In the available documents, books, articles and films devoted to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp we can read that the Germans established it in the middle of 1940. This is true, but it omits an important point. It is rarely mentioned that the camp was actually established a quarter of a century earlier!
A UNESCO monument
Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp in Oswiecim is undoubtedly one of the largest European monuments commemorating the history of World War II and the Holocaust. That is why it is one of the most frequent and most visited tragic memorials of the Nazi actions on Polish soil. Paradoxically, the former German death factory is today an exceptionally interesting tourist attraction, to which the story of the prisoners’ deaths and its evil fame draws visitors. Although crowds of tourists from all over the world visit Auschwitz today, they often fail to understand the message and tragedy of this place. Camp messages, the history of Auschwitz is a true story – about bestiality, mass extermination, sacrifice and heroism of prisoners at that time.
History of the Auschwitz camp in Oświęcim
Immediately after its creation, the camp was a place mainly for political prisoners, a camp for hard labor and atonement for acts that the Germans considered against their nation. However, probably already during the design of the entire camp, Hitler knew in advance that it would be an instrument of mass extermination, mainly of the Jewish people.
Initially, Auschwitz concentration camp was mainly a place of deportation of Poles. However, from 1942 it became the largest extermination camp in history, to which people of all nationalities, and mainly Jews, from all over Europe were sent. Today it is called hell on earth. In less than five years of its operation, according to official figures, more than 400,000 prisoners were registered at Auschwitz. The truth is that the majority of those sent to the camp were killed by the Germans immediately after arrival, without being registered, so it is difficult to determine how many people actually lost their lives there. The total number of victims of the German camp is currently estimated at least 1.1 million people. Those who managed to survive and live through these horrors, and are still among us today, try to share their experiences, but for us today, it is almost unimaginable, like books and science-fiction movies.
Design of the death camp
The camp was carefully planned and designed from the beginning, thanks to the German builders. Crucially, it consisted of three parts. The first, and oldest, was the main camp known as Auschwitz I; the estimated number of prisoners ranged from 15,000 to over 20,000. The second, and largest part, was the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, built in Birkenau, less than 3 km from the main camp in Oswiecim, from which the Nazis expelled the entire Polish population. In 1944 over 90,000 people were imprisoned there, most of whom died. The last part of the camp was Auschwitz III, which consisted of more than 40 other sub-camps, operating mainly at German factories, industrial warehouses, and agricultural farms.
All the camps and sub-camps were carefully isolated and separated from the outside world. The Germans made sure that no information or prisoners escaped from the camp. Specialized SS units guarded the deportees. Correspondence by mail was initially possible, subject, of course, to strict rules and interpretation. Later, however, all contact was forbidden.
What can you see during a trip to the museum?
Once you arrive at the site, you will be impressed by the famous gate crowning the entrance to the museum Auschwitz with its large inscription and German motto: Work makes you free. In relation to the reality that prevailed in the camp, this is true. Those who were able to work and could perform various activities also had the right to live. Others were immediately condemned to death in the gas chambers or by other forms of extermination. Children suffered the most.
While visiting the museum, it is possible to see the buildings, gas chambers, conditions in which prisoners were forced to live, sleep and work. Also collected are their clothes, shoes, hair scraps, pots and books.
Some diary entries, drawings of children and adults, and handicrafts have been well-preserved. These usually depict their everyday life, or tragic execution scenes.
A visit to the museum certainly does not belong to pleasant impressions and experiences, but it is certainly a mandatory tourist item on the list of every patriot.
What form of trip to Auschwitz should you choose?
It all depends on whether you are in your own car, in transit, close to Oświęcim, or you are a teacher and want to organize a group Auschwitz tours for your students, or perhaps a tourist from Europe, who while staying in Cracow or Katowice wants to see the place of tragedy and extermination of the holocaust. There are many forms of sightseeing and possibilities to choose from, so surely everyone will find something for themselves. Individual tours are usually recommended for Poles, families with children, those who have no problem with the language, or just want to be independent. School trips are usually organized with a bus ride to the destination, and then provide a tour guide who will tell you the history of the museum with full interest.
For those who wish to be independent of the bus or train schedule, it is advisable to use the services of private transportation companies, which offer transfers as well as the assistance of an experienced and multilingual guide, and also provide entrance tickets and food on special request.
For those who have problems with natural, independent movement or for people with children who want to transport a stroller, it is worth notifying the carrier in advance so that they can provide a larger vehicle and driver assistance. Auschwitz is not accessible to people with disabilities at every point, so it is also worth reviewing the visitor map more carefully beforehand. For those who can’t be there physically, the museum also offers an online virtual tour of the museum.