Why would anyone do it, is perhaps the first question. The idea of visiting a concentration camp does not sound like a pleasant experience, never mind something you would want to do on your vacation to Europe. Perhaps this is why one of the saddest parts of human history is being slowly put away, and Auschwitz, the largest and most infamous of all concentration camps, as reported by the BBC, is under threat of closing due to a lack of funding. Regardless of this fact, the same questions stand: Why spend a depressing day at a concentration camp during your vacation?
Everyone has their own responses to this question. I first visited a concentration camp during a college-organized trip to Europe. But I visited Auschwitz under my own volition years later. Perhaps it is educational. Maybe it is to make sure that we don’t forget or perhaps it is a chance to grieve. Whatever the reason, visiting Auschwitz was one of the most profound things I’ve experienced.
Auschwitz is located outside of Oswiecim, Poland. Oswiecim is near the city of Krakow. You can reach Auschwitz by taking a train to Oswiecim, then a bus to the Memorial and Museum. The bus ride is less than 2 miles. Admission is free. Guided tours, which I highly recommend, cost around 24 euro per person. Tours gather at the front of the memorial. The tour took me through the creation of the camp, the hidden plans, the practical measures of transporting bodies in and taking them out, the daily lives of the prisoners, and the infamous death chambers where the poisonous Zyklon B pellets were used. During the four-or-so hours at Auschwitz, I saw and heard many things that seemed unbelievable, and yet they were presented and placed before me in a way that ensures their reality.
One of the most interesting aspects of the concentration camps was that their existence was completely withheld from Germany’s citizens. Further, that when the war turned against Hitler, he was so mortified at the idea of the death camps discovery that he invoked some of the most drastic measures imaginable to keep them a secret. This is just one reason why it is worth a visit to Auschwitz: to witness what could not be hidden.
After the four hours at Auschwitz, I didn’t have much to say to anyone, and neither did my companions. The bus ride back to Krakow was quiet. The experience was pretty depressing, but mostly it was surreal, like walking inside an alternate reality. The things that happened in Auschwitz simply do not correspond with life as I know it, so seeing such unimaginable concepts up close was like visiting the dark moon of morality: it’s a cold and lifeless place, and I thank my lucky stars that I do not live there.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com