Although many people assume that Auschwitz is a single concentration camp used by the Nazis in the Second World War, it is infact a name that is given to a group of camps. Some camps were concentration camps, others labour and extermination.
The camps are located approximately 60km (37 miles) from Krakow in Poland and many people now visit the camps each year, including survivors along with their families as well as people who just want to remember the Holocaust, and pay their respects for those who lost their lives there. Although Auschwitz is not the only camp or group of camps, it is definitely the most infamous of all the concentration camps. Auschwitz had been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1979.
The name “Auschwitz” actually came from the name of the Polish city in which it was originally built. The city was originally called Oswiecim but had it’s name changed to Auschwitz under Nazi occupation during the war. The camp then took it’s name from the city.
The camp was built and originally intended for only the Jews and Poles, but later in the war, the Nazis decided to use the camps for prisoners of war from several different countries along with other minorities too. The camp was expanded over the duration of the Second World War and consists of three main sections: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II Birkenau and Auschwitz III Monowitz. Along with these sections there were also many tens of smaller camps nearby and in surrounding cities and towns.
Part way through the war, from 1942, Auschwitz became the focus for one of the worst crimes against humanity that has ever taken place. Hitler had a plan or “Final Solution” that involved the extermination of Jews from occupied Europe. Countless Jewish people and their families were removed from their homes and taken to Auschwitz to be sent to their deaths. Most of these people were sent to the Birkenau gas chambers upon arrival to the camps, with the Nazis known to trick the people into thinking that they were taking a shower. The Nazis used industrial furnaces to burn the bodies in the crematoria.
Towards the end of the Second World War, the German SS tried to cover up their terrible crimes by beginning to disassemble the crematoria and gas chambers, along with other buildings. Prisoners who were still in the camps were freed by the Red Army on the 27th January 1945. Two years later, in July 1947, the Polish government set up the Auschwitz Birkenau Museum across two parts of the camp to allow us to remember the atrocities that occurred there.
You can easily catch a bus from Krakow to Auschwitz and they are reasonably inexpensive, typically between 8zl and 12zl each way. These buses take around an hour and a half to reach Auschwitz and can be found at the main bus station in Krakow. If you would prefer a guided tour, these can easily be arranged from most hotels and also tourist information centres.
It’s easy to get between the two parts of the camp as there is a free shuttle bus that departs every half an hour. It’s only a short journey and some people even choose to walk it although it isn’t the nicest of walks.
Auschwitz is free to get in although you are encouraged to make a donation upon entry. During the peak season, entrance to the Auschwitz I site is normally restricted to guided tours only between 10am and 3pm (due to how busy it gets) so you will need to visit before or after these times to get a chance to look around on your own. This is definitely recommended as the guided tours can seem very rushed during peak season. The guided tours cost 40zl although discounts are available for students. Auschwitz II is open for visitors during the opening hours of the memorial and this can be viewed without a guide.
This was the first camp that the Nazis used and features an old Polish barracks. When you go inside there is a wealth of information and even articles such as personal belongings giving you an insight into life at the camp and the atrocities that occurred here. This part of the site features the only remaining gas chamber although it was reconstructed after the war.
At the entrance there is a museum where you can see a 15 minute film that Ukrainian soldiers made on the day the camp was liberated at the end of the war. It’s an interesting film although it is disturbing and not recommended for children. There are also book store and toilets in this part of the complex and you also have the opportunity to purchase guidebooks and maps.
The second camp is only a short bus ride or walk away at around 3km (1.86 miles) away from Auschwitz I. This is where you can still see the original entrance gate along with the train tracks leading in to the camp. This part of the camp is massive and can take a few hours to fully explore. You can see building where new prisoners were issued with their clothing and had their heads shaved along with the ruins of several gas chambers.
The museum is open all year round but is closed only on selected public holidays including the 1st January, 25th December and also Easter Sunday.
8 am – 3 pm December to February, 8am – 4pm March and November, 8am – 5pm April and October, 8am – 6pm May and September, 8am – 7pm June, July and August.
8am – 2pm Monday to Friday