It was one of those travel days with a more dark and sombre tone. Certainly not the type of place to take selfies at and feel completely happy about. But if you read the first part of my day tour of Nazi Concentration Camps with Mosquito Hostel in Krakow, Poland: Part 1 – Touring Auschwitz I, then you have an idea about how the day was panning out. The second and last stop on this day trip was to Auschwitz II, known as the Birkenau Camp. I was on a tour I organised through the Mosquito Hostel in Krakow.
The actual camp at Auschwitz I was quite compact and it contained the notorious gates with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” on them and lots of indoor museums are now housed inside the “blocks”. At that site, our first stop there was a lot of information to read and take in. The complex was very compact and we didn’t walk far between each building. Here, it felt like a wilderness at Auschwitz II, Birkenau. We were out in the wild. Train tracks and an area infamous for the deaths of many innocent people. A winter chill and a December sun, 60 years later don’t make the experience feel any better. Something bad happened here and you know it.
It was hard to grasp the actual difference between the two sites, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II. There was too much evil at work. There was a short drive in the mini-bus between the two camps though. One thing that Auschwitz II had was train lines and a massive building on the entrance. Whatever complex that was constructed here was a masterminded project. Sadly, it was one of pure evil.
Our tour guide walks us on a cold day up to where a train sits. I recognised this area from either school books on the Holocaust or from other people’s blogs and travel photos. The abandoned lonely train is a reminder that the Nazi shoved innocent people into these trains and shipped them to these camps. It didn’t matter to them if the people were dead or alive. At some point, trains were filled with dead bodies, an image which also stuck from history lessons.
Then we head to the Memorial. Another poignant and sad tribute to the lives lost here. It’s a huge concrete memorial with stones in different languages dedicated to those who were killed by the Nazis.
Across from the Memorial are “pits” we can only assume that dead bodies were chucked here. Let to waste in soil, maybe buried. There are four lonely gravestones here to represent the dead. They’re higgledypiggedly. It’s all a tad grim.
Scattered through the area are the remains of buildings, some chimneys that gape up are reportedly former gas chambers and crematoriums. Though the main gas chambers were destroyed apparently in an attempt to hide any evidence of the Holocaust. There are buildings, all seemingly well organised and built the Nazis. Some buildings destroyed, it seems they were attempting to cover up what really happened. But with these pretty buildings, all meticulously built and placed in rows of housing blocks, it has all the makings of a home made city. If only.
No amount of reading you can do on Auschwitz or Birkenau will ever cover up the scars or make us any closer to realising the true horrors of this place. Some of the survivors including Olga Lengyel’s book “Five Chimneys” have documented in detail the extent of the horrors of the Nazi regime. A left or a right on arrival at Auschwitz would denote if one was heading to Auschwitz I (codename Canada) or Auschwitz II, Birkenau which was the death chambers and death camps.
After seeing the memorial and walking past some chimneys, we see the places where children and women were apparently “living” (substitute for “dying”) where they were gradually becoming weaker and weaker until they died. The irony of pictures on the walls to make the children somehow comfortable with their new surroundings was sickening. Even more cruel was the the Nazis placed children in bunks from different nationalities – none of them could talk to each other, none of them knew what was happening, where their parents were. The whole thing is horrific.
After touring the place were children prisoners are kept, we can ask our guide a few more questions on the way out. I’ve seen enough of this and it definitely ranks as another of my horrific experiences, along with my visit to Saddam Hussein’s House of Horrors in Iraq, Tuol Sleng in Cambodia, the city of Pripyat in Ukraine and Agdam in Nagorno Karabakh.
After we left I chatted to Christian from my hostel on the bus most of the way back to the city of Krakow and later met my friend Ania for drinks and food. I was trying to forget about what I had seen. As well as doing the day tour to Auschwitz with Mosquito Hostel, I recommend touring the Jewish Quarter of Krakow and in particular the Schindler’s Factory. I was glad to be out in the fresh Krakow Air again and for this lifetime, I know I won’t be back at Auschwitz.
To book the tour, head to the Mosquito Hostel in Krakow, Poland:
Rynek Kleparski 4/6
Krakow, Poland, 31-150
Website: Mosquito Hostel
Phone Numbers: + 48 660 926 190
+ 48 12 430 14 61
fax: +48 12 430 14 61
Email: [email protected]
It was a windy day, and my video camera has had some audio (but not video) issues recently, however I did make a brace of videos at Auschwitz II, Birkenau: