One Latin maxim says that history is the teacher of life. There is a lot of truth in this since it is the past that shapes us and the world around us. Through history, we can deeply understand decisions and, consequently, people’s behavior. We constantly learn from the mistakes of our ancestors and try to be better than them.
Past centuries also give us much to think about. We admire the cultural background of the Renaissance or even the Baroque. Looking at the reality of people’s lives in the 1800s, we begin to fully appreciate technology and all the conveniences we have today. We also know that history is marked by bloody periods of war and unrest. One of humanity’s greatest failures turns out to be World War II, which even after almost 100 years still sends chills down our spine.
There is no doubt that school textbooks cannot fully reproduce the past and act as a time machine for readers. Therefore, we often replace them with movies and novels that bring us closer to the most important events in the history of the world. However, it is possible to learn in an even more engaging and absorbing way. The museums offer wonderful exhibitions, many of which are unforgettable. Thanks to such places, we can feel a substitute for the past firsthand.
Remnants of the Second World War – Auschwitz Birkenau
Memorials from the 1940s are very difficult to visit. Many older people still have painful recollections of the post-war era. Central European countries are particularly affected by history. Speaking of World War II, we cannot fail to mention Poland. The capital of that country at that time was completely razed to the ground. To this day, we can still see the remnants of the Nazi occupation there – concentration and extermination camps. One of them is Auschwitz-Birkenau.
How Did This Happen? – About the Origins of the Camp
Auschwitz-Birkenau was established in 1940. At first, it was mainly Poles who were sent there – representatives of the upper class (doctors, teachers, etc.), people accused of belonging to a communist organization, but also civilians caught on the streets. In 1942, mainly Jews began to be sent there and quickly became the group with the highest mortality rate. People of all ages were sent to the camp – from tiny children who stayed in their parents’ arms to senior citizens.
Their transport was carried out by freight cars, where access to oxygen was severely limited. The number of people in there far exceeded acceptable standards. There was unimaginable squeezing, and consequently high temperatures.
Everyday Life of Prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau
The level of bestiality in Auschwitz exceeded all limits. Prisoners received a piece of black bread smeared with margarine for breakfast. For lunch, soup with groats, potatoes, and swede. Dinner, in turn, consisted of another piece of black bread with 25 grams of jam, sausage, or cheese. The meals were disgusting, usually prepared with moldy ingredients and rotten vegetables.
Newly arrived convicts refused to eat them or did so with extreme disgust, often vomiting. Their energy requirements for the work they did ranged from 4,500 to as many as 5,000 calories. Meals did not even cover 1/8 of their needs. With such extreme hunger, the prisoners were able to survive from a few weeks to 3 months, depending on their bodies.
Conditions in the barracks were also dire. Exhausted prisoners slept on boards, often necessary in the side position because there was so little space.
In less than 5 years of the camp’s existence, at least 1.5 million people died there.
Visiting Auschwitz Today
Currently, some blocks of the camp are open for tourists to visit. The Auschwitz tour is conducted with guides and a headset.
The trip should be planned in advance. There are a limited number of free places on the tour, especially with guides who speak languages other than Polish or English. The whole thing takes about 3.5 hours and is divided into two parts.
Tourists start by watching a short film that gives them elementary knowledge of the Holocaust and the death camps. They then proceed to the Auschwitz I site and walk between the blocks. They pass the famous gate with the inscription “Arbeit macht frei,” which means “work makes one free”. It is in this section that exhibits with the personal belongings of prisoners are located. Clothes, toys, or suitcases preserved from the transports can be viewed from behind glass windows.
Huge emotion is also caused by the cut hair of prisoners and the courtyard where long roll calls were held. On the walls of the blocks, we can see authentic photos of prisoners with descriptions that include, among others, names, ages, and origins.
Birkenau is the second and at the same time the greater part of the camp. It was here that the unloading ramp, most of the gas chambers, and characteristic wooden barracks were located. After passing through the gate, we realize how terrible the conditions there were. Less than 300 barracks housed 100,000 people. The interior resembled stables for horses rather than normal residential buildings.
After a few hours of the tour, you can go between the blocks again on your own.
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How to Organize the Auschwitz Tour?
A whole day should be devoted to visiting the former Nazi concentration camp. It is necessary to take into account access to the place where it is located. Tourists usually choose Krakow as a place to stay. From there, the most convenient option turns out to be KrakowDirect. You can read more about the organized Auschwitz tours. Remember about comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing. When deciding to come in autumn or winter, take into account that there are low temperatures in Poland at this time.
The Auschwitz tour is a necessary history lesson for each of us. The trip leaves a mark, changes views on many topics, and allows you to better understand the past.