Visiting Auschwitz, the Nazi horror camps

This week I finally ticked off another one of my Erasmus’ goals, visiting Auschwitz!

If you are expecting something extremely depressing (though that would be just really odd), I highly recommend you to visit these camps during Winter, as in Spring most likely only the museum and stories will shock you. To be honest, I felt like the place is a bit too “tourist oriented“. All trees are perfectly shaped, the grass is perfectly cut and everything looks in great condition. I even saw people eating on the grass like if they were having a picnic… Very disrespectful from my point of view though…

Auschwitz II - Birkenau
Auschwitz II – Birkenau

Auschwitz I, the main center, was where all the head staff was based, even though this was more an administrative center, it was also where most of the horrifying tortures took place. We saw a documentary here with real images from the liberation, and how they were found… This was probably the part where I felt more uncomfortable with, seeing how some children were found after being tortured… Not for the not for faint of heart…

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For Auschwitz I you don’t need a guide, there are information everywhere explaining everything, and if I am not mistaken, you can get in free of charge to all buildings. Though, since I always had the guide, I could be wrong with this. For Auschwitz II – Birkenau, you really need a guide, which will explain to you every single detail of those horror camps.

About Auschwitz II, my experience was totally different, and way more realistic…, even though it was Spring and everything was green, there was no mown grass alike Auschwitz I. I was a bit shocked (not to stay disappointed) with what I saw, with an area so tourist-oriented. Though, it is a place that will touch everyone’s heart and soul.

Visiting Auschwitz, the Nazi camps of death
Visiting Auschwitz, the Nazi camps of death

I took a long while to visit Auschwitz, while I was living in Germany, but the fact that I learnt some german prior to that, it kind of helped me to understand some parts of it, for example, what was written on the walls of the horse stables (where the prisoners used to sleep). Understand some of those things gave me chills…

I also did a short stop in Krakow, where I met by chance some of my Erasmus’ friends from Dresden, also visiting the city. It was a really nice surprise 🙂 And about the city? I barely had time to visit it, maybe I’ll come back another day 🙂

DISCLAIMER: This is the translation of an old article published long time ago. My perception about these events changed considerably, and I tried to keep my opinions as neutral as possible, without going out of the original article. I wrote it with a total different mindset back then.

How to get to Auschwitz?

The best way might really be using a tour, you’ll have everything included and everything organized for you. Krakow is the closest city, so I recommend to book accommodation there, and then just go with a tour to Auschwitz.

If you want to go on your own, you can either go by bus or by train. The town where Auschwitz is is called Oświęcim, the pronunciation is very similar to Auschwitz, it seems that the Germans didn’t know how to pronounce it properly, hence the name Auschwitz…

You can either take a train or go by bus to Oświęcim, the connections from Krakow are really good.

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By Gil Sousa

Portuguese expat in Cork, traveler and food enthusiastic.

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