Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps

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20 Więźniów Oświęcimia, Auschwitz, Poland
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Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps Reviews

joseph98 joseph98
129 reviews
Sobering, gruelling, moving...and so very important Oct 23, 2017
The word ‘Auschwitz’ has become so synonymous with the Holocaust that it has become nearly impossible to think of what is undoubtedly one of humanity’s darkest ever chapters without it. And with good reason. For in this place, more of those deemed ‘undesirable’ by the Nazi State were murdered as part of the ‘Final Solution’, at least 1.1 million in all, than in any other concentration/extermination Camp.

Get your head around that figure, and add a couple more. 1.1 million, mostly Jews, brutally murdered across 3 years in a total ground area (if we combine both the original Auschwitz and Birkenau, aka ‘Auschwitz II’) of 472 acres. Stalin, a mass murderer in his own right, once said that a single death is a tragedy, whereas a million is a statistic. Only someone with a callous attitude to humanity would even consider agreeing; it is only such people who could not be affected by visiting here.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is UNESCO heritage listed and more and more people visit it every year (I’ll stop with the statistics there, I think). As such, you can expect crowds, and also a strict timed entry/compulsory guide system. Which is for the best - for this is not the sort of place you can have unlimited hordes of people swarming over without diluting what is a profound, unsettling and moving experience.

Just walking around the grounds of Auschwitz instills a sense of chilling unease, knowing just what unspeakable evil - how else to describe it? - took place here. But what struck me most, as well as the grimly cynical and oft-photographed ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign above the main gate, was the systematic, mundane ordinariness of the layout. Rows and columns of fenced-in, identikit blocks, with leafless poplar trees lining the pathways.

It’s designed to be ordinary and systematic, precisely because the mass murdering that took place here was done with an ordinary and systematic mindset. Only the barbed wire is a telltale sign of menace and coercion. And this all only makes it more sinister and disturbing.

13 of the surviving blocks house exhibitions. Block 4 focuses on the extermination process. Some actual Zyklon B, the chemical used for gassing those rounded up in the chambers, and unnerving photos of calm-looking deportees waiting to be led to the gas chamber (the Nazis would routinely lie to them about what was about to happen to keep them calm) are frightening enough, but the real ‘oh my God’ moment (for me anyway) is the sight of two tons of murdered women’s hair behind Perspex glass, found by the liberating Red Army, and often put to industrial use by the Nazis.

Block 5 is given over to showing evidence of the crimes, with vast displays of the everyday items - glasses, drinking cups, shoes of both adults and children - pilfered off the dead by the SS, whereas Block 6 looks at the conditions experienced by those who were not immediately ‘exterminated’. Life was endless misery, agony and despair for all those imprisoned here, and more often than not ended in death from disease, malnourishment, arbitrary execution and more.

The remaining blocks we visited in our tour looked at the grim, overpopulated housing conditions of the blocks and the camp jail/execution yard for ‘dissidents’ against the camp regime. Block 10, where the Nazi doctors conducted medical ‘experiments’, is closed to visitors, but our guide mentioned more than once how one of the worst of them, Josef Mengele, escaped justice by fleeing to, and gaining sanctuary in, South America. It was hard not to share her anger.

Back outside is another grim sight - the ‘collective gallows’ used to hang prisoners as punishment and deter/demoralise others - and things finish on a suitably sombre note at the gas chamber and crematorium. In between the two there is also the spectacle of SS Commandant Rudolf Hoss’ house, who lived on site. The very gallows he himself was executed at is outside it.

After a brief break, we were bussed to Birkenau. As emotionally drained as you may be after Auschwitz, I do definitely recommend you visit here as well to get a full appreciation of the true horror perpetrated across the complex. Birkenau has less buildings intact, as the retreating Nazis were a bit more thorough in destroying them to conceal their crimes, and the fact the area is considerably more vast than Auschwitz makes for a contrasting, but equally eerie, experience.

There are less ‘exhibits’, so to speak, here. But this doesn’t mean a vivid, unsettling atmosphere isn’t present either, not least in the shape of reconstructed living quarters, a model carriage used to transport prisoners and the collapsed gas chambers (the models of which are in Block 4 back at Auschwitz). It’s worth remembering that most of the actual killing took place at Birkenau.

The tasteful monument to the victims near the chambers served as a sobering end to the official tour, but if you get the chance do climb the tower at the entrance gate - with its accompanying train line, the other oft-photographed symbol of Auschwitz-Birkenau - to really see the scale of the crimes that took place here. Some panoramic views are breathtaking; this one is too, but in a very different sort of way to the norm.

So what does one take away from Auschwitz-Birkenau? Well, everyone will doubtless have their own thoughts as they try to come to terms with the sheer horror of it all. But ultimately the Holocaust is one of those things you just can’t be ambivalent about. It’s a stark and terrifying reminder of what human beings are capable of.

Whilst it’s borne out of a racist ideology that far, far less people subscribe to now than they did back then, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is guaranteed to be a one off. Indeed, other genocides - Cambodia and Rwanda to name just two - have happened since. Plus the practice of dehumanising whole groups/races/religions - the first stepping stone toward an agenda of murderous racism - of people is still, frighteningly, with us.

It is for this reason that Auschwitz-Birkenau, a powerful emblem of the Holocaust, is such an important place to visit, for all the attendant difficulties the experience can bring.

* * * * *


The Holocaust was a profoundly moving and affecting historical event for me before I’d visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. As such, I’d read quite a few accounts of it before, and wanted to read more afterward. As such this list is far from comprehensive, but here it goes...

There are a whole host of excellent books out there, including some powerful works of fiction, best known of which are ‘Schindler’s Ark’ by Thomas Keneally (later filmed as ‘Schindler’s List’ by Steven Spielberg) and ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne. The ‘Once’ series by Morris Gleitzmann is another, excellent account of the Holocaust from the point of view of a child.

Biographical memoirs and accounts are moving and revealing. ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ is an astonishing work written by an extraordinary young mind. ‘If This Is A Man’ by Primo Levi is remarkably calm and measured considering Levi survived the horrors of Auschwitz for a year. ‘Maus’ by Art Speigelman is a unique, pioneering graphic novel that dares to make its central protagonist - a holocaust survivor - rather unsympathetic at times.

For scholarly works, ‘The Holocaust: A New History’ by Laurence Rees is often seen as THE definitive account of the Holocaust and I can confirm that, for such a hefty tome, it is page-turning, as much as it is harrowing. I’ve just finished ‘Black Earth’ by Timothy Snyder, which examines the ‘warning from history’ angle with precision, and comes to the unnerving conclusion that humanity has not learned the lessons of the Holocaust as well as we might think.

Finally, I know less of art and music related to the Holocaust, with one notable exception. The Manic Street Preachers, a rock band from Wales, wrote two songs about the Holocaust on their dark and distressing - but brilliantly intellectual - album ‘The Holy Bible’. The first of these, ‘Mausoleum’, is a brutally effective straightforward rocker, and easier to listen to. But the remorselessly bleak ‘The Intense Humming of Evil’ thoroughly succeeds in capturing a sense of the true horror of the Holocaust, both with its bone-chillingly simple lyrics (‘Welcome, welcome/Soldier smiling...’) and disturbingly atmospheric music. Follow this link to listen, if you can bear it...
Outside the gates
Auschwitz I complex
6 / 6 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
HelenP says:
Joseph. Well done you. Told you it was good enough for the front page !
Posted on: Nov 09, 2017
vulindlela says:
congrats on the feature!
Posted on: Nov 09, 2017
joseph98 says:
Thank you both, I know what you mean. Not a thing to ‘smile’ about, but I can only offer my humble and heartfelt thanks for the gesture.
Posted on: Oct 30, 2017
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bramblerick brambler…
75 reviews
must see and never forget. Jun 30, 2015
Auschwitz....only speaking out the name give's you goosebumbs.

When you enter this camp through the main gate you get an impression of what happened at this horrible place. In Auschwitz camp 1 you will find several barracks that are museums now and some things can be very shocking, like 2000 kilograms of human hair or thousands and thousands of shoes that the German Nazi's took from the victoms.

At the end you are able to go into the gas chamber where years ago so many people walked in, the only thing is, we could walk out again. After this you will go to Auschwitz camp 2, also known as Birkenau Whe you arrive at the gate of death you will be shocked about the surface of this place, and then try to imagine that the plans of the nazi's where to build more and more barracks. Walking around this huge area and take a look inside the barrack is....well i can't describe it.

Thr only thing that disturbed me where all the American teenagers (several groups from different schools or university's) with a lack of knowledge and respect by taking "funny"selfies and talked and laughed loud.

If you are going to visit this place i would recommend to read some books or watch some movies or documentary's before. I think it's necessary to understand a little bit of the things that happened here.
shoes that the nazi's kept from al…
more shoes....
never forget and spread the story,…
1 / 1 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
aelder2259 says:
It's sad, but they don't really teach teens today about WWII and all the ugliness of it. My 31 year old nephew didn't even know about Japanese internment camps! They say we repeat what we reason Trump and his anti-refugee/immigrant stance frightens me.
Posted on: Oct 26, 2017
christl3 christl3
171 reviews
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Mar 26, 2014
What can be said about a place where such unremitting and brutal dehumanisation, humiliation, torture and mass murder occurred? I felt that i had learned about the Holocaust for so long and in such excruciating detail - classroom history lessons devoted to it, heated debates among friends on the topic, the constant re-hashing of the infamous, bleak era of world events by the media. I believed i was ready for my experience there, that i truly knew about it in depth, albeit never fully understanding. Nothing can prepare you for the starkness of these two camps. Nothing you tell yourself beforehand makes the eerie, lingering feeling abate while you're there, even afterwards the implications reverberate with you.

I was mostly appalled by the almost mechanical precision of the plans undertaken to systematically obliterate this race of people, men and women and children alike. They were reduced to a mere number. Provisions were put in place to absolutely maximise the levels of efficiency in regards milking these people dry and subsequently disposing of them.

It was a beautiful Autumn day when we visited Auschwitz but a cold chill hangs in the air.

I didn't bring my camera, some things do not need to be captured on film, needless to say, they will be burned into my memory for years to come.

I asked myself why i had wanted to go there, because i really had WANTED to see this place. And i keep returning to the quote 'Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it' (which is written somewhere in the complex itself, i believe). It's important to see these things and let it put things into perspective, to prevent such a massacre occurring again. Whenever i hear myself or others making sweeping generalisations about other cultures, races or ethnicities to be aware of the beginnings of something daunting. With these camps still standing people will never forget this tragedy, and rightly so.
WalterC WalterC
389 reviews
Should I visit this dark attraction? Mar 11, 2011
Short answer – yes, absolutely!

Attraction is probably not the right word to describe Auschwitz, but for anyone visiting Krakow, this is a day trip that should be made by all people. Auschwitz was an extermination camp, where one of the darkest chapter in human history took place. This was where people were sent to die, from all over Europe. Visiting this place is a learning and sobering experience, as we should make sure this never happens again.

Photography is allowed. If one wonders if it’s right to take photographs of a place where the Holocaust took place, I read somewhere that taking photos of the camp is encouraged, to spread the story. But it’s a matter of opinion, and each person should decide for themselves.

Wear comfortable shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking. And if you can, definitely tour the place yourself, as there are good English descriptions. And you will probably need the whole day, so try to get there as early as possible.

For more info on visiting the camp... visit

Getting there by bus, is your better bet. Only because the nearest train station is a 20-minute walk. Getting back by bus, can be tricky. But you can buy a ticket onboard. But be ready for the possibility to stand if no seats are left.

After leaving Auschwitz, the message is very clear… Never Forget!
entrance to camp
electric fence at Auschwitz II
10 / 10 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
bramblerick says:
good review!
Posted on: May 10, 2015
phieraditya says:
thanks for review this site and congrats for today's feature
Posted on: Jun 10, 2011
monky says:
Hi Walter congrats on your today's featured review! this kind of places remember everyone what happened in past.
Posted on: Jun 09, 2011
travel55free travel55…
2 reviews
This is one of the most important experiences that I have ever and will ever have in my lifetime. The horrors that happened within the confines of Auschwitz and Birkenau CANNOT be forgotten. I spent all day between these two camps and my heart ached the entire time. My mind cannot wrap itself around the actions of human beings towards other human beings and I will never be the same. To be able to walk FREELY around and see rooms of torture, gas chambers, hear the stories and feel the souls of the men, women and children who died there was a conflict for me yet I can say that whoever walks INTO Auschwitz and Birkenau will not leave the same as they were when they walked in. The drive from Krakow to Oswiecim (The Polish name of Auschwitz) is very unassuming and actually pretty. The camps are separated by 2.5 km or so and both are surrounded by small towns. My guide, Dorota, was wonderful at sharing the stories of the cruel happenings. HIGHLY IMPORTANT TO VISIT.
So true...
The Death Gate at Birkenau
The end of the line for hundreds o…
JoeriNL JoeriNL
47 reviews
Impressive must-see, so we will never forget. Aug 18, 2009
Impressive, and such a large scale it's hard to imagine what happened here. Especially in high-season, sunny weather and with thousands of people walking around the camps. During high season you can't do a individual tour, but only with a guide. You have to pay around 34 zloty or 22 zloty as a student for the guide, but otherwise the entrance to the camps is free.

Definitely a must-see, but for me also just for once.
Auschwitz II - Birkenau
Auschwitz II - Birkenau
Auschwitz II - Birkenau
Auschwitz I
Pearl510 Pearl510
162 reviews
Let's never forget Jul 17, 2008
I've written my full report of our visit to Auschwitz/Birkenau in my Poland travel blog. The reason why I add this review is so I can rate it. That is, because it really deserves the five stars. Not because it is a fun, or entertaining, or beautiful place. But because it is something everyone should see.

Tours here are overall very well organized, and our guide did a perfect job. But you might as well visit the site by yourself, that's really up to you. Transport to Oswiecim is very easy from Krakow. There are buses from the main bus station about every 15 minutes, and I would certainly recommend them over the trains. They stop right in front of the museum entrance at Auschwitz I.

As I said, you can read all about my personal impressions in the blog.

I'm not going to write down a lot of practical information either because there is a very good (official) website were you can find everything to plan your visit. It is available in English and is found here:
3 / 3 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
Joost1976 says:
i can write a long story, but the plot is, i hope we learn, and that this never ever may happen again...smashing someones life, dream...because he is different....
Posted on: Aug 19, 2008
rubykor rubykor
1 reviews
Aug 21, 2007
Auschwitz, Poland

Arbeit Macht Frei...

Would the prisoners have believed that?

Would the prisoners have had hopes that they could get out of that place alive one day if they worked hard?

Birkenau, Poland

We see the train station on movies often.

We now know and feel that this is where you start journey of death.

But they wouldn't have known that at all.


Because they believed that they could start a new life here after rough days at ghettos where they were put to by the nazi all over the europe.

It took up to 17 hours by the train from Rhodes, Greece or Norway.

They still didn't give up the hope while being brought on the train in horroble condition.

That's why you can find so many suitcases with names on and hair brushes, many shoes, pots and shoe polishers,etc.

They would've believed that they are finally going into the shower room to start new life at this camp.

That's why the operation to divide them between families and put them into shower rooms were done reasonably quietly.

Needless to say every masscre is so horrible, but this is one of the worst as they were dying not knowing what awaits them.

The people who did this and the surviving victoms.... they all would need some help even to come to with it, I guess...

I really hope to finish my study on psychology wishing that I might be useful for the people like them.

Whether we realise it or not, there are many people out there who need our help in many ways.
Arbeit Macht Frei The gate at the…
Nzelvis Nzelvis
56 reviews
Jul 30, 2006
Honestly, I hate to even list this as a sight or an attraction, because it's so much more than that. It's an experience you'll never forget. Whether traveling on a tour or by yourself, this reviewer hopes that you can experience both camps. There is an eerieness to each site, as you walk through Auschwitz and see all the suitcases, shoes, clothing, accessories, etc. that will forever remain there. The wind will send a chill down your spine as you stand before the remnants of the crematoriums, which the Nazis destroyed in a vain attempt to cover their tracks. Although impossible to imagine what it was like, just being there will take you one step closer to those that were there before you. Birkenau has a similar feeling. As you walk into the site, the first thing you will see is the seemingly endless railroad tracks that those imprisoned were brought into the camp on. The sites that you see from those tracks were some of the last that most of those people saw. I can't describe in words what it was like, but every person needs to visit these camps so that we will never forget. You will find those two words all over the camp, "Never Forget".
travelman727 says:
Noah, wonderful description of the death camps. We stuill have too many atrocities in our world today.
Posted on: Dec 27, 2007
3972cerso says:
bet you had a good time, were dut to be there around the 4th august...
Posted on: Jul 04, 2007
grundman says:
This dark part of german history should remain as a warning in all our heads - not only to never forget, but to never let it happen again. No matter where it happens, no matter to whom and for what reason!
Posted on: Jul 01, 2007

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