Recently I went to Krakow, it´s a lovely city in the southern part of Poland. Krakow was a capital of Poland, before Warsaw, and it´s where the kings used to rule. During the Nazi invasion, the Germany (Nazi) invade Poland and created a protectorate with their governor-general’s residence in Krakow. Apparently during the invasion, Nazi captured many Poles (mostly Jewish-Poles) in which the number of the arrested prisoners exceed the capacity of the local prisons. Therefore in 1940, the Germans built a prison-camp in Oswiecim, a Polish city under Nazi territory, and they named the camp: Auschwitz. From a prison camp, Aushcwitz turned into a mass concentration camp and finally it became a death camp. This 40 sq km camp site can hold around 15.000-20.000 prisoners.
Arbeit Macht Frei, it’s the camp´s motto which means “Work makes you free”. I don´t know what they mean by free..but sadly for these prisoners, probably death is another form of freedom..
Nearby, around 3km from Auschwitz I, stood a larger concentration camp called Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This place spread across 175 acre land, and can hold 125.ooo prisoners.It was mainly used as a women prisoner camp, and also the centre for Jews extermination. This camp has several gas chamber and crematorium, where it functioned as extermination area for the women, children, jews and handicap people. But nowadays we can only see mostly ruins of the old buildings, only few original barracks still stand there.
For more history on the camp, you can take a look at the museum´s website here. Now, I think its gonna be easier for me to talk about my experience, instead of trying to re-tell the history.
We (me & my cousin) started the journey from Krakow, we decided to travel on our own instead of using some tour service (Auschwitz is one of, if we don´t want to say the number one,the must visit places in Krakow). So based on information given by our host-friend, we decided to take the public bus from the main station. Actually our friend told us to take the RNA bus, but somehow we can´t find the location of bus :p (they have three bus station, and we don´t know in which bus station we were.. haha) but after few minutes of Q&A session with some people, we got information that bus to Oswiecim will leave from platform 8, ok, so we shall wait at platform 8! After sometime, finally the minibus came, luckily we somehow standing in front of the line, so we managed to get seats inside. The ticket cost @12 pln (Polish Zloty), which I think it’s quite cheap for a 1,5 hours ride. Finally we´re on our way.. and we used our 1,5 hours on the bus by sleeping.. hahaaha
We arrived in Auschwitz I around 11.30, there is no entrance fee to enter the museum, but they will recommend you to use the tour-guide service (provided in several languages) which you have to pay quite expensive (at least for a student ;)). Having read some reviews that you can just get a guide-book in the museum´s book store and do your own tour, I tried to find the book (5 pln), succeed and off we go!
There are a lot of barracks there but not all of them are opened for exhibition, we go to all the opened barracks, read some horrifying stories, saw some heart-breaking pictures, saw some remaining items found (shoes, clothes, kitchen utensils etc), entered the death-wall area (where they executed the prisoners), take-a-peak at the underground prisons (they even have prison where prisoner can only sit, no room for lying down).
One of the most heart-breaking part for me there is when we enter one room where it displayed the remaining hairs of the prisoner 😦 so there are hundred kilos of hairs (mostly women). apparently after they exterminate (in the gas chamber) the prisoners, they take the hair and sell it to a textile factory, where it used as raw materials to make fabric 😦 we are not allowed to take pictures in that room.
After a few hours walking around the area, we decided to move to the second camp. The museum provided free shuttle bus from/to Auschwitz I-II. From Auschwitz I the bus goes ever .30 (past thirty every hour), while from Auchwitz II the bus goes every .00 (every hour). The trip only took 5 minutes, so if you don’t want to wait for the bus back from Auschwitz II, you can just take the taxi it will cost only 15 pln.
Like I said before, camp II even though bigger but most of the buildings are destroyed, so we can only see ruins here and there. We can see few women barracks with its original sleeping area and also some ruins of the crematoriums and gas chambers The Memorial Monument stood in the middle of the camp, as a reminder of the dark history in humanity. We didn’t spend a long time there, not only because there are not really much to see, but we have to catch the next bus back to Auschwitz I.
Back in Auschwitz I, we were trying to take another bus to Krakow, but apparently it’s not easy to get information.. so we decided to go back where our minibus stopped and dropped us earlier (on the car park area, outside of the museum). Fortunately we saw some tourist at the bus stop nearby, so we decided to wait there also. Not long, came one minibus destination krakow, luckily (again) the bus stopped right in front of us, so we can go in and get some seats.. and off we go back to Krakow!
Personally, I really enjoyed visiting Auschwitz I&II, I cannot describe it in words, but you just have to experience it yourself. You can feel the sadness, hopelessness,wickedness, pain and hurt.. this place has become a reminder for me of how unbelievably cruel human can be..