More than once, you probably watched movies, read books, or had the opportunity to listen to real stories of persistent prisoners in concentration camps. And even if you are not very interested in this, then at the very least you have come across this subject during history lessons at school.
It’s hard to hide the fact that what happened not only in Oświęcim, but also in other camps in Poland is hard for us to realize and imagine. So if you are going to Poland, put the museum in Auschwitz on your list of “must-see” places.
This post is part of our Discover Europe series
Times of European occupation
During World War II, when practically all of Europe was under the firm hand of the Nazis, they created many different kinds of camps in occupied Europe: labor camps, general concentration camps, places to hold prisoners.
However, the most famous was Auschwitz-Birkenau, located in Oswiecim, just 66 km from Krakow. This is because, among other things, probably the largest number of human lives were lost there, and the size of the area where the camp was established is huge, which is also why the evidence of crimes and things left by prisoners are well-preserved there.
The Auschwitz camp operated over the years: 1940-1945, and it is safe to say that it was the largest center of mass extermination of European Jews and, at the same time, the largest concentration camp for prisoners of various nationalities, a place of slave labor; hell on Earth, where mass executions were carried out, and criminal experiments were conducted, and where the remains of the victims and their memory were burned, looted and disposed of on a huge scale.
On average, at least 1.1 million Jews, as many as 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and tens of thousands of prisoners of other races and nationalities were deported to this place.
All countries affected by the tragedy that took place at the Auschwitz concentration camp, regardless of their traditions and religions, have developed their own image of Auschwitz, as well as an appropriate metaphor and various interpretations and ways of preserving the memory of the victims who died there.
Today, as it turns out, the greatest problems arise from the varied symbolism of the camp. Unfortunately, some people who are totally uninterested in this place, who have not learned the complicated history, who have not lost anyone there, do not even know that such a Museum and Memorial exists, and therefore, they certainly do not go there to see it. And everyone should!
It is said today that European Jews suffered at least two deaths at the hands of the Nazis: their physical lives, as well as their humanity, dignity, and respect, were taken from them, and any surviving memory of their pre-war lives was destroyed – they became slaves to the Nazi power, and they’re objects of bestiality.
Most visitors to the Auschwitz Museum have the opportunity to see with their own eyes the enormous glass display cases that contain various things, remains, and remnants of the prisoners there: dentures, eyeglasses, toothbrushes, or combs with hair, suitcases, books, and cut women’s hair. However, we must ask: What exactly do these objects teach us about the lives of those who once used them?
The irony and perversity of the situation are that these objects have been collected as evidence of a crime, but at the same time, they force us to think about the victims in the way the Nazis would have wanted us to, and they reveal themselves in our imaginations as the remains of a lost civilization.
Sleeves peeled off, glasses without screws or frames, hats and shoes after people. While in the museum, we learn about the victims of the Holocaust through their absence, through the very moment of destruction, and about having their lives broken into thousands of pieces.
The fear that tourists, both adults, and adolescents (not to mention children), may experience can cause negative fears of the unknown reality to this point and exacerbate anxiety reactions, so it is not advisable to stay in this place with young children, who are already quite forgiving.
Once you arrive at the place and face the authenticity of the place, you will no longer feel these fears. This is because it will no longer be an encounter with something unknown, imaginary, and fantasized, but getting acquainted with concrete objects, historic properties of people, and historical stories.
When visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, there is an opportunity to stop for a moment and undergo a real reckoning of reality. You can come face to face not only with the various stages of the “final solution” but also with the thousands of objects taken from the deportees, the remains of their hair cut, or the photographs of prisoners with tattoos.
All this evokes empathy in the visitors, a natural defense mechanism produced by the human brain – they imagine what they might feel, but do not really feel it.
Sometimes children, mainly adolescents, may behave negatively toward a situation or place. This is due to defense against extreme feelings, which may be a natural reflex to anxiety. Of course, a tour guide or museum security will usually call attention to the exchange of rude remarks, boisterous behavior, laughing, or being disruptive.
There may also be meaningful, emotional body language, such as putting hands on top of each other, holding hands, hugging, or strange facial expressions. According to psychologists and the research that has been done, this is supposed to help you emotionally and mentally recover from this difficult experience. And while such behavior does not mean disrespect to the victims, teachers should explain to students that it can be misperceived by those around them.
What is the main purpose of the museum today?
In the present, our focus should not be on the despair of the past itself but on building a new future based on the experiences we can draw from past times. According to psychologists, memory is not the dissolving of what was but should be a thorough building block for greater awareness and better responsibility for the future. Among other things, museums should fulfill such functions in the world.
Therefore, the main activities of the Museum in Oświęcim can be seen in two fields of action. The first educational field has the task of preserving what was left of the camp so that future generations will be able to understand the image of this tragedy and so that each tourist can experience it in their own way.
The second area is education in a very broad sense: that is, showing what happened in Auschwitz in such a way as to stimulate people to think about their actions and to feel responsible for the fate of the world.
How to arrange a convenient way to get to the Auschwitz Museum?
The best choice for visitors is to use professionally organized tours for tourists, which are offered by companies located in Krakow. Among others, the travel and transport company KrakowDirect offers professional services in organizing and operating a one-day trip from Krakow to Auschwitz.
It is worth choosing such an option because the price of such a service includes the price of admission to the museum commemorating the victims of the concentration camp, as well as transfer there and back, and the care of a professional guide who will tell you the history of the camp and its prisoners with interest.
Don’t wait and book your ticket for a one-day Auschwitz tour from Krakow, and learn about the history of your ancestors.
For tourists who want to visit the museum on their own, you can opt to travel by public transport. Buses and trains run regularly from Krakow.
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