UNSETTLING HORROR WE MUST REMEMBER

 When I planned out my recent trip to Europe, I knew I was going to Krakow. That meant that I would invariably find myself making a trip out to Auschwitz. This was something that I felt was important to do although I knew it would not be pleasant. It just seems important to remember the horrors that took place in Europe during those years.

 

I had already visited the concentration camp at Dachau so I had an idea of what was in store. My advance knowledge of Auschwitz suggested that this would be an even more powerful experience. It is larger and the museum exhibits are far more intense. This made me feel nervous as I left for the bus station early Saturday morning. 

Getting from Krakow to Auschwitz is easy and affordable. The bus ride is about an hour and forty minutes but only costs 7 zlots (about $2). The bus was packed with people. It was standing room only on the bus so this is a destination visited by many people. One can only hope that the people are going to learn the lessons about man's inhumanity to man. 

In some ways, standing on the bus helped set the tone. It was uncomfortable but it also helped drive home the point of how lucky I am. I had a choice. The victims of the concentration camp endured far greater discomfort and had no choice in the matter. I was still feeling uneasy as I arrived at Auschwitz. Admission to the museum is free although one can hire a tour guide in various languages. The tour actually features two portions. There is the original Auschwitz camp and the larger camp at Birkenau. The entire tour will likely take several hours whether you walk through on your own or go with a tour guide. 

The original Auschwitz camp is what is now the museum. Most of the buildings here feature various exhibitions on the horrors that went on. There are also individual buildings to document each country's role in this era. You can learn of the plight of Hungarians, French, Czechs etc. 

There are also buildings that focus on the daily life of the prisoners and on the medical experiments. This is something that will be very discomforting. Seeing the victims after these experiments is horrible. I felt overwhelmed with sorrow as I walked through these exhibits. Some of the pictures are very graphic so parents will have to make their own determinations on when a child is old enough to handle this. Many adults were in tears walking through the museum. I want to stress again that although this is not a pleasant experience I feel it's extremely important that people learn the lessons of history.

After completing the tour of Auschwitz, one can take a shuttle bus over to the Birkenau camp. the Birkenau camp is much larger and includes the ruins of destroyed crematoriums and numerous barracks that are still standing. One can walk through the barracks and get a feel for the horrible existence endured by the prisoners. 

When I entered into the Birkenau camp, I walked along the train tracks. It is eerie because I have seen footage and many pictures of prisoners being taken into this camp. It was creepy to actually be walking along those tracks knowing what happened at this site. The camp is enormous and I remember thinking how long of a walk it was. This also helped drive home the point of the evil that occurred here. Any thoughts of whining about my sore feet were instantly vanquished by consideration for the plight of those prisoners that met such horrible fates 60 plus years ago. 

I opted to walk through the two camps on my own rather than take a tour. I bought a guide book and used the map to follow through to the various exhibits. Most of the features include English text so I was able to read about what I was seeing. In all, it took about 4 hours and I did not see everything there. It was a very emotional draining experience but one that I was glad I had. It is important to recognize the often barbaric behavior some people display toward others. Being confronted with it in such a direct manner helps strengthen my resolve to work toward preventing it from happening again.

The museum is open every day of the year but different seasons have different hours. If one is planning a trip they should find out what the hours are. It is a long and exhausting experience. I was very relieved at the end of the walk through Birkenau to be able to get on a bus and go back to Krakow.  I advise friends traveling to Poland to go here.  It is ugly.  You may cry, (I did), but we need to remember these horrors and stop them from continuing to happen.

Author's Notes/Comments: 

This is an old piece from nearly a decade ago.  It was some thoughts on a trip to Auschwitz.

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