Monday, June 10, 2013

A different kind of memorial day

As I began planning our Memorial Day long weekend in Poland, I realized that we would be able to visit Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi concentration and death camp, while we were in Krakow. It is located about an hour and a half from the city and many companies offer day trips that include transportation and a guided tour. We decided that it was a priority for our time in Poland. 

In college, I took multiple European history courses, including one completely dedicated to the Holocaust. I have visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam (both of which I also consider absolute musts if you are in either city). I knew that one day I would go to one of the camps, but honestly nothing could have prepared me for what I felt at Auschwitz.

Under the most impossibly blue skies, on a day so sunny and beautiful that it was painful, we visited the location where over 1 million people were robbed of their lives. Mostly Jews, but not all. Men, women, and children. The immensity of that number is incomprehensible. There were moments that the sadness was so immense, the horror so palpable...but there were also stories of such hope.

It is important to make the distinction between Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau and to plan to visit both. Auschwitz I began as a concentration camp. It is where you will see the "Work Makes You Free" sign. The first 3 pictures were taken at I, the rest of the pictures were taken at II.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau was specifically designed to be a death camp. This was the site of a vast camp, enormous gas chambers (destroyed), and the majority of the killing. 

I wasn't certain about posting pictures or even at the time about taking them. At some points I couldn't photograph what I was seeing, either because it was prohibited or, more often, because I was too overwhelmed. I wanted whatever I wrote about this experience to be honest and respectful.

"To the memory of the men, women, and children who fell victim to the Nazi genocide. Here lie their ashes. May their souls rest in peace."

Ultimately, I decided to share our trip to Auschwitz because it had such an impact. I cannot say that we were in any way excited to go, but we were grateful for the opportunity. If you are in the position to do a tour there, I encourage you to do so. 

Just be prepared for how you will feel during and after...we were glad that we had nothing else planned for the day, besides a bus ride back to Wroclaw. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we were emotionally exhausted. Despite the somber tone that it set for our last full day in Poland, I truly believe that it was an important experience. 

Never forget. Never again. 

For more information and specifics about visiting Auschwitz, this is the official website.


  1. Having just visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, I can only begin to imagine the impact this visit must have had on you. I felt wrong taking a picture of me with the front door of the house (others didn't, obviously), so I chose to abstain from that. It was too morbid.

    Nonetheless, thank you for the photos and your thoughts on the visit. I used to read quite a bit about the Holocaust as a girl.

    1. There were definitely points on the tour where I just couldn't even think of taking a photograph and others were snapping away. There were also people having their pictures taken in front of different things at the camps that made me feel a little uncomfortable. To each their own, I guess, and whatever you're comfortable with. I really struggled whether to post or not, but ultimately felt like it was appropriate. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Subject matter like this is intrinsically morbid, but that doesn't mean we should abstain from writing about it.

    I've also been fascinated with Nazism ever since I was a kid (read the books/watched the films etc), mainly because of the shockingness of it all. I've never been to Auschwitz and I never knew there were two camps either. As you say there are varying degrees of propriety when it comes to taking photos but ultimately this stuff is educative and ought to be shared and talked about in my opinion. Standing in front of a gas chamber and smiling for the camera is obviously not on at all. That would make me sick!


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