Oswiecim Things to Do Tips by jo104
Oswiecim Things to Do: 218 reviews and 276 photos
Entry to the grounds of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau) is free so as an indivual you are welcome to visit the memorial without a guide, we decided to do this with the help of a guide book feeling that we would be limited with what we see on a guided tour as well as there being a time constraint.
Should you wish to hire a guide as an individual joining onto a party of minimum 10 people the cost would be 39PLN. Alternatively a group of up to 10 people may hire a guide at a cost of 225PLN the guided tour lasts 3.5hours and covers the permanent exhibitions of the main camp Auschwitz I as well as the important remaing camp objects of Birkenau, the residential barraks, unloading ramp and the ruins of gas chambers 1 and 2. The time allocated is 2 hours in Auschwitz I then a free shuttle bus to Birkenau and about an hour there. You do need to book 2 weeks ahead of time to secure a guide. Since April 2008 the website says that groups bigger then 10 people are requested to purchase a headphone guiding system at 4PLN each.
We took 3 hours visiting the permanent exhibition at Auschwitz I & 2.5 hours at Birkenau. We saw special exhibits in Auschwitz I that you don't see in a tour group. In Birkenau we walked into the forrested areas and it is very earie and the birds don't sing, for at least an hour whilst we were at Birkenau we were completely on out own.
On 2nd July 1947 the polish parliament Auschwitz was declared a state museum by an act of the Polish parliament & it was not until 1990's that the polish government received extra funding for the museum from external sources, it is still realtively small so donations to the meseum are welcome.
The blocks are still standing of Auschwitz I each with a small furnace, this is where the men and women first arrived, many executions took place as well as the first experiments using zyklon B. The area covers 20 hectares once you go through the gates "Arbeit macht frei" (Work brings freedom)
Birkenau on the other hand is absolutely huge covering 171 hectares a mass killing site, still today there are some areas which are full of human ashes.
In block 6 there are photographs hanging on the wall that show grafic reminders of starving prisoners. The food ration for a day was around 1,300 calories thats if you were lucky, a meatless soup was cooked from rotten vegetables, sickness and starvation was widespread through the camp. Some of the female survivors at the time of the liberation only weighed 23kg these photographic images are haunting.
In Room 6 of this block you will see a picture of the children who were liberated from the camp by the Soviet army. Many of those children that survived were the last of the twins that Josef Mengele did cruel experiments on (read Children of the Flames)
Those that were selected for hard labour were had their possessions taken away from them, their heads shaved, disinfected and given the thinest of prison clothes which by no means were designed to insulate against the cold. The prisoners were photographed in 3 poses and from 1943 they started tattooing the prisoners. Initially the prisoners were stamped with a number punched across the chest this was impractical & left the prisoner with open wounds. A single needle technique was introduced tattooing the forearm. Prisoners soon became only known as a number how can we possibly imagine loosing our identity like that.
Prisoners were made to wear different coloured traingles sewn onto their camp clothes identifying what kind of prisoner the were.
red triangles were for political prisoners, a yellow star for the Jews, black triangle for gypsies, pink for homosexuals, violet for Jehovahs witnesses and green for criminals.
This slogan is emblazzoned on the iron gates which are the entrance into Auschwitz I, This is the first sign the prisoners would see & the Nazi's had an orchestra play marching music. This translates to Work shall set you free or Work brings freedom. Hoess believed that a prisoner is able to endure his time in prison moreso because of being allowed to work, he relates this to his own incarceration whereby working kept him a good mental state. In Auschwitz these men and women often worked themselves to death.
The slogan Abeit macht frei was taken from the title of a 1872 book and utilsed by the Weimar government to promote their public works manifesto to end poverty.
I have to say that I feel quite strongly that this point should be better enforced so let me share with you what you are expected to do as a visitor to the grounds.
Silence - show respect for the horrors that befell this place, when I visited there were school groups who were chatting loudly amongst each other and laughing which is just unacceptable.
no food or drink (there is a cafe in the main reception so you can always nip out of the ground for a break if you feel the need.) no smoking, no inappropriate dress, no rucksacks or large bags these are to be handed into a cloak room, no mobiles, no stereos ipods or the like, no prams inside the exhibits, no photography or filming indoors I stress even if you see someone else taking pictures don't stoop to their level of disrespect it is clearly marked as dissallowed. My feeling on this is why on earth would a person want to take a picture in the death cell or of a picture of someone who is so starved their ribs are showing. no bicycles and no pets.
Another very fustrating episode was seeing these school children having their friends take pictures of them by the execution wall it was well unbelievable.
Remember that other people also want to see the exhibits so standing right in front of the information given is a bit unfair, unfortunately the exhibits are very busy especially in peak periods so be reasonable to other visitors as well.
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