenau is an important experience, but is an emotional and vastly impactful affair for anyone. Learning in depth about the shocking events that transpired is more than enough to take a toll. So allowing yourself appropriate processing time after your visit is a smart idea. Try not to plan too much after your day, a social night out or dinner in town is more than likely to be your last preference afterwards.

Obviously everybody has different ways of managing, so trust your instinct and do what suits best individually. Unpacking impactful days like this should be managed in a similar way to looking after your mental health while travelling. Personally, in my experience, and from interacting with other travellers who have been privileged enough to encounter the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial, 2 of the best ways to process are:

  • Solo Down Time – Take some time alone to digest your encounter. Try doing some more reading or journaling. Reflect on the moments that resonated with you the most and try to unpack as much as possible.
  • Discussion & Reflection – Interact with your friends or other travellers who have shared this experience. Comparing perspectives and sharing what was taken from the experience is a great way to express your feelings as well as learn about the views of others

This is never a simple topic and by far the most difficult article I have written to date. Hopefully the expression of my perspective is beneficial and can help to convey why visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau is an important experience. If you have been to Auschwitz or would like to visit and pay your respect, the door is always open for your thoughts in the comments or my inbox!

8 thoughts on “Auschwitz-Birkenau – An Important Experience”

  1. Just reading your post bought tears to my eyes thinking of all those innocent souls, who’s families and loved ones were torn apart by such cruel and sickening acts. Thankyou for sharing

  2. Well written Liam! Can’t even begin to imagine what the feeling would be like and no doubt an eye-opening experience for all who have visited. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  3. Hey Liam, I thoroughly enjoyed the blog about Auschwitz-Birkenau. The would have been a tour you will never forget. When do we read about your visit to Hungary? A place dear to my heart.
    Keep making the memories!! Tony

  4. Beautifully written Liam
    Your have respected and honoured the people who were traumatised and murdered during this horrific historical period.

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