How to visit Auschwitz – Birkenau, Poland
When studying history in school and you’re told about this period in time when millions of people were imprisoned and murdered, you can’t really comprehend the scale of the operation and what happened until you go there.
A Brief History
Auschwitz initially served as a detention centre for political prisoners. In the years of 1939 – 1945, the Nazis evolved it into a network of camps where 1.1 million Jews, Soviet prisoners, prisoners of war, Romanian Gypsies and other ethnic groups were exterminated and around 90% were Jews.
The first and ‘main camp’ was known as Auschwitz I, holding as many as 20,000 prisoners at one point. The second part was Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II and was the largest part of the Auschwitz complex. Birkenau help over 90,000 prisoners between 1943 and 1944. The Nazis evicted the polish population from their houses and demolished them in 1941 to start building Auschwitz II.
The majority of the victims were murdered in Birkenau.
How to get to Auschwitz – Birkenau
Visiting Auschwitz via a tour is the most convenient option but it can be the most expensive. When booking a tour from Krakow (you can chose a pick up/drop off point), your transport, admission and guided tour is covered in the cost.
Travel Time – 1 hour/1 hour 30 mins.
Price – from 103 PLN / £20.47 / $26.38 / €24.10
Pick up – Hotel of your choice (depending on who you book your tour through)
Getting to Auschwitz by bus the cheapest options. You will need to get a bus to Oswiecim from the MDA bus station which is situated right behind Krakow Central Railway Station.
Travel time – 1 hour 30mins.
Price – 12 PLN / £2.38 / $3.07 / €2.80.
Once you reach Oswiecim, it will then take you around 10 minutes on foot to reach the museum.
To return to Krakow, you can head back to the bus stop or walk 2K walk to the train station.
Getting a train to the museum is the most reliable form of public transport as there are direct trains from Krakow to Oswiecim.
You will be able to get the train from Krakow Central Railway Station
Travel time – 2 hours.
Price – 9 PLN / £1.78 / $2.30 / €2.10.
It will be a 20 – 30 minute walk by foot from the train station to the museum or 10 minute by bus (1.70 PLN / £0.33 / $0.43 / €0.39)
TOP TIP – please not that if you travel to the museum without a guided tour please be aware that entry is not guaranteed. Please book entrance ticket via the Auschwitz – Birkenau website.
When to visit Auschwitz – Birkenau
The museum is open daily, with the exception of a few days on the year including 1st January, 25th December, Easter Sunday and certain days / hours when diplomatic delegations are taking place on site. The Auschwitz website will have all these dates on their website, if you are unsure if the museum will be open.
When visiting during winter time, please bear in mind Birkenau II is mainly a lot of walking and time outside, and Poland in the winter can hit in the minus. If you are planning on visiting in the winter then make sure you are wrapped up warm and wearing appropriate clothing.
- December, 7:30am – 2:00pm
- January & November, 7:30pm – 3:00pm
- February, 7:30am – 4:00pm
- March & October, 7:30am – 5:00pm
- April, May & September, 7:30am – 6:00pm
- June, July & August, 7:30am – 7:00pm
My experience of visiting Auschwitz – Birkenau
Before flying to Krakow, I did a lot of research regarding the best way to experience Auschwitz – Birkenau and decided to book a guided tour. With the tour we were collected 2 minutes away from our Airbnb. The journey took around 1 hour from Krakow to the museum. Upon arriving we were introduced to our tour guide and given headsets to wear throughout the door.
It was a bitterly 1 degree and walking through the gates under the inscription ARBEIT MACHT FREI, which means Work Will Set You Free you could really feel the atmosphere which made the whole experience feel really real and the reality of the inhumane events that took place.
We were led through all the blocks 1 – 10 and shown where women were housed and used for medical experimentation which were conducted by Josef Mengele. As you were walking through, the museum shows 15-16 million pairs of shoes, personal belongings and 293 sacks of human hair which was used to make felt for socks, which were all found in the ledgers.
Between blocks 10 and 11, we were shown the Death Wall. This is a purpose-built wall where prisoners were shot against so the bullets didn’t ricochet. This place hit hard for most of the people in the tour group for personal reasons which really hit home.
The final part of Auschwitz I was the Death Block, this is where people were gassed. You are shown the ovens where the bodies were cremated, including the additional ovens to be able to keep up with the number of deaths. You are not allowed to take photos here to show respect to those who died in an inhumane way.
Once we reached the end of the tour of Auschwitz I we were transported by bus to Birkenau camp. It was at this point that you could really feel how bitterly cold and windy is really was. Birkenau is home to the iconic view of the train tracks. Birkenau is far bigger than Auschwitz I, and the realisation of the amount of people who lost their lives here become more apparent.
People who got off the trains, including families were put through a selection process. Some were sent straight to their deaths and some were sent to very poor living conditions. The barracks were originally built to be stables. 6 or more people would sleep in 1 bunk, some would not have anything to sleep on or with.
As the weather conditions were so bad, most of these people would not last very long and people who hasn’t already lost their lives due to these conditions were sent to their death and replaced with people who were still able to work. When the Nazis’ fled and abandoned Auschwitz – Birkenau they destroyed the 4 crematoriums although Krema II is still partially intact and shows the scale of the mass murders that took place here.
In 1947 Auschwitz – Birkenau was opened to the public after some of the survivors went back and agreed that it should be turned into a museum to tell and show the world happened here.
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