Newest Review: ... particularly expensive. They show you a video on the way. You can learn about the Holocaust at school or on TV but nothing really makes it... more
Last Stop on the Road to Prejudice.
Member Name: Praskipark
Advantages: Makes you Realise how Precious Lfe is and that most of our Problems are Insignificant
Disadvantages: Emotionally Challenging and Perhaps too Much for Some People
Auschwitz has become a symbol of the Holocaust and Nazi war crimes as a whole. Contrary to popular opinion, it was not the deadliest of the Nazi death camps. Its fame is in part due to the inmates, including writers like Tadeuz Borowski (1922 - 51) and Elie Weisel (b. 1928), who survived to tell their grisly tale. However, Auschwitz - Birkenau combined all the different functions of the Nazi camps: prisoner-of-war camp, concentration camp, work camp and death camp.
Although the exact numbers are not known, the vast majority of the camp's victims were indubitably there simply because thy were Jews. Auschwitz, however, also held many other inmates: gypsies, communists, homosexuals, Polish intellectuals and political prisoners, as well as Soviet prisoners of war.
Soviet soldiers were the first to be killed with Zyklon B in experimental gas chambers. Later, the gas was mostly used on Jewish victims. Many who survived the gas chambers were shot, starved, worked to death, experimented on or otherwise killed by the harsh conditions in the camp. Most historians believe that 1.1 and 1.5 million prisoners were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Nazi camp operated from 1940 when the first transport of Polish political prisoners arrived. At first Poles were imprisoned and then died there but from 1942 Auschwitz became a site of mass murder committed against the European Jews as part of the Nazi plan to completely destroy them. The site was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945.
The museum includes two sections of the camps: the brick buildings at Auschwitz 1 (mostly for political prisoners and prisoners of war) and the immense concentration and death camp at Auschwitz 11 - Birkenau (mostly for Jews and gypsies). To visit both camps will take several hours and is obviously a day's visit. In the Summer, a bus runs between both sites. I recommend you visit the Auschwitz museum before Birkenau as the former explains the history of the two camps. Also, watch the short documentary film first which can be viewed in a cinema near the main entrance. It gives an insight into events leading up to the culmination of the worst crime ever committed in the twentieth century.
The camp, although it has been sanitised is still is very haunting.The buildings and wooden barracks are as unchanged as possible but are deteriorating as they were built on marshy land and they are actually slowly sinking. The whole site has a very cold, dark, eerie feeling. Every time I have visited it is has always been calm but I am sure those freezing winds did blow. There is a deadly stillness with no bird life yet there are trees close by. You have to remember that this was a camp of death and the people who died here had no dignity. There was no escape for most of those people - but once seen and having paid my respects I can walk away.
Without going into to much detail you are able to view the surviving prison blocks, the gas chambers and the crematorium. As you walk through the death gate at Birkenau you will feel like you are walking into the last place in hell. The fences alone are enough to give you the creeps and what I find really strange is that today, in Warsaw, every new block of flats that is being built has these fenced areas with security guards. It's madness - after their history why on earth would they choose to live like prisoners.
As the Red Army approached in 1945, the Germans blew up the buildings which housed the gas ovens and fled. Protective and renovation work has been going on for quite a while now to restore them back to how they were so that future generations are able to witness the destruction and horrifying examples of man's behaviour.The work should be completed by the end of 2008. The Polish Government feel it is important to restore these chambers as they constitute some of the most important material evidence of the Holocaust.
You can visit the site on your own but it is vast and personally I would say a very sombre experience indeed. I recommend you join a guided group or engage a private guide; most of the exhibits are marked with explanations in several languages but a guide can answer questions and direct you to areas of special interest. Do not miss the black and white film about the liberation of the camp (showings in English, French, German and Japanese) in the reception building also. Encourage your guide to show you the Sauna (pronounced zow-na - the central baths) at Birkenau. It is the last thing on most tours and is sometimes overlooked by visitors. It is an extremely well crafted exhibit.
Some displays, such as the one in Block 13 dedicated to Roma gypsies is very interesting and really depressing. Remember that over 20,000 gypsies perished in Auschwitz, out of a total of 23,000 deported there. Whole families were wiped out. To me, this was an unparalled crime of genocide ever to be committed and should not be forgotten. This block is generally left out of tour guides but I would recommend you go back to see the display after the tour.
You can buy guide books and picture albums in the museum gift shop, as well as flowers and candles if you wish to leave a memorial. There is a canteen which serves heavy Polish food.
The museum is open all year round and admission is free. Opening Times are from 8am until 7pm. Buses can be caught from Krakow. The PKS service leaves the main bus station (corner of ul. Worcella and ul. Pawia) and will drop you off at the museum. They run every hour.
Visiting somewhere like Auschwitz isn't a fun day out. It is depressing and upsetting. If you have no connection with anyone or anything that went on there, then you might ask, 'Is there any need to visit? Yes, there is a need. I would recommend a visit because I see it as the ultimate destination on the road to prejudice. People often say when they have visited, You can't possibly imagine what it must have been like. Perhaps not but everyday living in Warsaw, I walk past the train stop where thousands of Jewish people were loaded on to carts to be taken to Auschwitz. It is now a monument to those people who suffered and every day I can see those horrific images and every day I have the same feelings - feelings of sadness for such a great loss of lives but also feelings of hope that this will never happen again.
Summary: An Insight Into One of the Darkest Deeds in Modern Times.
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