Krakow has been in my mind for years now. I’m a big history person and World War two has been an interesting time period for me.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the name nor the history, Krakow is right next to the infamous Auschwitz Concentration Camp the Nazis had set up to become a murdering machine. They ended up killing over a million people in the gas chambers at this one camp alone.
This history of the camp is actually pretty detailed. It started off as a camp for political prisoners and it was low in priority for the Third Reich, but overtime it’s importance grew and so did the amount of people deported there.
Many didn’t survive more than a few months and those who did were seriously in need of treatment upon liberation.
My friend, K, and I went in the middle of high season…
You can get to the camp in two ways: by yourself or with tour. I overheard a man at my hostel buy the tour option which picked him up from the hostel and got him a guide for something like 150 zloty (Polish money). You can also buy a tour from the camp.
We picked the by ourselves option and due to high season, reserved 2 tickets almost a month in advance. Entrance to the camp is free, but there are special times when you can enter since they limit the number of people a day in the camp for preservation reasons.
As we were in high season, we had to get in before 10, I believe. We didn’t want to risk not getting in and so arrived as early as we could get. Our tickets said 7.30, but we got the eariest bus at 6.20 and arrived at 7.45. Buying tickets online for 2 people cost about 24 zloty. Buying the tickets on the bus was 14 zloty each.
We bought online to go there because we weren’t sure how crowded it was going to be. The bus still had space, but it calmed us knowing we would get to the camp as to us it was the biggest thing in Krakow.
Upon arriving, both of us had the feeling of being in an amusement park. Not that the camp or the Holocaust is fun- not at all! But to enter we were all shuffled into a line and bags were checked as they scanned our tickets. There were so many tour buses and later in the day so many tours walking around- shuffling and lining people up through the different exhibits.
I highly recommend you to do the camp on your own. We felt that we were able to appreciate and take our time with the history than being led with blinders on. There are plenty of information panels that a guide isn’t necessary.
Also, with the amusement park….as much as there was a big social media campaign about taking inappropriate pictures at these sites, we still saw these people. And they were not Americans.
One man stood at the fence, that used to be electric, and acted like he was being electrocuted while his friends laughed. Later, this same group was taking photos and laughing in places were people were murdered. This was just one example.
A bit more of history, Auschwitz is actually 2 camps- 1 and 2 (Birkenau). 1 is the oldest and smallest as well as the most preserved. The barracks hold exhibits on each ethnicity/culture group that was at the camp. So one was on Polish prisoners, another on Polish Jews, another on Hungarian Jews, etc.
They also had exhibits on different things such as sanitary conditions, daily life, and information on the company that built the crematoriums. This was new information for me as it never occurred to me about those that built the crematoriums or the chambers…it appears the company knew about the mass murders and mass graves and didn’t care as long as they got money.
After seeing the exhibits and walking around we took the free shuttle bus to Birkenau. This was the biggest, but not much is left due to the Nazis trying to cover up their crimes before they fled the Allies (really the Soviets since they liberated Auschwitz).
The Soviet Union’s history with Poland is very muddy. They were not a friend to Poland originally and it wasn’t until the Nazis attacked Russia did the Soviets switch sides and help Poland/the Allies. Only to proceed to take over Poland again…
Birkenau is where the mass murders with the gas chambers took full affect. In actuality, Auschwitz is where the gas chambers were founded. They separated the men, women, and children. Those unfit for slave labor were sent to the chambers instantly. This mainly were young mothers and children (less than 15), the old, and the sick.
We were also there when a group from the Israeli army was there. They did a small march into Birkenau.
We were there a total of 6 hours, not including travel time. We got on the 13.45 bus to return to Krakow.
After arriving so early the day before and having an early start this day and being an emotional day at that, we were exhausted.
More photos coming soon here