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Auschwitz-Birkenau

Dear Readers,

I will be visiting there with my father and sister in October. Over the years, the three of us have read a fair amount both fiction and non-fiction about the holocaust generally and have friends who are survivors and relatives who are not. In contrast, we have probably read less about Auschwitz-Birkenau in particular. We are eager to learn more from this horrific place.

My question is: should we rely on the guides at the museum or hire one of the outside guides? I generally like being able to come to a historical site at my own schedule and be able to go at my own speed and then leave when I want. I generally like to read the plaques and other A/V information presented in museums and want to have some quiet reflection time. I am also concerned I won't be able to do any of those with a guide and I may end up with guides who will just give the basic facts on the holocaust. Appreciate your suggestions in advance.

Thanks in advance

Posted by
4408 posts

If you are sufficiently knowledgeable about the facts then I would not opt for a guide. The museum is small enough to take your time around without feeling the need to rush to cram it all in. The information displayed throughout the site is comprehensive enough to make a guide unnecessary and there are so many poignant areas that demand some quiet reflection that to have someone waiting for you is likely to put pressure on you to move on.

Posted by
6056 posts

I've only been there once. We had a guide for our group. As I understand it, all guides are required to be certified. Ours was very good, showed us things we would not have noticed on our own, and told stories of things that happened in specific areas that added much to the visit. It was not a perfunctory tour of the site. We had plenty of time. Note that you must drive over to the Birkenau site which is a couple miles from the main camp. There, you could see what you needed to see in the wide open spaces without an explanation.

Posted by
221 posts

Note that on the Auschwitz-Birkenau site it says that if you are visiting 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., entry is permitted only with a Museum educator.

Posted by
15 posts

Hi Lee!

First of all: all guides who are working in Auschwitz needs to be certified by them. They are keeping good level, so guides who are working there are usually very good.

If you wish to get something more - then go for a tour with a private guide. It's a bit more expensive (80-90$ per group) but you will walk with your pace and have close contact with guide which allow you t exchange all the opinions. Contact Auschwitz Birkenau directly online and they will help you out.

Posted by
11266 posts

As said above, if you enter between 10 AM and 3 PM you have to have a guide, so I took one of the Auschwitz-run guided tours (if that's not a grotesque way to put it). You are in a large-ish group, among many other groups (divided by language, so the English language tours tend to get people from everywhere). The guides use whisper headsets, so no one is talking loudly. The guide gives VERY specific information about what you are seeing (not at all generalities or basic facts). I can only speak for my guide, but she was taking her job VERY seriously, as a responsibility to honor what happened, by being as specific as possible. She also answered questions as much as possible (she did have to stick to her schedule, since other groups were behind us).

You see Auschwitz, then Birkenau. You are then free to see whatever you like on your own, and my guide actually encouraged everyone to do this once she was done. Your entry sticker is good all day, and having taken the guided tour, you can then wander either Auschwitz or Birkenau on your own as much as you wish; there is a free bus between them.

The reason they require guides from 10 to 3 is that at midday, the place is very crowded. So, if you want to be able to do some quiet reflection, go early or stay late.

I did find that size of the crowds diminished my ability to feel and reflect. I saw Sachsenhausen (the camp outside Berlin) by myself, in 1999, and there were only a few other visitors. I didn't take a tour and the English language information there was skimpy. Due to these differences, I learned more at Auschwitz, but felt more at Sachsenhausen.

Posted by
7 posts

We were there last week; our tickets--purchased online in advance-- were for noon, and we did not need a guide. However, we found the paper booklet useful.

Posted by
170 posts

Lee,

I had a great museum guide, though she was included as part of a tour. Our guide was related to a Polish inmate. The inmate, who was our guide's uncle, had been imprisoned in Auschwitz because he had committed a "crime". Germans saw the man, who was a baker, give bread to starving Jews. After the camp was liberated, the man, who was in his 20s, was free. His hair was steel gray, the guide told us, because of exhaustion and the brutality of the camp. The man died in his 30s. It was incredible to get a tour from someone who had a connection to the camp.

However, you mention that you like to read plaques and use audio-visual aids. I am the same way. Auschwitz 1 has a lot of these -- plaques, AV machinery, displays, artifacts -- and they are well done. We were rushed through this portion of our visit. I wish I could have spent more time in that part of the site. You'll notice I'm from Chicago. I saw the registration card in a display case for a prisoner from Chicago and photographed it. I was so overwhelmed to learn that a Chicagoan had been an Auschwitz prisoner that I emailed researchers with the museum to ask a couple questions. Among other things, they told me that 27 natives of Chicago were prisoners of Auschwitz. The tentacles of Auschwitz reached very far indeed.

The tour, which started in Krakow, was organized by Krakville Tours (www.krakville.com). They drove us the 80 or so miles west to Auschwitz, and the guide at the museum was included. You'll see storefronts with the Krakville name in Krakow if you go there.

Two elements of the visit stick out in my mind. In Auschwitz 1, there is a building, which most tours stop at, with a wall of inmate photographs. These have information about the person in the photo, including who he or she was, town of origin and how long the person lived. Most survived a couple days. It was difficult to see because there it wasn't just names. I saw the faces, too.

The other part I'll never forget is the dividing platform at Auschwitz-Birkenau. There a Nazi doctor stood to evaluate each prisoner. If he pointed to the right, the prisoner was sentenced to death and trudged unknowingly to a gas chamber. If the doctor pointed left, the person would live a bit longer but be worked to death.

It was on that spot that families from all over Europe were torn apart forever, never to see each other again. It was impossible for me not to be moved as I stood on the dividing platform.

I have my own connection to Auschwitz. My dad served in World War II, but he was on a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Pacific Ocean. Nevertheless, I thought about my dad as I walked through Auschwitz.

Posted by
1768 posts

We signed onto a tour that picked us up at our hotel. Once at Auschwitz we were turned over to a guide who provided an excellent, sensitive and emotional tour. There are many moving exhibits, but the one that made me literally gasp was walking into a display of suitcases and luggage piled high, and front and center was a suitcase bearing our family name. There but for the grace of God.