Ten years ago I moved to Pempelfort, to a place close to the old freight yard. Shortly after moving in, I took a guided tour of the neighborhood. I learned a lot about the history of the freight yard and its role in the Third Reich. The tour went to the site of the former slaughterhouse, which had already been scrapped. Only the horse slaughterhouse and the pig slaughterhouse were still in place. Incidentally it was the latter where the people destined for deportation had to gather. Before they were taken through the streets of Pempelfort to the freight yard. It was then that the idea arose to go and visit Auschwitz one day.
From Krakow by bus to Auschwitz – or Oswiecim. The bus stops right in front of the main camp. My first impression is I have to any museum, with snack bar, entrance lock and many many people. I had already purchased my ticket online in advance, so now I only had to wait until my slot and my language group was called. Then through the lock, we get headphones and start walking.
Just as we stand between the blocks, the sun comes out for the first time after long rainy days. We stand between massive stone houses made of red stones, on neat gravel paths lined with old trees, a picture of complete normality. It takes more than a little imagination to think about misery and horror at this moment.
I had booked a 3.5 hour tour, but to really record it all would have taken me twice that time, at least. We are standing in front of a room full of hair sealed with a window glass. Then a room full of spectacle frames. Shoes. Cookware. Too fast to make a connection between these impressions and the living people in our heads. We have to move on. The next groups are close behind us, no time to stop, and to try to understand.
In Block 11, the old camp prison, we are asked to remain silent in memory of the prisoners executed here. Eventually we arrive at the first gas oven, in which the first attempts of industrial destruction of human life took place. Again we are requested to remain silent.
By now there are too many impressions in my head. Too many and too terrible. But after visiting the main camp, we get on one of the shuttle buses that takes us to Birkenau. Where the main camp still looked clear, neat and manageable, the extent of annihilation becomes clear in Birkenau.
We walk along the ramp where the selections took place from 1944 onwards. It takes quite a while to cross the camp once and to arrive at the memorial stones that were erected near the former pyres.
On our way back we enter one of the barracks. On three levels people had … some space. Definitely no heat or any protection from the elements. How can you survive in the bottom bunk? You can not. The average survival time was three months.
To get there:
It is very straightforward: From the bus station Krakow there is a direct bus service to Auschwitz – Oswiecim. The bus stops directly in front of the main camp.
Best book a ticket in advance online. You can choose the time and the desired language of the educator.
There are shuttle busses between the main camp and Birkenau. While the group got on one of the busses, our educator took her car and we met her again in Birkenau, where she continued her explanations.