Auschwitz-Birkenau is an impressive place that has become the synonym of the Holocaust but it's also a site that helps future generations understand the errors committed in the past that shouldn't be repeated. It is located in Poland and was operated by the Third Reich annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. Today is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
I visited the site and museum while I was studying a semester abroad in Austria. I went to study there for my undergraduate degree with a scholarship that covered all my expenses; you can read more about how to win it in the post How to win the Ernst Mach Grant for a semester or year abroad in Austria.
Let me share with you how to get there, which is the site's history and main characteristics, and other recommendations on what to do during your visit.
1. How to get to Auschwitz-Birkenau
The concentration camp is located in the city of Oswiecim which is very close to Krakow.
Depending on the place you are located, you will have several options to get there, but I'll explain how to get there from Krakow because most probably you'll find yourself visiting the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland, which is very close to the concentration camp.
The website www.rome2rio.com is a good option to plan your trip, you can go:
- By train: it takes around 1 hrs 44 min. to take a train from Krakow Glowny to Oswiecim. Prices vary between $5 to $8 USD and you can book your tickets on the Polish Railways website.
- By taxi: it takes around 53 min. to travel by taxi from Krakow to Auschwitz for $45 - $60 USD.
- By car: it takes around 53 min. to travel by car from Krakow to Auschwitz. You can rent a car in Rentalcars website.
2 Opening hours and fees
The Museum is open all year long, seven days a week, except January 1, December 25, and Easter Sunday. You can start the visit in the following hours:
- 7:30 AM - 2:00 PM December
- 7:30 AM - 3:00 PM January, November
- 7:30 AM - 4:00 PM February
- 7:30 AM - 5:00 PM March, October
- 7:30 AM - 6:00 PM April, May, September
- 7:30 AM - 7:00 PM June, July, August
- Admission to the grounds of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial is free of charge.
- For better understanding the history of Auschwitz it is suggested a visit with a guide, which has a fee.
- Due to an overwhelming interest in visiting the Auschwitz Memorial, you can make an online reservation at visit.auschwitz.org. This is the only guarantee of entering the Museum on the date and time of your choice.
- The duration of a visit is determined solely by your interests, however, at least 3.5 hrs. should be reserved.
You can find more information about visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau on the official site.
3. History and main characteristics
History: it was established by Germans in 1940, in the suburbs of Oswiecim. And was in use until the Allied liberation in 1945.
Reason of existence: the camp was established because the mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing "local" prisons.
Two camps: Auschwitz was the first and oldest so-called "main camp" or "Auschwitz I" (the number of prisoners was around 15.000 to 20,000). The second part was the Birkenau camp (which held over 90,000 prisoners in 1944), also known as "Auschwitz II".
Dead: historians estimate the number of people murdered at Auschwitz was somewhere between 2.1 million to 4 million, of whom the vast majority were Jews.
Gas Chambers: the majority of prisoners were killed in the various gas chambers though many died from starvation, forced labor, disease, shooting squads, and medical experiments.
Personal items: in June 2016, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum re-discovered over 16,000 personal items belonging to victims.
Museum: it has been established as a museum to help future generations understand the atrocities committed within its fences.
- Visit Krakow: another must see place after Auschwitz-Birkenau is the beautiful city of Krakow where you can see amazing buildings, eat in nice restaurants and walk through its streets.