I feel I should start of by introducing myself, but I want to keep it short, as this story is not about me, it's about devoting this article and experience to the people who died in the holocaust. Black, White, Jewish, Polish, Greek, homosexual, straight, bisexual, and transgender. I apologise if I have missed any key groups, but the list is endless. I am a biomedical second year student from Manchester, I'm 21 years old and love writing, so I'm going to tell you about my experience.
Poland is a beautiful country full of culture, food, beer, and history. But it's just that, history, and Poland has had its fair share of it.
I spent five days in the beautiful city of Krakow and ventured back to the infamous Auschwitz. I have been before when I was younger, but this time was different. We went in the snowy season of February, the cold blitz hit hard on the forsaken town. The ghostly voices of the lost almost called out in the wind and the eerie presence of an evil regime still lingered in the frost. Auschwitz is more than a tourist attraction and definitely not a place you will enjoy, of course you'll find it interesting, but not enjoyable. I still strongly stand on my opinion that everyone should go to visit this place at least once. It is critical in ensuring that nobody forgets what happened at this awful place and never will. "Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them" - George Santayana (1863, Madrid). It is crucial that we ensure most school children learn of the mistakes humanity made in the past and the awful wrongdoings which resulted because of it. Now, I am going to tell you about my experience of the camp and my thoughts towards the holocaust, giving brief historical insight - I must stress that I am not a historian, just a twenty one-year-old biomedical science student with a passion for writing and history, particularly the holocaust and world war two. Hopefully, my insights will be thought-inspiring and interesting and I'd like to think I write well, but mainly this is an account of my personal experience for anyone who has or hasn't been to the camp.
Auschwitz was operational in 1940, however it was not a labour camp or a death camp at the time. It was designed to hold political prisoners and threats to the Nazi party. So as you can imagine lots of Polish prisoners were arriving at the this time, some of them may have been Jewish but this was not the motive at the time. Auschwitz was already there before the war as a Polish military barracks, given it needed some fine-tuning but it was the perfect location for the Nazis. Rudolf Höss was the commandant, who previously had helped run the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany. I do want to keep this historical part brief as it was not the main operation that so many know this camp for.
The first thing that hits you as you walk through the gates that read Arbeit macht frei, meaning 'Work makes you free,' is the intimidation factor. The military style barracks really make you imagine what it must of felt like to be pushed through the gates. The barbed wire fences gave the camp more of a prison feel than a place of work, it was ultimately clear that this was not a work camp. I must stress the fact that I am referencing to Auschwitz one at the moment, the smaller camp. Many people died in Auschwitz one, however, it is nothing in comparison to the second Auschwitz a few miles away, in Birkenau.
If you have ever seen the film Schindler's List you will be very aware of the nasty party that operated the idea of the Third Reich. The Aryan race was seen by the Nazis as superior to most and especially the Jewish population. Antisemitism was ripe in the air and Poland was in the heart of it. In 1943, the operation was in full swing and Auschwitz was importing thousands from all around the world. Amon Leopold Göth was the commandant of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp in Płaszów. Even though he had nothing to do with Auschwitz as such I'd like to make a few points on him as he gave an insight into the nastiest of the Nazis. He was friends with Oskar Schindler, however, Schindler used his position to better the Jewish people, he avidly hated the cruel treatment Goth used on his prisoners. Goth had built his own mansion inside the concentration camp where he would often be spotted pot-shooting at any workers who had a break, he was responsible for the deaths of 250 people at least by his own hand. He was by far one of the evilest Nazis of them all. But even a man this evil wasn't far off from what was seen in Auschwitz daily. Prisoners were shot and executed for breaking minor rules on the shooting wall, if a prisoner got sick the hospital would inject them with a lethal dose straight into the heart and that's not even mentioning the gas chambers.
I am aiming to educate in this article but also inform people of the horrific feelings and thoughts I felt during my time there. I can only imagine what it would of been like to walk through the gates to the small barracks housing hundreds of people at a time. However, for anyone planning to visit I do not want to ruin your experience or spoil anything.
I will go through the day plan. Your tour guide will pick you up from your hotel if you book with SeeKrakow however there are many other tour operators, this was the one we used. Usually they pick you up around 8 AM, it's a one hour drive from Krakow centre depending on where you stay. You will spend one and a half hours at Auschwitz one and one hour at Birkenau, approximately the tour lasts seven hours with travel times and breaks included but it's an amazing experience and I recommend everyone to do it even if you're really not into history. I am not sponsored by this touring company or under any influence to mention them, I simply feel they are the cheapest and best. If you have any questions at all about my article or Krakow do send me a message on my personal email [email protected] Thanks so much for reading my thoughts — God Bless x