It was 2017 and I had no intention of travelling afar, let alone Poland which to be honest was not on my top 10 places to visit in Europe. One of my closest friends was getting married in September and not until I received an invitation did I think there could be real possibility of going. When our other mutual friend said she was certainly going, I bit the bullet and booked my tickets and it was the best decisions as Poland is one of the most underrated countries I’ve visited.
Unfortunately most of the world knows Poland from one tragic historic event - the Holocaust and I felt there was a duty to visit Auschwitz to not only gain a greater understanding but pay respect and to try learn from what was one of the worst events in human history.
The camp was split in two, Auschwitz I which was the main camp and administrative headquarters; and Auschwitz II–Birkenau which was a concentration/extermination camp 3 kilometers away. Auschwitz I was home to former Polish military barracks which was converted to house political prisoners by the SS. This went on to house and execute prisoners, hold medical experiments and punish prisoners by excruciating methods. The site of Auschwitz I is now the Museum and you can take a guided tour through the premises. The guide takes you through the Museum, detailing all aspects of what the prisoners endured. Here you can witness shocking artifacts and relics of the concentration camp.
Auschwitz II–Birkenau is a short bus ride away and here the tour continues. Auschwitz II was built as part of the Nazi’s final solution. This is where Jews and prisoners would be brought en mass via trains to what they believed to be labor camps; but in fact they were extermination camps. Here you can walk through the large site which retains the original fencing and watch towers along with the barracks. Each barrack was 35m x 10m but housed between 500-750 inmates.
You also see the remains of the gas chambers which have been left as they were found. The Holocaust Survivors collectively decided not to re-create this due to the pain this would cause. The Barracks are original or have been maintained to keep for visitors to see.
Between 1940 and 1945, around 1,085,000 people died at Auschwitz alone.
Visiting Auschwitz was the most emotional experience I’ve ever had. I don’t think words can describe the feeling I endured and could not come remotely close to fathoming what the people went through at that time. I would hope anyone who has the opportunity to visit - does so as we need to learn from history and mustn’t let anything of this nature happen again.
The capital, Warsaw is a stunning European city and once described as the ‘Paris of the North’. Personally Warsaw was my favourite city in Poland as it was a modern metropolis with efficient public transport, trams and trains but also retained the beautiful Old Town which was re-built almost identical after WWII.