Holocaust sites - Auschwitz-Birkenau... ever been there? - TravelPUNK Backpacker College Student Budget Travel Message Boards!



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Raileurope.com: See Europe by train
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Old 10-26-2006, 03:35 PM   #1
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loosely planning a Europe trip and want to see the Holocaust remains to be true to my Jewish background, more specifically, Auschwitz-Birkenau which I think is located in Poland... anyway I was just wondering if anyone has ever been there, an tips/experiences/whatever would be appreciated. Thanks!!
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Old 10-26-2006, 04:10 PM   #2
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hi i have been there. If you will be staying in Krakow takes about 45 mins to get there on one of the buses. Cant quite remember how much it was but i know the bus was really cheap. There are lots of visitors to both sites. Auschwitz is about a 20 min walk from birkenau. There are lots of displays at the Auschwitz museums which have some original artifacts. I was really depressed when i left there and had a good cry but thats cos im a sensitive soul.
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Old 10-26-2006, 04:13 PM   #3
 
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I've never been to Auschwitz, but I went to Dachau in Austria. I went on a freezin g cold day and it was really gloomy. I was 14 so my mom wouldn't let me do a lot of it, but even still, it was really depressing and I cried. It was basically museums and movies and just seeing it. There's a feeling about the place and it's impossible to feel at all happy there. Just sad and disgusted.
I'm going to Buchenwald this winter. That will be interesting
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Old 10-26-2006, 04:16 PM   #4
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It's about an hour outside of Krakow in Oswiecim (side note - one of the train "stops" on the paths used to take the Jews out of Russia, and through Germany without allowing them to stay during the 19th century...history repeats). It takes all day (as it should, and I don't think it would be one of those days where you would want to do ANYthing else but reflect before or after...).

It's very intense and very emotional. I can't remember because I think I was reading a couple of the language panels at the time, but I think the English translations are more than adequate, and the museum portions go in order. What you will do, essentially, is start at Auschwitz I and look at the self-guided "museum" with the descriptions and history. Then you go to the larger Auschwitz II- Birkenau. I believe that is best done with a tour guide because of its expanse, and then s/he will explain to you about each site, and you can wander around the memorial built at the end of the train tracks. Our last stop at the end of the day was a hostel (we didn't overnight) where we got to speak with a man who had been at Auschwitz, but as part of the Polish resistance. I believe he runs the museum, but I might be mistaken. If you could track him down, he's a very good person to talk to to get a bigger/better idea of what you have seen than a site or uneasy feeling could give you. We also took the train from Berlin to Krakow, which was fairly jarring given our "discomfort" in co-pilot style cushioned chairs on a modern, fast train with climate control.

Buchenwald outside Weimar is something I - I hesitate to use the word - recommend. The journey alone, seeing and experiencing how CLOSE the town was to the camp was something I will not forget. Especially knowing the history that the townspeople claim that they knew nothing about what was going on when it was pretty much in their backyard and then were forced to come and help after the liberation. The walk around the camp site was intense as well, seeing the quarry, understanding how incredibly easy it would be to work someone to death in those conditions.

I think visiting these sights (along with any of the major Jewish historical centers in Europe - the Berlin Museum with the Holocaust Memorial Liebeskind built *into* the museum is surreal) was the most intense experience of my time in Europe. The camps are absolutely revolting, and if I were led blindfolded and deaf into any of them - especially any part of Auschwitz - I would still feel what happened there. I took pictures at all the sites I visited, but have shown them to maybe less than five people (in three years' time) because I refuse to show them unless I am there to explain what you feel as you are standing there looking at what I photographed.

I don't know if the climate surrounding my time in this part of Europe affected my experience, but it was at the peak of American-style studies of Central Europe and Anthro and then in the middle of a semester of specific German history/culture and totalitarian psych classes actually *in* Berlin.
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Old 11-01-2006, 01:35 PM   #5
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Auschwitz is a must see. It is, as others have said, a very solemn experience. I nearly lost it when I stared at a case that held infant's clothing. Entrance to the camp is free. You can pay to do a tour, but I wouldn't think it was worth it. They have maps and explanations all over, but then again, I hate listening to people talk. I'm much more into self pacing. The bus ride is cheap, I think 7zl one way. It drops you off right outside, but it can get crowded and they pack the buses full (standing full).
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Old 11-02-2006, 11:06 AM   #6
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I was there recently and my experience was very similiar to those above. I do recommend going for sure. There were parts I couldnt look at, and many of the tourists there really bothered me with their lack of sensitivity, but I am definitely glad I went. I chose not to take a guided tour because I found it to be a very personal experience, but that would be your call. There are plenty of placks explaining everything and many people in the hostel where I was regretted going on the guided tour. They said it was too fast and they didn't have time to reflect on the important parts.

The bus from the main station leaves regularly (it's tiny) and only costs 7 zloty each way. You can buy a bus ticket right on the bus. If you go to the main station, ask at the information desk and they will tell you where it is. Ask the bus driver for a return schedule when you depart the bus so you don't miss the last one going back to Krakow.
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Old 11-07-2006, 09:19 AM   #7
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I also recommend Berlin for sure, so much WWII history, the national holocaust memorial and the unbelievable jewish history museum, also outside of the city is Sachsenhausen concentration camp which was the first and model camp for all those that followed after. standing there next to those ovens... it's definitely something you will never forget.
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Old 11-07-2006, 08:31 PM   #8
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I went this past summer and took the tour advertised in the hostels. Thats the type of thing that is best done with a tour in my opinion, the tour guide can point out things that you wouldnt notice or realize doing it by yourself. The Aushwitz part is the administrative buildings and prisons which are now the museum aspects, and the work camp is Birkenau, which is what we generally picture when we think of "Aushwitz," with the rows and rows of wooden barracks and barbed wire fences. If youre going to Krakow definitely visit, this is the mother of all holocaust sites.
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Old 03-24-2007, 06:03 PM   #9
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I went to Auschwitz last spring and, like everyone above has already said, it was a worthwhile experience. I was nervous on the way there, and it does make you feel really miserable while you are there, and some parts were pretty hard to see, but I felt good after I went. It's hard to explain, but I was really glad to have done it and I think it changed me in a very positive way. Sounds strange, I know.

Anyways, we were staying in Krakow and we just asked the desk person at our hostel and they gave us all the info. It was pretty cheap to go, and it's kind of nice to have it all organized because it allows you to sit back and just take in the experience without having to worry about making your public transit bus back in time, or making sure you're going in the right direction etc. The tour moved kind of fast, but like people have said it pointed out things you might not have known. The tour guides were great too. Go do it, it's a important thing to go through.
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