More commonly known by its German name, Auschwitz, and overshadowed by its history as a headquarters for genocide and terror as the location of the concentration camp established there by the Nazis in 1940, Osweicim—as it is known by the Polish—is an ancient town in its own right, with the first mention of it dating back to 1117. It has a heady blend of ancient architecture mixed with a reserved and quiet atmosphere that has remained somber since the days of the German occupation, and while the city itself has a quaint charm reminiscent of many medieval European cities, it is often overlooked by the simple fact that almost all of the people coming here are doing so to pay homage to the millions who lost their lives at the concentration camp during World War II.
The Auschwitz site was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979, and has remained a sight of cultural and historical significance for decades. The taint of what happened here touches everything around, and creates an atmosphere that is almost always solemn. It is the foremost thought on most travelers’ minds when visiting here, so if you happen to be one of the few people here exploring the city for its own sake you will need to be respectful of the other visitors. The city sees literally thousands of Jewish and other pilgrims every year, all paying their respects at the mass grave.
Because of its history as a medieval town, Oswiecim is laid out like many of the medieval cities in Europe, with the Sola River running through the center of the town. There are museums and plenty of medieval architecture to marvel at, and the Polish food and hospitality are just as good here as anywhere else in the country. Still, looming over everything in the background is the shadow of Auschwitz, and it’s hard to see past it to the beauty that lies underneath the tarnish.
It might have lost the title of capital city, but Krakow is still by far Poland’s most popular tourist destination, having absorbed far more than its fair share of striking history over the…