“Throughout the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust.” The German forces occupying Poland during the Second World War established a concentration camp, on the outskirts of Oswiecim, in 1940; the Germans called the town Auschwitz and that is the name by which the camp was known. Over the next years it was expanded into three main camps: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz and more than forty subcamps.” This post focuses on Auschwitz I.
In April 1940 construction began on Auschwitz I, the main concentration camp near Oswiecim in Poland.
“Similar to most German concentration camps, Auschwitz I was constructed to serve three purposes: 1) to incarcerate real and perceived enemies of the Nazi regime and the German occupation authorities in Poland for an indefinite period of time.
2) to provide a supply of forced laborers for deployment in SS-owned, construction-related enterprises (and, later, armaments and other war-related production).
3) to serve as a site to physically eliminate small, targeted groups of the population whose death was determined by the SS and police authorities to be essential to the security of Nazi Germany.” Read more here
“From 1941 to 1943, the SS shot several thousand people at the wall in this courtyard between blocks 10 and 11. […] The SS administered brutal punishments here: floggings, and also the torture known as “the post”, in which prisoners were hung from a post by their wrists with their arms twisted behind their backs. […] You are entering a courtyard where the SS murdered thousands of people. Please maintain silence here: remember their suffering and show respect for their memory.” (words taken from a sign near the wall).
Auschwitz I had a functioning gas chamber and crematorium.
Medical experiments were carried out on prisoners, including sterilisation experiments on women, prisoners as research subjects to test new drugs, cruel experiments on twins, dwarves and others. Complications occurred that led to death whilst others were to put to death so autopsies could be carried out.
“The best estimates of the number of victims at the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, including the killing center at Auschwitz-Birkenau, between 1940 and 1945 are: Jews (1,095,000 deported to Auschwitz, of whom 960,000 died); Poles (147,000 deported, of whom 74,000 died); Roma (23,000 deported, of whom 21,000 died); Soviet prisoners of war (15,000 deported and died); and other nationalities (25,000 deported, of whom 12,000 died)”. Read more here.A trip to Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp is important to learn, see and try to understand what happened here, to never forget and to keep telling the story in the hope lessons are learnt from this part of history.
Advisable is a booked tour, with incredibly informative guides (educators) that take you round both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau as half a day tour, picking you up and dropping you off at your hotel and providing transport between the two camps.
I booked with krakowdiscovery.com and thought it was excellent. We watched a video on the way there (around an hour from Krakow), stopped off for food and the driver was friendly being able to answer most of our questions. We had to leave most of our belongings in the taxi as you’re limited to what you can take inside – check the website below for visitor requirements.
Useful websites: Auschwitz-Birkeanau Memorial and Museum website
Tour websites: krakow-auschwitz.com had great reviews but was fully booked for the day I wanted to go, but they recommended the following: krakowtrip.com and krakowdiscovery.com . I booked with the latter which I would highly recommend.
There are also plenty of documentaries available to watch on the Holocaust and Auschwitz.