Saturday, July 9, 2016

Why You Should Visit Auschwitz

                      Sign Above the Entrance Gate at Auschwitz - Work Will Set You Free

My main destination for this trip was to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau. Many people asked me why I would want to visit the location of such a sad and tragic event - the murder of over one million people, most of whom were Jewish. I think it is important to remind ourselves of these horrific deeds that have been carried out in the name of religion, xenophobia or misguided national pride. Unfortunately, there are far too many examples of holocausts that have occuried even since the unthinkable events that took place at Auschwitz form 1941 - 1945. I am of the opinion that the current political climate of the world, unfortunately, seems to be repeating the mindset of politicians in the era leading up to WW II and the holocaust. When I listen to men such as Donald Trump, I feel that I am being transported back to 1933 listening to a fascist rally. Indeed, if you replace the word Muslim or refugee for Jewish in many of his speeches and you watch and listen to the reactions of his supporters, you could be listening to any speech given by Hitler in 1933 Germany.

Many people have questioned how such a wide scale, systematic near annihilation of a group of people could happen. The hatred and vitriol which led to this event was spread by fear and ignorance. The targeted group is accused of actions which somehow are hurting the "real" sons and daughters of the nation either through taking jobs, undermining the "true" culture, speaking a different language or committing horrendous crimes. It doesn't seem to matter if any of these claims are true or valid but only that they are repeated often and loudly so that the voting public has a cause to unite  behind someone who will fight against the enemy. Incendiary rhetoric which has become the norm in the polarized political climate of 2016 is creating a culture of fear and hatred which, I would argue, could quite possibly lead to tragedies such as the holocaust. 

Visiting places such as Auschwitz might help us to remember that awful things happen when we forget that real people - men, women, children - become the victims when we forget that we are all members of the human race despite differences in religion, skin colour or nationality. 

OK, lecture over....

Getting to Auszhwitz Museum

Although many opt for tours to the museum of Auschwitz, it is possible (and very inexpensive) to do it yourself. Make your way to the bus station in Kraków, located behind the train station. Go to the ticket booth and ask for the next bus to Auszhwitz Museum ( Oswiecin in Polish). The trip took about one hour and 15 minutes. I paid 12 Zloty ($4 Canadian) for a one way ticket and was dropped at the back entrance from which it is a short 100 metre walk to the main entrance. 

The museum is free but during the peak season individuals must join a group tour between the hours of 10 am and 3:30 pm and there is a cost. So if you want to avoid this you will need to time your arrival accordingly. I left Kraków on the 7:50 am train and made it to the entrance by 9:30 am. You still need to go to the white trailer booth and get a ticket but then you just go to the entrance where you will pass through a security check and walk right in.

The barracks are aligned in neat rows and as you walk along it is difficult to imagine that this was the scene of so much suffering. The buildings, however, have been converted into the repositories of the reminders that real people were housed, starved, beaten and killed within this compound. Since I arrived early I was able to walk through the buildings alone viewing photographs of victims, canisters of Zylon B poison, mounds of suitcases, glasses, brushes, shoes and most jarring, hair. 

A free shuttle bus will take you to nearby Birkenau or Auschwitz II where you will really feel the scope and horror of the events. The rail lines where transports were brought to the camp runs up the middle. Prisoners were sorted into groups with those to the left being taken directly to the chambers for immediate gassing - this included about 80% of the those who passed the gates. The remains of row upon row of barracks remain at this site as a jarring visual reminder of man's inhumanity to man.

To return to Kraków you need to take the free shuttle back to Auschwitz I and then go to the stand next to the snack hut. There is a schedule posted and busses depart every 45 minutes for a cost of 14 Zloty. My bus driver seemed to take the slow route and stop about every 5 minutes so this portion of the trip took about two hours.


No comments:

Post a Comment

I would love to hear from you!