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Auschwitz concentration camp is a site that is incredibly painful and difficult to visit. I do believe it is important to visit sites like these in order to remember the atrocities that were committed and to really walk through the grounds themselves and feel the pain and emotion that still lies there.
Today the word Auschwitz has become synonymous with terror, genocide and the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, but at one time this was simply the Polish city of Oswięcim. When the Nazi’s invaded Poland in 1939 they set up the camp and Germanized the town name to Auschwitz. Over the next 5 years they continued to expand the camp which eventually contained 3 parts; Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz.
In the beginning only Polish and Jewish people were imprisoned but eventually the Nazi’s also imprisoned Soviet POWs, Gypsies, and prisoners of other nationalities.
In 1942 the Nazi’s started to carry out their Final Solution plan at Auschwitz-Birkenau in which men, women and children were sent to their deaths in the gas chambers.
At the end of the war, to destroy the evidence of their crimes, the Nazi’s started to dismantle and destroy the gas chambers, crematoria and other buildings, as well as documents.
Auschwitz was finally liberated by the Soviet army on January 27, 1945. Over the years at least 1.1 million people died at Auschwitz (90% of them were Jews) and 1 in 6 Jews killed in the Holocaust died at this camp.
As you walk through the camp it is impossible to truly imagine what went on here day to day for years just 70 years ago. The pain, the suffering that the people endured on a daily, hourly basis is simply unfathomable.
The fact that the prisoners were able to maintain even a shred of hope for the future or for survival is incredible. In the face of such misery and hardship people still had faith, where I imagine I would have lost all sense of faith or hope.
What happened during the Holocaust cannot be forgotten and the faces of these people who went through so much have to be remembered.
We took a public minibus from the main bus station (buses run frequently, ask your hostel or hotel to look up the schedule) which takes about 1.5 hours. Buses on the way back run less frequently so make sure to check the timetable.
If you arrive after 10am you have to pay for a group tour. While some might prefer to walk around on their own, I found the tour to be very interesting and educational.
Plan to spend several hours at the camps, as there are free shuttle buses that run every 15-30 minutes that take you to see Auschwitz-Birkenau camp as well (which is included in the group tour).