Oswetcim (Auschwitz) - A Factory For Death
You will have a possibilty to visit a place, where, within last years of 2nd World War, there were sentenced to death more than one million of Jews, Poles, Russians or Gypsies.
There are, for sure, the places which would be visited by each European, at least once within his life, if the past could not become a forgotten time period of human race. Anyway, the visit of these camps could not call up a hate against their creators, because these places are noted as a memory. On the other hand, the visit could lead to the intention regarding real sense and transitoriness of insignificant human life in dictatorship, terror and humility.
As most of basic and historical information about concentration and exterminated lagers Oswiecim could be found on internet (directly in official pages), so, we try - a group of five persons - to describe you our impressions from the visit of such place.
Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II. – Birkenau (Oswiecim I and Oswiecim II - Březinka)
Owing to the fact that a lot of information which is available about these camps, we decided to make our sightseeing tour without a guide. The visitors start their route usually in Oswiecim I., where numerous buses take tourists and school pupils, continuing afterthat their tour in Oswiecim II-Březinka (where you can arrive by local bus free of charge). Nevertheless, we have chosen opposite proceeding, from following reasons: in Oswiecim I., you have to do your tour in groups (till 3 o´clock p.m.) with a guide only. Provided you prefer inverse turn of monuments´ visit, you avoid big crowds of visitors (an interesting fact: 1 million and 100 thousands of people visited Oswiecim Monument in 2008). So, as the first point, we have visited Březinka (distant 3 kms), where the bus arrives every 30 minutes, whereas the drive here takes 5 minutes approx. Anyway,the sightseeing took us nearly three hours. The entrance is free of charge, and no presence of guide is necessary. You are allowed to make films as well as photos in all spaces of the monument. Basic information about important places are presented on tables and pannels, in Polish, English and Hebrew languages. You will be very surprised with lager surface – it is really immense. For better information, we recommend you to print a small map and written guide, from internet it is sufficient.
On area of Březinka Lager, there are to be found unnumerous quantity of one-storey buildings, wooden or brick-built, ruins of gas-chambers and kilometres of omnipresent barbed wires, giving the place special depressed atmosphere. Nevertheless, most known view towards Oswiecim-Březinka, is those from sloping drive, from railway embankment, where the trains brought hundreds of thousands of prisoners of all uncomfortable races, confessions, ages or sex. So, memorable place is monumental memorial on opposite side of the lager. Who would expect an eventual visit of gas-chambers or crematorium, he would be disappointed, as practically all arguments of bestialities were completely destroyed, before Red Army troops came. Gloomy atmosphere of low barracks, where hundreds of persons oppressed, remains, and you can „enjoy“ it fully. And now, you can use your map with legend (description), as each building or sector had their purpose. It is very interesting to follow, with which „punctuality“ worked lager selectivity and system. Not having this information available, the sightseeing would be tired of, and so, you loose a lot of notions. A fact, which gives this „death lager“ really dramatical character, is quite romantic place, i.e. birch-brove with small pond (from your first view). Here, the convicted persons waited for death, effected in near gas-chambers. Their ash was placed in bottom of just mentioned pool. The guide gives you another information, such as: what meant the names of buildings: Canada, Mexico, Sauna, etc. If you have a little archaeological feelings, you could find, in one sector, rusty or dilapidated needs of everyday life, which were taken away from prisoners immediately after their arrival into lager. So, you can find, in a dust and wreckages, scissors, rests of dinner-sets (knives, forks and spoons) china (porcellain) crocks, etc. Most of visitors put all these fragments on special destined place, so an unique museum was created here in such way. This couple of kilometres long circle could be terminated at Auschwitz-Birkenau gate, where you can take your refreshment or buy some of offered information books.
Special bus takes you back to Oswiecim I., (where you can take your dinner, directly at the entrance you find a restaurant). Standard meal, including drinks, would cost CZK 100,- approx. After a meal, we had a rest on banks, and waited till 3 p.m., when the individual sightseeing of Oswiecim I. Museum Monument was possible to be effected. You find here more than 20 „blocks-barracks“ (buildings built from bricks). Each of them has its own museum exposition. So, you pass the expositions of separate countries, such as Poland, Netherlands, Great Britain, Italy, Belgium, Slovakia, etc. Originally, this area served as barracks of Polish Army, anyway, later the area became basic lager of the whole section – so called Stammlager. Further, you can find here the exposition of „standard“ life of prisoners, added with original photos from that time: you see cellys, administrative buildings, including those famous gate „Arbeit macht frei“ (Labour Sets Free). Nevertheless, a special chapter is a visit of gas-chamber and nearby crematorium room. The walls there bring the markings of men for their lives. Anyway, we were interested, first of all, in exposition of Czech Republic.
Czech Republic Exposition in State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim
The entrance space in section of ground-floor building of former block No. 16 is arranged in such way, in order to instruct dignified atmosphere and prepare the visitors for watching of historical-documentary exposition, situated on the first floor. This space is used also for arrangements of remembering acts. As far as the contents is concerned, dominanting element of this exposition is transport-survey of persons who were brought to Oswiecim. The survey is placed on the whole surface of the wall (on right part of ground floor section), and involves all transports from Czechoslovakia, containing more that ten persons. On left part of the wall, at entrance into ground-floor space, great map is placed, where there are marked all main concentration camps and exterminated lagers, where Czech prisoners were brought. Introductory texts, which are, similarly as all other descriptions, stated in three languages - in Czech, Polish and English - are to be found on opposite wall between windows, stating basic facts aboute fate of prisoners from Czechoslovakia in Oswiecim.
Where to find an accommodation?
In Oswiecim, there are to be found two hotels, concretely Hotel Olecki and Hotel Galicija. When you look at their web-sites, so (provided you are not interested in luxurious accommodation and corresponding prices) Hotel Olecki is an ideal place - we recommend it to you from our own experience. For group of four persons, the price for one person/one night, including breakfast, costs PLN 310,-. Moreover, this hotel is situated couple of steps from State Museum (Auschwitz I. Lager). We recommend you to make the respective room reservation in advance, as this hotel is fully booked within main season. Anyway, do not forget to print map of the town, it is worth to have it available when you arrive here during the night. The way from railway station is not complicated, you pass one kilometre distance along main road, nevertheless, in town´s outskirts.
The visit of Oswiecim is quite specific. It is something completely different as an excursionof castle or chateau, or town´s sightseeing. You have the chance to breath the atmosphere of past in more intensive way, as more you will be able to realize and recognize which horrors were performed here. If you choose transport by train, accommodation in Hotel Olecki in Oswiecim and do not stay here for more than one night (sightseeing of both lagers in one day is quite sufficient), you do not pay for this excursion more than CZK 3000,-. Who would be more interested in thema of concentration camps, or would like to know more historical details, would you make a surcharge for guide´s explanation, in such case.
Text a foto: J. Štantejský a J.Chaloupka
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