Visiting the Auschwitz Concentration Camp

, ,

The Auschwitz Concentration Camp is, arguably, the twentieth century’s most pervasive symbol of human suffering, and of the depths of human cruelty.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 1-DR

The largest prison complex ever built by the Nazis, the facilities at Auschwitz included prison camps, labour camps, and later, the construction of a purpose-built extermination camp designed for ‘processing’ vast numbers of victims with machine-like efficiency. In the last years of WWII, the sleepy Polish town of Oświęcim saw the cruel massacre of as many as three million innocent men, women and children in the gas chambers: almost 50% of the Holocaust’s total death toll.

Nowadays the well-preserved concentration camp at Oświęcim attracts more than a million curious visitors each year. Two weeks ago I finally made the trip for myself, and joined the crowds of tourists flooding through the gates of Auschwitz.

Here’s my report.

 

The Train to Oświęcim

I really didn’t know what to expect from my visit to Auschwitz. On the one hand, I was excited to be visiting a site which had played such a pivotal role in the course of twentieth century history; however, the very real horror of the death camps became more palpable the closer we got. A part of me was scared that my excitement would give itself away, that I would get lost in taking photos and somehow fail to show the due respect. The sheer magnitude of the massacre was simply too hard to comprehend.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 3-DRWe took a shuttle bus from the airport into Katowice, one of the larger and more industrious cities in the south of Poland. From here it was a train ride to Oświęcim, home of the camps. As we worked our way around information desks at the station, tentatively asking for tickets to Auschwitz in subdued voices, it occurred to me how inappropriate it was that we should be asking for the town by its German name. Once or twice people corrected us, nodding, and then repeating the destination as ‘Oświęcim’. There was no rebuttal, no condemnation, merely a friendly indication of preference.

It didn’t take long before we were sat on a clean, modern train, heading south and slightly east towards our destination. Strange to think that we were following the exact same route as so many of the camp’s victims.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 4-DRI spent the journey gazing out the window, watching the urban sprawl wash by; soot encrusted terraces, smokestacks, derelict factories and forlorn towers passed us in a blur of brick and steel. I wondered how much the landscape had changed since 1942, when the first carriages began ferrying Europe’s jews along these tracks to the gas chambers.

The ride took less than an hour, and then we were in Oświęcim. Surrounded by forest, this picturesque town can trace its history back through a millenium of kings and dukes. A shame then, that it is best known for the events which took place here in the mid-twentieth century.

Outside Oświęcim Station an information board displayed a map of the camps. The first lay to the south, while the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was just a short distance to the west. After a quick meal in a diner beside the tracks, we set out on foot to our first destination: the original Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 5-DR

 

Auschwitz I: Concentration Camp

The vast majority of visitors to Auschwitz arrive at the camp on tour buses rather than public transport. As a result it was a strange contrast to wander the streets of a sleepy Polish town, only to turn the final corner and enter a bustling car park filled with noisy crowds of foreign tourists. I’ll be honest, my initial reaction to the scene was one of disgust… this was not at all what I had imagined.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 8-DRAs we approached the entrance people were pushing past us this way and that, clustering around tour guides or queuing up to collect the audio-guide headsets offered in an extensive range of different languages. Entry to the Auschwitz camp is free of charge, but at this stage it was hard to even ascertain where the entrance was. Eventually we managed to beat the queues, declining the offer of a guide, and stepped out into a grassy courtyard flanked by austere red brick buildings.

The barracks at Oświęcim – formerly occupied by the Austrian, and later the Polish army – were requisitioned by the Nazis when the existing prisons in the Silesia region began to reach their capacity. On 21st February 1940 this complex of 16 one-storey buildings were converted into a detention camp, under the watchful eye of first commandant Rudolf Höss. In those early days the camp was used to house Polish prisoners, with a first transport of 728 Poles arriving by train on 14th June. By March the following year the Auschwitz camp held a total of 10,900 inmates; following the scourge of Poland’s dissidents, intelligentsia and resistance parties.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 10-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 9-DR

From this first enclosed area we crossed the railway towards the prison blocks, passing under the infamous metal banner that reads, ‘ARBEIT MACHT FREI’. Translating to English as ‘Work sets you free’, this slogan featured at a number of Nazi concentration camps. It’s taken from the title of an 1873 novel by Lorenz Diefenbach, a work extolling the merits of hard work and the virtues of labour. Understandably, many of the prisoners took it for an insult; however, German philosopher Otto Friedrich had a different understanding of Höss’s decision to display the slogan at Auschwitz. In ‘The Kingdom of Auschwitz’, he writes:

“He seems not to have intended it as a mockery, nor even to have intended it literally, as a false promise that those who worked to exhaustion would eventually be released, but rather as a kind of mystical declaration that self-sacrifice in the form of endless labour does in itself bring a kind of spiritual freedom.”

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 12-DRBeyond the sign we entered the prison camp proper, where a series of brick buildings were arranged in rows around a central pathway. Wooden watchtowers looked down on the thoroughfare from either end, while double barriers of electrified barbed wire separated the compounds from one another. Rudimentary gallows had been erected to one side of the path for executions. The visitors were more spread out here, some moving slowly in groups while others, like myself, chose to explore the bleak paths and alleyways alone.

Even in the early days of Auschwitz conditions were harsh, as the SS developed increasingly cruel treatments for prisoners who stepped out of line. Most of these punishments took place in the infamous Block 11. ‘Standing cells’ restricted movement and denied comfort, while those condemned to ‘starvation cells’ in the basement were left without food or drink until they perished. There were also ‘quiet cells’ – inmates in these chambers were deprived of air and left to suffocate – often with a candle placed in the room to help speed the process.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 13-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 14-DR

Many of these buildings are now open to the public, containing museum-style exhibitions detailing different aspects of prison life. One building was dedicated to the stories of Belgian inmates, another to the Hungarians.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 17-DRThere was a separate museum showcasing the treatment of Roma prisoners, while a more recent addition in Block 27, titled ‘Shoah’, had been prepared by the Yad Vashem Institute of Jerusalem. Opened on 13th June – just two weeks before my own visit – the exhibition is dedicated to Jewish life before and during the Holocaust.

Before the outbreak of WWII, more than half the population of Oświęcim was Jewish; a community of around 8,000 people. At the Shoah exhibition visitors are given a glimpse of local Jewish culture in those pre-war days, leading into a series of increasingly distressing rooms detailing the worsening conditions in the camps.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 19-DRIn one particularly moving display, images drawn by Jewish children murdered in the camp had been reconstructed by artist Michal Rovner to form one vast collage. These crude, hand-drawn images told a story that facts and figures alone could never hope to deliver with such impact.

Many of these exhibitions felt like an exercise in driving home the reality of the figures involved. One room in a building dedicated to French victims was lined with framed photographs; countless faces peering out from sepia shots, some posed formally, others at play.

In one of the Shoah rooms a book had been created which listed all the names of the victims of the Holocaust. The resultant tome was several metres deep, and took up the greater part of the room.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 15-DRIn Block 20, formerly a camp hospital, prisoners were killed by lethal injections of phenol directly into the heart. A sign near the entrance explained that a few dozen prisoners were killed here in such a fashion, almost every day from 1941 onwards.

The cruelty of the SS spiralled to new levels on 3rd September 1941, when deputy camp commandant SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritzsch conducted a lethal experiment in the basement of Block 11.

A total of 600 Soviet prisoners-of-war and 200 Poles were sealed in a large chamber, and gassed with the cyanide-based pesticide Zyklon-B – formerly used for killing the lice which thrived in the rags worn by inmates.

The experiment was deemed a ‘success’, and a bunker on the site was subsequently converted into a gas chamber. Operating between 1941 and 42, a total of 60,000 inmates were exterminated in this bare, subterranean cell. An adjacent room was fitted with a series of ovens, and served as a crematorium.

On entering the bunker, a sign asked visitors to maintain a respectful silence. It needn’t have bothered, though – there was simply no fitting comment which could have been made in response to these barren chambers, the adjacent ovens.

If a tour of the Auschwitz I Concentration Camp had been moving however, then words fail to describe the clinical detachment apparent in the design of the next site; the purpose-built mass extermination facility known as Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

 

Auschwitz II-Birkenau: Death Camp

There’s a shuttle bus that runs between camps I and II every half hour, leaving from just outside the main gate. We ambled through the car park, past a hoard of tour coaches, and hopped onboard. It was only 3.5km to Birkenau – a distance we might have walked had we not been so pressed for time.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 29-DR

Even the location of the death camp reveals something of its function; situated close to the main train station, an offshoot of the track leads directly between the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau and straight down the middle of the camp. Rather than being removed from sight, as one might imagine of such a horrific facility, instead it sits upon one of the larger roads on this side of the town; from a distance I had assumed the traffic ahead to be purely tourists, but drawing closer to the gates I realised that many of these cars were passing by on their daily commute.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 31-DRThe bus pulled up in a car park outside the compound, where a cluster a taxi drivers stood smoking and cracking jokes beside their cars. People were coming and going: a group of college students bustling around the collection stand for audio-guide headsets; a large party of American jews fussing about with their yarmulkes. The Birkenau site is so large though, that just minutes from the main gate we were once more alone with history’s ghosts.

Construction of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp was started in October of 1941, as part of a plan to ease congestion at the first camp. Whereas Auschwitz I was adapted from existing artillery barracks however, Auschwitz II was designed with the sole purpose of extermination en masse. It was on 20th January 1942, at the Wannsee Conference, that plans were fixed for the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. Reinhard Heydrich delivered the order, though it was common knowledge that the initiative had come down from Heinrich Himmler. After this point, the Auschwitz Birkenau Extermination Camp became a ruthlessly efficient processing facility.

Walking the path of the train tracks it was easy to see how the camp would have functioned. Trains passed the checkpoint at the main building to pull up alongside platforms, where their cargo would be unloaded. Under the view of numerous watchtowers, inmates would be sorted according to worth before being herded – like cattle – through a series of gates and holding pens. A number of low buildings provided storage space… after looking inside these bleak huts lined with wooden shelves, I can’t quite bring myself to call them ‘accommodation’.

It’s not that the site was macabre in itself. In other circumstances these red brick buildings in a field of green grass, hemmed in by dense forest, could almost have been attractive. The thing that I found most shocking however was the efficiency of the design; it made me think of production lines, of how the livestock facilities for firms such as KFC must look. I was chilled by the complete lack of empathy for human life, so apparent in every aspect of the site’s layout.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 35-DRAt the back of the Birkenau site, one finds the remains of the gas chambers. The first gassing took place here in 1942, at a converted farmhouse; the building was gutted, its windows bricked up, and the interior converted into four large rooms which were designed to look like showers. Due to the remote location however, as well as the lack of plumbing or running water, it would seem that few of the prisoners were fooled by the ruse. It was known as the ‘Little Red House’. In June of the same year a second building – the ‘Little White House’ – was also put to use.

A year later, by June of 1943, the Final Solution was well underway and commandant Rudolf Höss had greatly increased the camp’s gassing capacity with the construction of a further four chambers. ‘Krema II’ had originally been a camp crematorium, featuring a morgue and furnaces. In early 1943 it was converted with the inclusion of gas-tight doors, vents for the insertion of Zyklon-B pellets and ventilation equipment to remove the gas after use. The other three buildings were constructed following the same design: Crematoria III through V.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 38-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 37-DRPictured here are the collapsed ruins of Krema II. It was hard to comprehend how this inoffensive brick abandonment had once been the scene of the largest mass murder in recorded human history; over 500,000 Jews were gassed in this building alone, herded inside like cattle as pellets of the Zyklon-B insecticide were poured in through hatches on the walls.

By the time we left the camp, taking the train from Oświęcim and then the shuttle bus back to Katowice Airport, I was feeling decidedly unwell. I’ve seen horrific prisons and execution sites before, and if not for the scale of the atrocities, I would tentatively place Auschwitz I into the same category.

The camp at Auschwitz II-Birkenau is something entirely different though, and the cold methodology behind its design, construction and use belies a clinical detachment which scares me even now.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 26-DR

After The Holocaust

On the approach to Auschwitz I had been torn between guilt and excitement. I needn’t have been so self-critical, though: Auschwitz is one of the most interesting places I have ever visited, the museum nothing if not tasteful, and I would recommend a visit to anybody with an interest in learning more about the Holocaust.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 11-DRThere was a sense of comradeship between the visitors; solemn nods and even the occasional strained smile showing the recognition that each visitor was on their own emotional journey as they toured the camps, be they students, descendants or merely interested parties such as myself. Nobody seemed apologetic for the natural sounds of human interaction – and perhaps after all, that’s the best way to counter the clinical objectification of human life which had occurred here.

There is nothing we can do to change the fact that the Holocaust happened. It changed the course of the twentieth century, and its effects are still felt by many today; the impression I got was that victims would prefer recognition, to having the whole series of events cast in taboo. Even more dangerous is the notion of Holocaust denial, which can only be countered by the propagation of truth.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 16-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 18-DR

Something strange happened under National Socialism. The detachment required to commit systematic slaughter on such a grand scale – or at the very least, to turn a blind eye – speaks volumes about the desperation of Germany in the 1930s.

Talking about the gassings at the Little White House in his autobiography, Camp Commandant Rudolf Höss wrote:

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 28-DR“Hundreds of men and women in the full bloom of life walked all unsuspecting to their death in the gas chambers under the blossom-laden fruit trees of the orchard. This picture of death in the midst of life remains with me to this day. I looked upon them as enemies of our people. The reasons behind the Extermination Program seemed to me right.”

Immediately following WWII, there was a temptation to point the finger at Germany; the world over, people told themselves that such heinous events could never have been permitted in their own countries. Such an attitude however, sidesteps our responsibility to understand the events running up to the Holocaust.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 36-DRIn the 1960s, Stanley Milgram at Yale University conducted experiments looking at obedience to authority figures.

Participants were ordered to administer increasingly powerful electric shocks, every time another participant answered a given question incorrectly. In reality, the victims were actors and the shocks nonexistent. The results showed however, that a disturbing number of participants – even in countries such as England and America – would procede to administer potentially lethal voltages merely because an authority figure in a lab coat ordered them to do so [1].

Other post-WWII works, such as the uncomfortable study of morality offered in Eichmann and the Holocaust by political philosopher Hannah Arendt, have examined our moral obligation to question authority, even at the risk of our own lives [2].

Although a visit to Auschwitz is far from a comfortable experience, it is nevertheless an important one; as it is crucial that the events of the Holocaust are not forgotten.

The overall message of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, as I perceived it, was not one of apportioning blame; but rather to recognise humankind’s capacity for cruelty, and, through better understanding the past, making certain that nothing like this is ever allowed to happen again.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 39-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 7-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 21-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 6-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 23-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 22-DR Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 24-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 25-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 27-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 33-DR Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 32-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 34-DR


[1] The relevance of these experiments to the Holocaust has since been debated; Professor James Waller for example, Chair of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College, argued that the experiment failed to take into account the decades of racist propaganda prior to the Holocaust, or the extended duration of the cruelty of Nazi Germany (the experiments generally only lasted an hour, thus allowing little time for reflection).

[2] Adolf Eichmann was a bureaucrat in Hitler’s Third Reich, responsible for managing the logistics of the Holocaust. From his desk job in Berlin, he signed the papers which sent millions of Jews to their deaths. Finally put on trial in Jerusalem in 1961, Eichmann countered charges of attempted genocide with the claim that he was ‘only following orders’.

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 30-DR

Dark Tourism - Auschwitz - 40-DR

Support The Bohemian Blog on Patreon

The Exclusion Zone.

The Bohemian Blog is bigger than it looks. In fact, there’s a whole restricted area hidden away behind the public pages… a space where patrons of the site can access exclusive content, book previews and private image galleries. It’s called The Exclusion Zone. Just sponsor me the equivalent of a cup of coffee for each new article I post, and I’ll send you the password. Check out my page on Patreon to find out more about the perks of getting involved.

Yugoslav Tour Banner

Post a comment

  1. I will be visiting Germany in the summer of 2016 and was hoping someone can help me as to where I can purchase tickets to see the Anne Frank house and also visit a tour of Aushwitz . Or give me links to where I may find them ? Thank you

    • Hi Marissa, the Anne Frank House Museum is located in the Netherlands, and it seems you can buy tickets online here. I haven’t been though, so I can’t offer too much info. As for Auschwitz, take a train or fly to Poland, and the museum is free entry. I think you can simply sign up for a tour at the entrance. Their website is here.

  2. My best friend is a survivor of Auschwitz and Allendorf. She gladly talks to young students at schools and auditoriums about her experiences. She wants to put across the act of bullying, which began in her home town of Sarand, Hungary. As a young girl, her playmates started to ignore her and bully her, which she did not understand. She lost her father that first day at Auschwitz to the gas chamber and did not find out until much later because someone who knew her, had to go through clothing and found a family photo of her sister’s wedding. She still has that photo. If you would like to read her account, do a search on Kitty Williams. She’s made a recording which is at the Holocaust Museum in WA DC. She still has nightmares of the wheelbarrows full of bodies, but on the other hand, she is the most upbeat person, a delight to have as a friend.

    • Thanks so much for sharing this, Mary. I read up more about your friend (for anyone else reading this, her account is Here) – it’s incredible to think what she went though, and even more remarkable that she is then able to overcome that horror and serve as an educator to the world. I can’t tell you how much I admire that kind of strength.

      It makes me think back to a place I visited in Australia a few years ago – the ‘Jewish Holocaust Centre’ in Melbourne. All the guides who staff the museum are Holocaust survivors. It’s one thing to read about what happened, but to hear the stories firsthand is just so powerful. I think it’s a really important contribution, that your friend and these other survivors are making to the world.

  3. Did you take photos in places they asked you not to? I was there a few weeks ago and I’m sure there were signs to say don’t take photos of inside the gas chambers and of the ovens.

    • Hi Becca. No – not as far as I know. I didn’t have a guide at all, so no one was telling me these things as I walked around… but I just wouldn’t have felt comfortable disobeying a ‘no photography’ sign here. I felt strange enough already, photographing the place at all. Maybe the rules have changed since I was there?

  4. Hi, can you tell me if the musuem and the camps are the same?
    Is it all free entry and you just turn up on the day or do you have to book in somewhere? Thanks!

    • Hi Ro – sorry for the slow reply, I’m travelling at the moment.

      Anyway, the museum and camps overlap. There are a few related sites around the town, all featuring museum exhibits and visitor facilities. You don’t need to book, and it’s free to visit.

  5. Hi Damon, thanks for the post on your trip to Auschwitz. I noticed you mentioning that you were pressed for time in the article, and that you went there directly from the airport. I am visiting Krakow this June and would also like to go directly from the airport. We arrive at 130pm. Do you think this is enough time to get out to Auschwitz, and visit it before they close at 7pm? And do you recommend travelling the way that you did, via Kawotice, or do you know of better alternatives? Thanks!

    • Hi Jane, that sounds like plenty of time to me. You could spend longer than that, easily, but if you can get a full five hours inside the camp, then you ought to be able to get a good idea of the whole place.

      A lot of people visit the site via Krakow, though I found the train from Katowice very quick and easy. Either airport would make a convenient point of arrival for visiting the camps.

  6. Thank you very much for this detailed account of Auschwitz. I am crying as I read it. I will go to Krakow in July, and may be going to Auschwitz alone. I’m not sure if i can handle it. Despite numerous accounts and videos I have read and seen about the Holocaust, it still tears me up every time.. Would you mind if i take a copy of your post as a guide for my visit there? I feel like going alone and not join a tour group in order to experience it more solemnly and personally, without missing out on details which a tour guide can present. I find your post very helpful.

    • Hello, May. Yes – you’re very welcome to use this post for reference as you visit. I understand how you feel, as I think it was the same for me. Somehow a guided tour wouldn’t have felt quite right, I really needed to feel this place for myself. It’s hard work, as I’m sure you can imagine… but, in my opinion, it’s a worthwhile experience and in years to come I believe you’ll be glad you made the trip. I certainly feel I gained a lot from going.

  7. Thank you, I too am visiting late sept. I also have been excited and felt terribly guilty for this, I appreciate you expressing your feelings. I felt an instant disappointment when reading about how many tourists were there as well, I somehow forgot that that would be the case. I visited Anne Franks house a couple years ago, and just hated how many people there were, I excused myself out of the line in the kitchen and just stood in the corner taking it in for awhile, that is what I’m hoping to do at the camp. I also found it interesting how you talked about the world blaming the Germans, I have often said that I would hate my heritage if I was German, you’ve given me something to think about. Thank you for opening up my mind.

    • Thanks Shelley, it’s good to hear from you. It’s a strange experience, visiting places like this – managing the usual tourism expectations against a constant effort to remind oneself of the scale of what actually happened. There were certainly things that I would have found disappointing about the visit, had this been any other place… but given the history, I think it’s probably best just to take things as they are, and try to process it in whatever way one can.

      It was a highly worthwhile experience and I’d definitely recommend it to others. Anyway, glad you found this article interesting and I hope you have a successful visit yourself.

  8. I was a little hesitant whether to read this or not. I’ll be visiting Auscwitz in about ten days and I don’t want to be too “influenced” by anything, but I am happy I decided to read it. I can totally understand the guilt and excitment feelings – it’s exactly how I’m feeling now, still hundreds of kilometers away. I’m really looking forward to it, but at the same time I’m feeling guilty for looking forward to it and totally terrified.

    The main thing I really like about your report is that you don’t use big, sensationalistic words to paint the horror of the place, but it is still so full and personal. And hats off for all the research you did, it is really remarkable.

    • Yes, exactly – it’s a really difficult place to visit, and it’s hard to properly comprehend the scale of what happened there. I’m very glad I went though, and I would definitely recommend it. Unpleasant as it is, what happened shouldn’t be forgotten.

      Thank you for the comments. Like you say, I did try to avoid sensationalising the report – many people writing about places like this seem to feel obliged to keep throwing in strongly emotive words. I was hoping to achieve a more raw effect, and simply to give a sense of what it’s like to visit Auschwitz for oneself.

      I’m not going to wish you an enjoyable visit – but I do hope your experience is worthwhile.

  9. Hi, Thanks for this great article, A lot of research must have gone into it. I especially liked your phrases “clinical detachment” and “cold methodology” as I think it captures the feel of the place and what makes it most upsetting as well as words can describe it. Here are our thoughts after we visited recently: http://www.followthehound.com/auschwitz/

    • Thanks, Ross – I really appreciated your own account too, and your discussion of cold reality as compared to statistics. This was far from an easy place to write about, as I’m sure you’ll agree. One of my main goals though was to avoid dressing it up and damning the place with every other word… but instead, to try and understand how human beings could have done such things.

  10. Yes, I do but it is a very long conversation and I need to show you all research, facts , films and evidences , otherwise I will be accused of Antisemitism. I’m also sure that you haven’t seen the swimming pool there, nor the real “gas chambers” which in a realty were disinfection centers where Zyklon -B have been used !

    However about the numbers, since 1945 till now , without big noise in the mass media, the official number of the Holocaust victims drastically has been reduced from staggering 9 Million ( total number) as 4 Million were at Auschwitz alone (Jews and non-Jews), to the total estimate of 775,000 (by Jean- Claude Pressac in 1993 ) and then, in 1994 figure of somewhere between 630,000 and 710,000 !!!

    As for the changing of the plates : In 1995 this was the number of Auschwitz deaths announced by Polish President Lech Walesa as determined by those at the Auschwitz museum. This number was inscribed on the monument at the Auschwitz camp at that time, thereby “replacing” the earlier 4,000,000 figure that had been formally repudiated (and withdrawn from the monument) five years earlier in 1990. At that time, on July 17, 1990 The Washington Times reprinted a brief article from The London Daily Telegraph citing the “new” figure of 1,500,000 that had been determined by the authorities at the Auschwitz museum.

    If you never seen 1992 David Cole’s film about this place here is the link : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3TveySBlkQ

    • Thanks for all this information, Ivan… and I’m sorry it took me a long time to get back to you. I’ve just had the website redesigned, so I have fallen behind on replying to comments. Anyway, I watched the film you recommended – it was really interesting, thank you, and deals well with a lot of these questions. It’s a shame that the site of such a terrible tragedy could become so politicised!

  11. Still , confused about my QUESTION?

    • Yes, absolutely.

      I didn’t see these plates on the ground that you mention. My figures here came from the official website for the Auschwitz museum, as well as information panels situated around the camp for visitors.

      Do you have a theory to explain the different numbers? I’ll be interested to hear it.

  12. Interesting ! you didn’t mention anything about the plates on the ground with the official numbers of the victims . It should be 1,5 million !!! Well , back in 1987 the old plate was indicating 4 million and the tour guide was confirming those numbers back then ! You in the other hand stating 60, 000 in Bldg. 11 and some 500,000- at Krema 2 , Very confusing isn’t it? Where are the rest of the victims? Since my visit back in 1987 – more then 3,4 million victims “vaporized”

  13. Fantastic journal! I went to Auschwitz three times already and I always react the same way.
    I am doing dissertation about Auschwitz atm, would you mind if I would use your article for my dissertation? I mean use some of your sentences as quotes?

    Thank you!

    • Thanks a lot for the comment, Joanna. I’ve only been there once, but I can well imagine myself visiting again. It’s a difficult place to fully process, but I feel it’s important for people to try.

      I’d be very happy for you to quote me in your dissertation. If it’s convenient to add my web address to the bibliography, that would be perfect. Otherwise, just credit the quotes by name.

      Thanks again, and good luck with the dissertation.

    • Thank you so much, hopefully I will get a good grade!
      & Yes of course, I will add your web address to the bibliography, I was gonna ask you if it is OK but you were first 🙂

      PS I hope that I am not asking for too many things, but could you please spend 10 minutes of your free time and do this questionnaire for me? It is also about Auschwitz. If you do not have time, then it is OK 🙂

      https://www.quicksurveys.com/s/Gp9d4KE

    • Thank you, that’s much appreciated.

      “Free time” is an alien concept to me, but I took a few minutes to complete the questionnaire for you nonetheless. 🙂

  14. A truly moving piece of journalism. Thank you for giving me the best first hand report I’ve read of a visit to this site of appalling human suffering. If I never get the chance to experience it for myself, I’m sure you’ve captured the awed horror that anyone would feel in the presence of such tragedy.

    • Thanks Dale, that means a lot – it was a really tough place to write about.

      At first I felt obliged to insert disapproving adjectives everywhere (“horrifying”, “shocking”, “unforgivable”, etc). In the end though, I decided just to describe what I saw.

      Words can’t really express the full extent of what happened here, so the best I could do was try to share my own experience of visiting the place. I’m glad to hear it was appreciated.

    • I too went to Auschwitz / Birkenau & was overwhelmed with the scale of Birkenau & not sad as some friends of mine who would never go thought I should be !

      I went so as not to forget what happened & to remember how lucky we have been since those ” dark days “

    • Yes, I can relate to that. It’s easy to feel sad for the death of one person, ten people, maybe even 100 people.

      But this was so much bigger, it’s like the same emotions don’t apply. It’s hard to understand the numbers, and I’m still trying to process it now, 6 months later.

See all 31 comments on “Visiting the Auschwitz Concentration Camp”

More Dark Tourism

The Bad Place: Slime & Foreboding at the Grmeč Spomenpark in Bosnia

The abandoned Yugoslav monument where toads go to die.

Read More

Hunting for Pokémon in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Digital psychogeography & the gamification of dark tourism.

Read More

After the Siege: What I Learned in 18 Hours of Sarajevo War Tourism

Meeting the survivors of the longest siege in modern military history.

Read More

A Field of Blackbirds: Dark Tourism in Kosovo’s Former Conflict Zones

Visiting battlefields, monuments & political flashpoints, 15 years after the end of the Kosovo War.

Read More

Recommended Posts

Encountering Haitian Vodou: Le Grand Cimetière of Port-au-Prince

I went looking for Haitian vodou… but amongst the rituals and refugees of the Grand Cemetery, I fo

Read More

MiGs, Stars & Magic Books: A Brief History of Trespassing in Moscow

An illustrated guide to urban exploration in the Russian capital.

Read More

A Tourist in Pyongyang: My First Impressions on Visiting North Korea

A guided tour of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Old-fashioned hospitality in the communist D

Read More

Hunting for Pokémon in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Digital psychogeography & the gamification of dark tourism.

Read More

What it’s Like to Spend 32 Hours in The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Ghost towns, radiation & the ethics of ruin lust.

Read More