I have been lucky enough to visit the beautiful city of Kraków – Poland, one of the reasons I was originally attracted to Kraków was that it has a lot of history that I could get stuck into and explore. Before I flew out I booked myself & partner Rhys onto a tour of Auschwitz I & Auschwitz II – Birkenau. I knew it wasn’t going to be a fun, light-hearted trip but for years I’ve watched documentaries and movies, read books and articles about the horror that went on during the Holocaust, and I wanted to see where it had all took place for myself and learn more about what went on throughout that period of time. I couldn’t have prepared myself for how it made me feel, I left with a heavy heart.
The tour I booked included Auschwitz I (the original camp) & Auschwitz II – Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp) we had a tour guide that took us through each camp and with headsets that were provided she gave us facts and information.
We got picked up from our hotel quite early and spent around an hour travelling on a mini bus to the first camp – Auschwitz l. It was quite busy with other tours operating, and this was the same the whole way round which meant sometimes our tour operator rushed us a little, this didn’t take anything away from the experience for me, but when I go back to Poland in December I am going to take the tour again, just to make sure I seen everything.
As soon as I stepped into the camp I felt sad – unbelievably sad, it’s insane to look at the buildings and its surroundings – and think of the horrifying acts that went on, it’s designed to look like a holiday camp, but the reality was that most people entering – would not be leaving alive. Auschwitz has a lot of rooms set out with information boards and displays, including rooms with the belongings of victims and the tins that were dropped into the gas chambers. There was so much to take in! It genuinely was so overwhelming and I’m really struggling to put this experience into words!
Leaving the block that housed articles including glasses, shoes, suitcases that belonged to the innocent people who ended up in Auschwitz – we then made our way past the buildings where doctors would perform awful experiments on the prisoners, past the firing line that is now covered in tributes and flowers. The guide then took us through the rooms that the prisoners would sleep in, it was disgusting the conditions they were left in. You can access the torture cells and stand in them as well as being able to enter one of the gas chambers that was used when the camp was operating.
After a few hours we were back in the mini bus and driving for around 30 minutes to Auschwitz ll – Birkenau, this site was less busy and it was slower paced, it meant we had more time to take everything in. This is where the train that would be packed full of Jewish, Polish and others would arrive, the track is still there, it’s a really depressing sight to see. A lot of this camp was burnt down when the Nazis were exposed, to try to hide the camps they set fires to several of the buildings – all that remains of them now are the chimneys.
The watch towers are still stood intimidating and tall across the camp. There was a building there that we were told was the prisoners wash room and toilet, it was basically a concrete room with a long troth – the guide told us this would be the only time the prisoners would have privacy because the conditions in that room were so so awful the guards would refuse to enter, so this is where a lot of their escape plans would be plotted!
The tour was extremely inexpensive and for anyone that’s interested I would 100% recommend taking a day out to go on this trip, it’s overwhelming and you won’t want to plan much more for once you’ve left the camps that afternoon but I’m so glad I experienced it. I just wish these placed hadn’t existed in the first place.
If this would be something your interested in and are planning a trip to Kraków, I would strongly recommend taking a trip down to the Jewish quarter, the ghetto, Empty Chairs Memorial (close by the Jewish quarter), Pharmacy Under an Eagle & Schindler’s Factory
Book with Escape2poland the service was great for us and the price is competitive.