5 Common Sense Tips to Prepare For a Visit to Auschwitz
When we were booking our trip to Krakow, I knew I wanted to visit Auschwitz. Being a former history teacher, this was monumental to me. Although, having 2&4 year old boys in tow would make the planning tricky. Although my husband and I figured out a way for me to go solo, and it gave me the opportunity to derive these 5 common sense tips to prepare for a visit to Auschwitz.
While walking around Krakow, you can find loads of tour groups organizing day trips. I found one that worked with our family's schedule and signed up. The next day, hubby took our boys to History Land (very cool for kids!), and I piled onto a tour bus for a 1.5 hr journey to the concentration camp. I thought I knew what was in store for me, but I had no idea.
Upon arrival, the first thing you see is the world-renowned gate.
The phrase 'arbeit macht frei' (pronounced: ar bait - makt - frai) means "work sets one free." It was created to encourage the prisoners to work harder in hopes of being set free. However, it was soon evident to all workers freedom was not an option.
If looks were ever deceiving... these stately looking, abandoned, Polish army barracks became the short-lived home of Holocaust prisoners in 1940.
I went with the intention to document and take lots of pictures. Although once inside the gate, an eerie feeling enveloped my entire presence. Many in my group were taking photos, but I felt incredibly sorrowful.
We witnessed abhorrent conditions-
Where children were ripped from their mothers and had unspeakable things performed. Photographs and artifacts remain at the museum to view inside the actual rooms.
Walked past the firing wall and baby stepped our way through the tiny halls of torture where prisoners were sent for the tiniest infractions. Solitary confinement and rooms reserved purely for weeks of starvation until death.
We are talking Poland, where they have extreme winters and were given paper thin clothing. These conditions gave the prisoners (who weren't immediately exterminated upon arrival) hope of a three month lifespan.
The look in his hope-filled eyes...I just can't.
Rooms filled with thousands of shoes, suitcases, prosthetics, pounds of hair from shaved heads, gold teeth...and hundreds of empty (gas) cans. We toured rooms where doctors performed despicable medical experiments, mostly on children and twins.
Lastly, we walked through the gas chambers, viewed the ovens, and paid our respects where mountains of ashes had been strewn. The guards would often tell the prisoners, "the only way to freedom was through the chimney."
The horrid pictures and saved artifacts were enough to churn an iron-clad stomach. But the soul-wrenching feeling from being physically present in the camp was enough to freshen perspective for a lifetime.
Deeply intense, but somewhere I feel every human being should visit. You will never have a bad day in your life ever ever again.
If you are interested and tour groups are not your thing, click here to book directly.
We concluded our tour with 30 minutes of free time. There is a stand inside the main building, containing a small gift shop - selling snacks, pastries, coffees, and a few bottled beverages. Everyone took a minute to pull ourselves back together before boarding the bus. A short 20-minute ride brought us to Birkenau - created as a killing camp and not so much for concentrating the prisoners on work tasks. To me, Birkenau was much more of an intense experience. Click below to see what I mean.
Read Also: How to Prep and What to Expect at Birkenau
Five Common Sense Tips to Prepare for a Visit to Auschwitz:
1.) Pack a bottle of water and snacks -- You will be there for a few hours and will find yourself stopping to take in the moments.
2.) Wear comfortable/sturdy shoes -- The tour has a good amount of walking and is mostly outside. During inclement weather, you could walk through thick mud and slush like I did during November.
3.) Take a journal and pen -- You may not be the writing type, but might find yourself needing an outlet to sift your thoughts.
4.) Have a camera ready -- There will be shocking images and sights you come upon where you will want a photograph in remembrance. Although, don't be surprised if a change of heart causes you to shove the electronic device deeper into your pocket.
5.) Prepare your heart -- Like I said previously...I thought I knew what was in store for me, but I had no idea. To help steady your emotions: read a few articles, scan a couple photos on the Internet, have an idea of what will be in front of you prior to walking through the gate.
If you find yourself touring Auschwitz, there's a good chance you will see parts of Krakow too. If you've never been and unsure what to put on your list, take a look at what we did below!
Read Also: 5 Things to See on a Long Weekend in Krakow
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Thank you for sharing. You have explained how I felt much better than I could. We visited Dachau on our quick trip to Munich. At the risk of sounding morbid, it was the highlight of the trip. Most impactful? I don't have your ability with words to capture how it felt. We got there by train-a detail I didn't overlook and time I spent considering how that ride might have felt if I were an inbound prisoner-and later walked from the camp to the town just across the street, no different from its original form. The whole thing was surreal. I left finally knowing what a labor camp was-how did I fail to understand that they were carted out to nearby factories to work as Nazi slaves? I always wondered how much labor had to be done in the camp. Now I get it. We left, by train, and mixed in with Germans who were unaware of what we had just experienced...perhaps as ignorant as their ancestors claim to have been. I will never forget the prison cells. You know the prison cells in an extermination camp have to be bad. I share your feelings about the camera...the only photo I took was in the prison cell because I could never convey it in words. I wish everyone could experience these sites. That was truly one of the most life changing days and one I find myself looking back on often. We now have Google Earth via our VR system; Auschwitz has been on my mind as a place to "visit." I will do that tonight!
Completely agree; I feel every human being should walk those past footsteps of prisoners. It's both eye-opening and soul shattering. By far the most humbling experience I've had to date. Let me know if you have the chance to visit any others!