While I was in Poland I was lucky enough to grab the opportunity to visit Auschwitz. I had been to Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem, back in September 2016 and really felt that Auschwitz was somewhere I needed to go to complete the picture of what I had learnt in Israel.
It’s a surreal experience, walking around and hearing what happened on the very spot where you are standing. For me, it is something I am processing gradually over time. I’m not prone to sentimentality, but the feeling is hard to shake and is best expressed by sharing the photos I took on the day.
For more information on Auschwitz and the Holocaust in general, see the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Yad Vashem World Holocaust Museum websites.
The famous “Work makes you free” gates to Auschwitz I. Millions passed under these gates. Unlike today’s visitors, most were never free again.
The converted army barracks that make up Auschwitz I. Unlike Auschwitz II and many other concentration camps, the main buildings of Auschwitz I had a previous life before they were converted to prison cells and torture chambers.
Some of the thousands of pairs of spectacles taken from prisoners sent to the gas chambers.
Shoes of every shape and size. Their owners would never need them again.
Block 10 – where sterilisation experiments were carried out on female prisoners.
One of the guard towers overlooking Auschwitz I.
The Wall of Death. In this courtyard, against this wall, many thousands of people were executed by firing squad.
The slanting posts were used to suspend prisoners by their arms, tied together behind their backs. This resulted in dislocations and fractures, which rendered them unfit for work, and resulted in them going to the gas chambers.
Building used for medical experiments, Auschwitz I. There was an official “hospital”, but nobody came out alive.
The bleak landscape of the prison blocks, Auschwitz I.
Fence, Auschwitz I. This was electrified with such a strong current it would kill on impact.
A fence – and an all-too-familiar cry. Auschwitz I.
Between the fences separating the prisoners from the SS guards.
Inside a gas chamber at Auschwitz I – the only one still standing. Of all the places we visited at Auschwitz, this gave me the biggest chills. I was lucky: I got to walk back out through the door.
The crematorium. Immediately though the door from the gas chamber.
The outside of the last remaining gas chamber, Auschwitz I. There was snow on the January day we visited, and the cell blocks were cold and draughty. I can only imagine what it was like in winter for the prisoners.
Railway platform at Auschwitz II Birkenau – the end of the line for the transported prisoners. Of the millions of prisoners, who arrived here by wooden rail wagon, 90% were Jews.
The railway tracks converge on Auschwitz II Birkenau. It’s the end of the line in every sense.
A guard post looks out over Auschwitz II Birkenau.
One of the trucks used to transport the prisoners. This was donated by a survivor’s family; it may or may not have actually been used in the transport of Jews but is certainly of the same model. On the back of the wagon are stones laid in memorial, in the Jewish tradition.
The barracks of Auschwitz II Birkenau.
Entrance to the camp, Auschwitz II Birkenau. On arrival, the new inmates were assessed. Those deemed unproductive, such as the elderly, children and the infirm, were sent directly to the gas chambers. The lucky ones were admitted to the camp, where all that awaited them was hard labour and horrific living conditions – until they, too, became too ill and frail to work.
The memorial at Auschwitz II Birkenau. Each of the plaques commemorates the dead in one of the different languages used by the prisoners at the camp. The Hebrew plaque is somehow the most moving.
One of the mass graves where the ashes of the dead were deposited.
Auschwitz II Birkenau. There’s not much left of most of the barracks, but it conveys even more starkly the barrenness of the landscape.
The barracks at Auschwitz II Birkenau. In these buildings, prisoners were housed in terrible conditions; they were cold and draughty with mud floors, and prisoners often slept 6 to a bunk.
A guard post is visible between the barracks, Auschwitz II Birkenau. Really no chance of escape.
Inside one of the buildings where the prisoners were held before execution.
Each section of shelf could hold 6 prisoners, so disease spread like wildfire. The building wasn’t heated.
Auschwitz II Birkenau.
The memory of this place will be with me forever, but I am so glad I went. If you get the chance to visit Auschwitz, do go – but be prepared to be respectful and considerate. The experience is eye-opening, and a vivid reminder of what humans are capable of if we let them. Let’s not let them.
Want to discover more of Eastern Europe? Check out these posts for more inspiration:
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Getting around Warsaw by public transport
Snowshoeing in Europe: Poland’s Tatra National Park
Top things to do in Warsaw: The perfect Warsaw itinerary
Vegetarian in Poland? Here’s how to cope!
Time of change: Russia after Communism
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I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 70 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!