Having booked a tour with excitingKrakow.com, we were picked up promptly from outside our hotel at 07.50. The driver spoke excellent English, although this was rendered unnecessary since I speak Polish. I think he was glad of a break and a chance to chat in his native tongue.
The tour cost 257 PLN for 3 people, and included coach hire there and back, entry costs for Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II – Birkenau, and a full guided tour of each camp. At roughly 85 PLN per person, this comes to £15 each which makes the whole experience excellent value for money.
The journey from Krakow to Auschwitz is an hour and a half, and so despite an early start there was plenty of opportunity to catch up on sleep.
Our first stop was Auschwitz I. Complete with refurbished barracks, framed documents,
and glass exhibits, the first camp is a museum to educate and remind people of the horrors of the Holocaust.
Just as our tour was coming to a close, our group and many others were caught in a thunderstorm, complete with torrential downpour and hailstones. Soaked to the skin, we made our way back to the minibus. It was a short ten minute trip to Auschwitz II – Birkenau.
Although Auschwitz itself is divided into over 40 sub camps, Birkenau is the one most people think of when they see pictures or read about the Holocaust. It was the centre for execution and extermination. Unlike the first camp, Birkenau is a place for wandering around, exploring ruins, and reflecting on the deaths of over 1.1 million people.
Our guide took us to main areas of the camp, showing us the living quarters, washrooms, and eventually what remains of the four crematoriums on site. We ended the tour at the Memorial, with a chance to leave flowers or light candles in prayer.
Overall the experience is one not to be missed. Learning about the Holocaust is one thing, but travelling to the place where it all happened, where millions died, helps to put everything into perspective. I’m a firm believer in education. It was George Santayana who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
It is our responsibility to learn from our mistakes and ensure that it never happens again. We cannot replace what has been lost. We can only fight for a safer world, free from discrimination and persecution.
I will leave you with this plaque, placed at the foot of the Auschwitz Memorial:
“Forever let this place be a cry of despair
and a warning to humanity,
where the Nazis murdered
about one and a half million
men, women, and children,
from various countries of Europe.”
1940 – 1945