When we were planning out Eastern Europe Trip, Auschwitz was a ‘must go’ on the list. We had initially wanted to walk around the place ourselves but at the very last minute (and at the location itself), we chose to sign up for the tour with an English guide.
What to do prior to your arrival:
Book your entry card via their website. I’m not sure if they are open for walk in admissions. You can book your guided tour at the counter itself. They have different time slots for different languages. The cost of the tour is 45 zoltys.
How to get there:
The best way to get to to Auschwitz is via a bus from Krakow. Do not be intimidated by the lack of information online and book an organized from Krakow. There is no need to book a trip with a tour company if you are willing to go the extra mile to organize things yourself.
All you need to do is to go to the Krakow Bus Station and buy a ticket to Auschwitz. It should cost you 12 zoltys. Another option is to take the train from Krakow to Oświęcim Train Station and either take a bus to Auschwitz or walk there. The walk will take you approximately 30 mins (if you walk really slowly). Since Mama and I were taking the overnight train from Prague and stopping at Oświęcim, we decided to leave our bags at the Oświęcim Train Station (which cost a few zoltys) and walk.
Alternatively, rent a car. We met a young American girl who rented a car from Krakow, drove down to Auschwitz and went to the salt mines later.
The walk from the train station was pretty scenic. So if you have the time, take a stroll and enjoy the view.
What time should you go:
In order to escape the crowds, we chose to go as early as possible. Even so, there were already tour buses arriving when we arrived at around 7:45am. Interestingly enough, the first tour bus that arrived were a whole group of Singaporeans. Since our tour only started at 10:30am (if I remember correctly), Mama and I had time to walk around and take photos without any humans jostling for space. We also had the freedom to walk around and go into the different blocks alone. My advice will be to go as early as possible.
To tour or not to tour, that is the question:
Like I mentioned above, we weren’t planning on signing up for a tour. Rather, Mama had voiced out that she wasn’t keen on having a tour guide so we had planned to walk around alone. But she changed her mind a day or so before and asked if we could sign up for a tour. So instead of going with a tour company, we chose to join the official Auschwitz tour. It didn’t disappoint. Our guide was full of passion and to a certain extent, anger. The atrocities that happened to not just the Jews but to the Polish was personal to her.
You can do Auschwitz by yourself but unless you’re a history buff who knows every single detail that went on there, it’ll be good to get a guide.
How to get back:
You’ll most probably travel from Krakow…so to get back there, there is a bus that leaves from Auschwitz I. Hop on that bus and relax till you get back to Krakow.
Since I am a natural skeptic, I was wondering how much of the entire site was original. The guide told us that almost everything was original – down to the stairs that were worn down with the years of walking on it. Of course, there were renovations that happened, air-cons installed, lighting and electricity added etc. So I did a quick Google search and compared the photos from the past – it was the same.
It was sobering to see the belongings of the Jews who had no idea they were about to be sent to the gas chambers. The luggage’s, the shoes, the pots and pans, the personal items…everything. It was heartbreaking. I think the worst were the shoes and the hair. Out of respect for the deceased, no one was allowed to take pictures of the hair that was shaven from their heads after they had died in the gas chambers. There was about 2 tons of hair…all from just a few weeks of extermination. The Germans tried to destroy any evidence before the liberation but they were unable to do so.
After moving from the different houses to see the all the different things that had to be seen, we took a short break then gathered to take a bus to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was built after Auschwitz I became too small to house the thousands of prisoners that were arriving daily. With the intention of exterminating even more Jews than mentally comprehensible, they started working diligently on Auschwitz-Birkenau. Thankfully, before they could ever complete it, the liberation took place.
I found it a little hard to comprehend that all these happened during my grandparents’ generation. But thinking about it, as Europe was suffering under the Germans, my very own country and grandparents were hiding and suffering under the Japanese. The world can be a wicked place. Moving on.
What else can I say? Auschwitz is a place that has to be experienced personally.
Tip: bring a small bag, security is tight.