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Auschwitz - entrance

Auschwitz – entrance

There are some horrible chapters in human history, where people or groups have massacred others for their own ends; but no one place comes near to the sheer scale of destruction and torture that is Auschwitz-Birkenau. On this one site alone, an estimated one and a half million people were tortured and killed.
Visiting the place where humans have behaved in the most appalling way towards each other, ever in recorded history; you may come with some preconceptions…
I found the visit quite clinical and factual, which perhaps makes it easier to cope with. It’s a busy place and the items you see don’t really register until you have time to think about it later: the mountains of human hair, shoes, suitcases and common domestic items, brought along for the new life these people were promised.
Auschwitz 1 is the start point, and the guide will take you around several blocks explaining their use, along with historical context.
The final part of the tour will take you to a gas chamber and crematorium. Details are factual and quite graphic, perhaps not suitable for under 14s.
Auschwitz 2 (also known as Birkenau) is a separate camp, about 4 km from the first site. Whilst there is less to see here, the scale of the Nazi killing machine is more apparent. This is also the site of the iconic railway entrance, where trains came in and arrivals were sorted into those who would live – as slave labour – and those that would die; 80% went straight to the gas chambers.
Birkenau - gate

Birkenau – gate

Birkenau Railway

Birkenau Railway

Much of Birkenau was destroyed as the Nazi’s retreated, in an attempt to remove the evidence, but it’s worth visiting. This second part is omitted from some tours, I recommend you visit both.

Birkenau - the end of the line

Birkenau – the end of the line

You can do this trip with your own arrangements, but must have an official guide to visit the Auschwitz complexes.
It’s far easier to take an organized tour from Krakow, they will pick you up and sort all entrances for you. I used these (Escape to Poland) they provided an excellent service and offer small group visits, so there is a more relaxed approach than with large coach tours.

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