Poland: My Visit to Auschwitz

I was both looking forward to and dreading my visit to Auschwitz. I could barely sleep the night before, not from excitement but from anxiety, intense dreams and nightmares. Ironically, this was by far the nicest day weather-wise on my short trip to Poland. This day was Sunday November 11th. In my home country (Canada), it’s Remembrance Day and in Poland, it’s Independence Day. Auschwitz is actually a small town in Poland that had a small army camp on the outskirts of town. That camp was taken over by the invading Nazis in early World War 2 and became a prisoner and death camp.

Auschwitz at the gates by marktravel

Walking through the grounds of Auschwitz

Walking through the camp gates at Auschwitz 1 felt very strange. Surreal and peaceful in a way. The guided tour was packed with information, statistics and facts that you just can’t get walking on your own (or imagine). Our group weaved our way through the grounds and various barracks each hosting different aspects of the memorial and exhibit. There are pictures of prisoners (before they stopped taking pictures and began using number tattoos), prisoner cards, Nazi letters, camp photographs, uniforms, artifacts, etc. Seeing some of the actual shoes was troubling. Seeing the hair cut from prisoners was numbing (and I couldn’t take a picture).

The Medical Building #10 where the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele performed his human experiments was unfathomable as was the tour of the torture chamber in the basement of Building #11. Directly outside of the torture barracks is the infamous Firing Squad Wall. I was now numb and teary eyed. But there was more. Following our guide across the camp. we walked into and through Gas Chamber #1 and the Crematorium.

And Then Auschwitz 2

But this was only Part 1 of the tour because Auschwitz II – Berkenau was next. Berkenau is 5 times the size of Auschwitz 1 and the place where 10 times the number of people were killed. Auschwitz 1 barracks were luxury by comparison to the horse barns that posed as barracks at Berkenau. This was a death factory. If you were young and fit, you worked at nearby factories and farms until you died. If you were a child, woman, or weren’t fit, you were killed shortly after your arrival (to make room for the next prisoners coming).

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to fathom the events that took place here. I wonder how anyone who came through the gates could have had a single positive thought or found any hope while here. This was sheer terror and evil rolled into one. Auschwitz was definitely not on my bucket list. It’s frankly easier not to go to. The story it tells is just unimaginable. It’s disturbing as it should be. And unforgettable as it should be.

Auschwitz at the fence by marktravel

16 thoughts on “Poland: My Visit to Auschwitz

  1. I went to Krakow in 2000 with the tourist board and they didn’t let us to visit the Auschwitz! Apparently it would ruin the mood on the fam trip. I wish I went. I think every single person in the world should visit.

  2. This is absolutely amazing post. I love how your photos are raw, and merely a documentation. Auschwitz is on the list of things I have to do. I have looked at photo on Flikr of people who have been. Like I said, your photos are respectable and merely a documentation. There are photos I have seen where people are smiling and getting their photos taken – which is absolutely disgusting in my mind. I am glad you “Enjoyed” your trip – using that term loosely

  3. I just finished reading Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” so these images are especially poignant. So strange, that Auschwitz looks almost beautiful, and yet was the source of so much suffering. And Birkenau… Wiesel talks about how Auschwitz was a kind of paradise in comparison. It’s too much to comprehend, really. I’ve visited Dachau, and even seeing these places in person doesn’t do justice in showing what those millions of people went through.

  4. @GirlFriTravel

    Extremely moving post. I too, have felt the need to go to Auschwitz and feel that sometimes the hardest places to visit teach us the most of who we were and who we should be.

  5. I don’t really know what to say Mark. On the one hand it’s a beautifully written post, and the photos are wonderful. But on the other hand, it made my cry for the poor people who went through it. I’ve seen photos of the shoes before, but I’ve never seen one of the gas canisters or the ovens. Desperately haunting pictures, with unfathomable horror behind them.
    It’s not put me off going, but I will definitely mentally prepare myself as much as possible before I do go.

    1. You really don’t expect to see all of what they have on display. And as you walk through, it gets compounded and you end with seeing the ovens. It’s overwhelming but a must visit. Thanks for the comments.

  6. I feel the same way. I am not sure if I will be touring this place. I prefer to read about the events taking place here even though I was told that reading can be troubling. I saw an episode of this from the Dark Tourist documentary and I had goosebumps. Thanks for sharing your visit, and you overcome all the feelings you had.

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