70th Anniversary of the Liberation – Auschwitz and Birkenau

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70th Liberation Auschwitz

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January 27th marks the Anniversary of the Soviet Army’s liberation of Auschwitz. As far as anniversaries go, this is one of the more somber ones to be recognized. As it should be. A visit to Auschwitz is filled with a sense of dread and heavy mood that still, today, even on a sunny summer day, clings to the crumbling brick and mortar of Auschwitz and Birkenau. It is a hard place to visit with its ghosts and memories. A very blunt, in your face reminder of the atrocities carried out there over 70 years ago. But a reminder we need and a memorial for those lost.

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When you go, plan for about 90 minutes for both sites. You’ll need to be with a guide for the Auschwitz portion of the camps. We usually avoid guided museum visits, preferring instead to go at our own pace, reading the placards we choose to read and skipping over some. But in this case it’s obligatory and we didn’t really mind as it gave us an insight into what others think about the monstrous events that took place here. Our English speaking group of 20 was a mix of western and eastern countries with a varied range of English skills. Our guide was patient and helped with additional explanation where needed. We even adopted a small group of Hungarians that had lost their assigned group which was easy to do.

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This is one of those places you don’t mind sharing with big crowds of tourists. And there were plenty of us, trudging along the muddy streets, herded along in our tight little groups form spot to spot. In a way, it may have added to the heavy atmosphere we could all sense. But we never felt rushed or pressed for time; stopping for a picture, going back for a second read, or getting a closer look at some document or map was no problem.


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For the Birkenau visit, 90 minutes is enough as well. Here you don’t need a guide, though they are available and recommended. Even if you do go with a guide, though, you’ll still be able to get out and wander the grounds on your own which wasn’t allowed at Auschwitz.

70th Liberation Auschwitz

Other Practical Information:

Most people get to the sites by arranging a day tour out of Krakow. This is very easy to do with your hotel or one of the tour operators in the main square. It’s also very easy to get to Auschwitz on your own, it takes about an hour drive and most tours show a dour, mood setting video giving the history and details about the camps. Most tours also include lunch, ours was a sandwich, a bowl of macaroni salad (surprisingly tasty), and a Polish chocolate bar. They will also shuttle you between the two sites, as they are a few minutes’ drive away from each other.

For more information you can visit the website.

Have you visited Auschwitz or any Holocaust sites?  Please tell us what you thought in the comment section.

 

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18 Comments

  1. I find it hard to even look at the pictures – so painful, still, all these years later, and it is so important that the world doesn’t forget. A friend of mine is there now, for the anniversary. I do plan to visit someday.

  2. We visited Dachau over 20 years ago and met an old man who was a survivor of the camp. It was very distressing, and I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I’m glad I went. In Scotland there was (maybe still is) a scheme where one teenager from each school went on a trip to a camp then came back and shared what they had learned. I think that’s a good idea to promote understanding in young people who are now far removed in time from the Holocaust.

  3. We visited Auschwitz three or four years ago and it was a very somber experience. Surprised to hear you had to go with a guide though, as when we went you were free to visit on your own.

    One of the worst things we saw was actually modern graffiti in the gas chambers! I do not understand how somebody, and so many people, could be that disrespectful! That might explain why all visits are now supervised.

  4. Hi Corrine. Just looking at your photos gives me goose bumps, and I can feel my blood pressure going up. Honestly, I have always had a real aversion to anything to do with the Holocaust. I never knew why until when I was in my 40s I discovered that my biological father was Jewish. Whether he lost family in the camps, I have no idea. If I get to that part of Europe then I will have to make a decision as to visit or not.

  5. I didn’t realize that Auschwitz and Birkenau were so close together. I’ve just read someone else’s blog post about Auschwitz being such a letdown because the crowds were so big that the person couldn’t properly concentrate on the magnitude of their visit there. Seems like you didn’t mind as much, and it’s good to know that you didn’t feel rushed even though you were part of a group tour. In some ways, being herded along must give visitors some sense of what the prisoners there felt like.

    1. Michele, I can’t completely disagree with the other blogger. At times it was a little frustrating with the crowds. However, I’m not a big “follow the yellow umbrella” girl, and don’t like to just stand and listen. I always hang back and try to have a moment of quiet after my group has gone on.

  6. You did a fantastic job with your photos, Corinne, and it’s a subject I’ve studied (WWII) in great detail specific to the European Theater. I do hope to get there so very soon someday and pay my tributes. Your shots captured so many things perfectly to tell a photo story. Thank you 🙂

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