Things to know before visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial

You cannot understand postwar Europe without an in-depth confrontation with Auschwitz and everything it symbolizes.

KL (Konzentrationslager) Auschwitz was the largest of German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centres. The camp became a major site, where the Nazis’ plan to murder European Jews was carried out. Over 1,000,000 people lost their lives in Auschwitz, among them men, women and children. 1,000,000 of the victims were of Jewish origin, 70-75,000 were Poles, 21,000 Sinti and Roma, and 14,000 Soviet POWs. Around 15,000 of the remaining victims were of other nationalities.

Auschwitz existed from the summer of 1940 – when the first transport of prisoners reached the camp – until January of 1945, when the camp was liberated by the Red Army. The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was the fact that the mass arrest of Poles was very much beyond the capacity of existing prisons. Until 1942 they were the largest group of inmates. Initially, Auschwitz was to be one of the many concentration camps that the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s. In early 1942, after the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, where the „Final Solution to the Jewish Question” was outlined, freight trains started delivering Jews to Auschwitz from all over occupied Europe. Most prisoners were gassed on arrival. That year, the concentration camp complex expanded rapidly and reached, in the end, three main camps as well as several dozen sub-camps. The three largest camps were called Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau (the largest camp, where the apparatus of mass extermination was built, and the majority of the victims were murdered there) and Auschwitz III-Monowitz.

Auschwitz Memorial and Museum – what are you going to see there?

The Museum includes the main concentration camp at Auschwitz I (in the town of Oświęcim) with museum exhibitions and the remains of the concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz II-Birkenau near the village of Brzezinka. It is crucial to be aware that Auschwitz is not just a museum, it is a place of reflection first. Especially its Birkenau part – it is a Memorial to the victims of one of the greatest crimes in human history. The nearly 200 hectares of ground include the ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria and places filled with human ashes. There are primitive barracks and kilometres of fences and roads. There is only one exhibition in Birkenau, which is the so-called ‘Sauna’, a building located in a distant part of the camp.

The exhibitions of Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum are placed in buildings where the prisoners lived. They are divided into two parts. The first one presents the general history of the camp. The second part includes national exhibitions dedicated to people who were sent to Auschwitz from particular countries.

Our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau

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