- What was Auschwitz?
- What happened at Auschwitz?
- Tour at Auschwitz-Birkenau
- Entrance Tickets
- How to get there
What was Auschwitz?
Originally, Auschwitz was conceived as a detention center for Polish anti-Nazi activists, politicians, etc. who were arrested when Germany took control over the country in 1939.
The Nazis were a mass movement in Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, who promoted anti-semitism.
Hitler was determined that his problem would only be solved with the elimination of all Jewish people. Thus, the “Final Solution” was introduced, deporting all Jews to concentration camps, along with artists, educators, Gypsies, Romas, homosexuals, and the handicapped, who lived in Germany and countries annexed by the Nazis. An enormous list of countries including Hungary, Poland, The Netherlands, France, Italy, and so on! (See list)
What happened at Auschwitz?
By the 1940s, Jews were living in Ghettos and believed they were being moved to get a second chance and a new start. Each person was allowed to take a suitcase up to 25 kg, before boarding a train to an unknown destination. As many as 150 people were forced into a cattle car, with just one toilet, and no food or water; terrible when you consider that the length of the train journeys were between 4 to 10 days!
Gas chambers at Auschwitz
Arriving at Auschwitz, after a horrible ride, people were dirty and needed to clean up in the showers. The secret selection by the guards split the people into groups. Those considered unfit for work, including young children, pregnant women, and the elderly, were ordered to take showers. Unfortunately, these showers were actually gas chambers. Afterwards, their bodies were burned in crematory ovens.
“75% of each transport to Auschwitz were killed when arriving and showering.”
Auschwitz had the ideal location for Hitler’s mass extermination plan. Firstly, it was situated at the center of all German-occupied countries, and secondly, its good connection to train lines made it easy to transport the detainees.
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A tour at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Nowadays, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau) have been turned into a museum; a memorial to those who lost their lives.
Whilst visiting, the first thing visible is the gates with the infamous sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“work sets you free”). This was something that was told to everyone who entered Auschwitz. The unfortunate truth was: most never got out; in fact, less than 10% who walked through the gates survived.
Suitcases, shoes and hair
Some of the prison blocks are restored in order to display the evidence, such as personal belongings and pictures found at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
When the Soviet Union liberated the camp in 1945, they found starving prisoners, together with horrifying evidence that displayed the scale of the operations in Auschwitz.
For example, millions of clothing items, and other attributes, such as jewelry and suitcases that belonged to men, women, and children. Additionally, the Red Army discovered 6,350kg of human hair because prisoners were shaved and their hair was then used to produce textiles.
Discover more in our: 2-week travel guide through Poland
The gas chambers are part of the tour
At Auschwitz I, you will have the opportunity to enter a gas chamber and get up very close to the place where many lives were taken. It is requested to pass through the chambers in complete silence as a respect to the people who lost their lives here.
Birkenau (Auschwitz II)
The tour continues after a short transit bus ride from Auschwitz I to Birkenau (Auschwitz II). Auschwitz is more of a museum, whereas Birkenau is a memorial. Birkenau is where the majority of the killings took place, where the Nazis industrialized death.
The railway track runs through the middle of the site. This is where prisoners would have arrived from all over Europe, before being led directly into one of the four gas chambers to ‘shower’. Others who were fit to work slept in the barracks: horse-stable-looking barracks with bunk beds, where prisoners were packed together.
Destroying evidence at Birkenau
The Nazis destroyed most of Birkenau’s buildings to hide the evidence when the Red Army approached in 1945. Now, you can still see those collapsed buildings where the gas chambers once stood.
Tickets Auschwitz – Birkenhau Tour
You have a couple of tour options at Auschwitz but remember to book your tickets way in advance! Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is open daily from 8 AM. These are your tour options:
1 – Guided tour
A guided tour is a must at Auschwitz to fully understand its history. You can join a 3.5-hour tour in your language and hear the story being told via a headset. This allows you to still wander around a little bit and not have to stick with your guide for every second of the tour. The 3.5-hour guided tour costs 75 ZL (16.5 EUR) and includes the transit bus between Auschwitz and Birkenau. Because of its popularity, it is required to book well in advance.
Usually, we’re not fans of guided tours, but in this case, it gave us an incredible amount of insight.
Book your tour easily online here.
2 – Complete tour including transport from Krakow
You will likely be staying in Krakow during your visit to Auschwitz. A complete organized tour, including transport from Krakow (1.5h one-way), is the easiest option. Prices for these tours start at 30 EUR.
3 – Self guided free tour
If you’re on a tight budget, you will be able to purchase a free ticket on the Auschwitz website without a guide. However, be aware that these tickets are only for timeslots in the afternoon.
Are pictures allowed at Auschwitz?
Yes, you are allowed to take pictures. Just remember to disable your flash, as this might harm the items displayed.
How long is the tour at Auschwitz?
The tour at Auschwitz-Birkenau is 3.5 hours. However, if you’re coming from Krakow, you should add another 3 hours for transportation.
How to get at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is around 1.5-hour from Krakow. There are a few options for getting there.
By organized tour
The easiest option is obviously by organized tour. The tour generally takes 7 hours, including 3 hours of driving. Book your tour easily online here.
By public transport
The train from Krakow Glowny station to Oswiecim takes around 2 hours and 20 min and costs 16 ZL (3.5 EUR). Oswiecim’s station is about 2 KM from Auschwitz; you can get on a local bus or walk.
Alternatively, take the train from Krakow to Krzeszowice and switch to the bus towards Oswiecim. This journey should take 2 hours in total.
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I visited in the summer of 2016; it was truly a moving experience. My grandparents came from Poland to the United States in 1912 where the settled in New Jersey. As I toured the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial I couldn’t help wonder if any of my family were there. It broke my heart and still brings me to tears when I think of this place. I am making a return trip in 2022 with my nieces; this is one place I want to bring them to. It is so important to never forge.