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Concentration Camp travel questions

Hello again! I will be leaving Budapest July 17 heading to Oswiecim for two nights while touring Auschwitz/Birkenau. After that I head to Krakow for two nights, then to Lublin for 2/3 nights while making day trips to small sites such as Majdanek, Belzec, Trawniki, Izbica,Poniatowa, and Sobibor, which I’ve heard may be closed for renovations. Advice on how to get to these smaller places is appreciated,
hoping not to rent a car. Planning to use trains as much as possible, or bus where best.

After Lublin head to Warsaw and Treblinka, but after that I’m torn between heading to Gdansk and Stutthof, or Łódź, Wroclaw, and Gross Rosen. Can I see them all? I have until July 27th or so to see Poland, then I’m heading to Germany and doing as many sites as I can before ending at Dachau and flying home to USA August 10th.

Is this crazy? Any suggestions, critiques, and advice are welcome. Thanks in advance. Judy

Posted by
15395 posts

Do you have a guidebook for this region, such as Lonely Planet Poland? I would expect it to efficiently summarize transport connections for any place the book covers.

From Lublin train station to Majdanek is technically walkable at about 3 km, but city bus service is described on that museum's web site: http://www.majdanek.eu/en/information. Lublin's Tourist Information Office can also help, either in person or online, link before and also www.lublintravel.pl.

If you "suspect" train service, then you can check train schedules online pretty easily. Looking Up Train Schedules and Routes Online gives you the Deutsche Bahn train schedule link and tips for using it. Or use the Polish railways own site: https://rozklad-pkp.pl/en.

If you all of the above don't cover it, www.rome2rio.com is another search engine that can help you find bus companies or roughly compare transport options.

Posted by
2056 posts

Sobibor and Belzec were not concentration camps so you should learn the difference between a concentration camp and an extermination center. Calling these major extermination centers “small sites” is perhaps missing the point.

Treblika is another extermination center, not a camp. One of the DC posters posted train directions here once so do a search.

Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec are memorials and since they were not concentration camps have no barracks or barbed wire. So visiting these 3 is different from the others. Curious why you’re skipping Chelmo as that was the first extermination center and where gassing was first used, the prototype.

I read on TripAdvisor that Belzec has Saturday train service in the summer from Lublin. AFAIK there is no train service on this line into Ukraine (maybe 10 miles south of Belzec) making getting there by train a challenge outside of the Saturday tourist trains. However in 1942 Jews were transported on this rail line from Ukraine to be killed.

I would think seeing the parts of Lviv/Lvov Ukraine where Jews lived and built things would be a rewarding visit to pair with seeing where they were killed (Belzec),

For so many remote Polish sites I’d try to join a tour from Israel rather than go on your own.

Posted by
136 posts

Everyone has their own reasons for traveling. I found going to concentration camps to be very draining, and for good reason. These are important sites to visit, but you may want to consider how many you want to experience during your trip.

Posted by
1615 posts

You are covering a lot of ground although you do have a lot of time. Public transit only will create some challenges.

Six day trip destinations out of Lublin by public transit might be a stretch over two or three days. Lonely Planet would be a good guide book to check into, as Rick does not cover most of those places. Two nights in Krakow is very, very short.

I agree with the concern about so many concentration camp visits. My wife and I visited Poland + northeastern Germany earlier this year, and the sadness of the impact of WW2 stayed in my mind for weeks. I'm not saying don't do it, just be prepared for the emotional impact.

Not trying to be snarky here, but when someone asks "Is this crazy?" on this board it almost always it is.

Gdansk is a real gem of a city, my wife and I started out trip with three nights there. I recommend this city very highly, and am adding it to my "most underrated cities in Europe" list.

Posted by
21 posts

Thanks so much for these responses. I apologize for grouping everything under “concentration camp”. I usually refer to all these places as Holocaust sites, so maybe that is better. I did not mean to skip Chelmno, simply forgot and will add it. I’m using Ricks Eastern Europe book and the Holocaust Sites of Europe by Martin Winstone, and a map of Poland to plan this, so I will order the Lonely Planet book now. I really appreciate all the suggestions.

Is there any way to prioritize these sites, or know which are most important to see in person? I’m struggling with thinking I ought to see every one but feeling overwhelmed. I also plan to see the major sites in the cities in addition to the Holocaust sites.

I did try to get information on tours from Israel but did not find out much. Any direction welcome.
Laura- thank you for all the links on transportation.
vftravels- thanks for the Gdansk info, sounds like a must-see. I read another post about museums there and the WWII was worth an extensive visit.

Tom - I will research more on Trip Advisor and do the search you suggested.

Thanks to all of you. Please add any other ideas-suggestions-guidance you have. Much appreciated!

Posted by
2056 posts

Judy: the Treblinka directions were posted on your October topic.

Posted by
73 posts

First, I just need to throw this out there: You are trying to see a lot, over a large geographical area, in a region where train transportation is still not quite as fast as perhaps it should be. While it's commendable to see as many Holocaust sites as possible, I think you need to really consider what an emotionally draining experience this can, and likely will, be. I say this as a Central European historian; it is hard work to do and think about nothing but the Holocaust. And while the Holocaust certainly looms large over Poland, it is not all that Poland is. To go in looking only for Holocaust sites is to miss a lot of the country. My suggestion, then, is to make sure you are scheduling downtime between visits to Holocaust sites to see the churches and art museums, or simply linger on a square with a coffee and szarlotka.

That being said -

Definitely fly from Budapest to Krakow. The train will take between 7-9 hours. The plane will take one, and there's a direct LOT flight that gets you to the KRK at 10:35am for $72. It's very easy to get from KRK to the main train station, and then an easy walk to the Main Square. I would recommend staying in Krakow and not going to Oswiecim. From what I've heard, there's not much there, and staying in Krakow will give you some distance from Auschwitz, both physically and mentally, as well as free up a day to spend elsewhere. Arrive in Krakow on 7/17, be at your hotel by noon, and spend the day exploring the city. Go to Auschwitz on 7/18, and spend 7/19 in Krakow - the Schindler sites, or maybe something completely different - the salt mines.

Now, here's where it gets tricky, The train from Krakow to Lublin is an interminable slog. No, really. It will likely be over seven hours with a few transfers. You'll stop ever few minutes. It was one of the most frustrating train rides I have ever taken, and I don't believe the bus is any better. You're almost better off taking the express train to Warsaw and then the direct train to Lublin. Either way, this day (7/20) is going to be lost to travel and you will just have to accept that.

Others have given you links to explore how to get to the various places you want to go. I'll only say, again, that focusing exclusively on Holocaust sites means missing a lot of this beautiful area. I spent three summers in Lublin; it's a small, compact town that's easy to explore. Zamosc is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kazimierz Dolny is a cute little town famous for its rooster bread. Take time to take in these and other attractions. This is also an area where the Holocaust and WWII/Nazi occupation is going to be found all around you. Lublin Castle is where the Nazis held prisoners - and also is home to amazing frescos. It will take some work, but you can visit the Old Jewish Cemetery in Lublin; I went with a professor who how to get in, but it might be in a guidebook or online. When we went to KD, we stopped to look at a memorial of gravestones the Nazis had "repurposed" to pave a road.

If you want to do all that you've listed, I'd stay in Lublin 4 nights/3 full days. That gets you to 7/24, when you'll leave for Warsaw. Warsaw deserves at least 3 nights/2 full days - half a day to get there and get settled, one for your trip to Treblinka, and another busy day to tour the remains of the Ghetto, the new Jewish History Museum, and perhaps also the Warsaw Uprising Museum. And that's not including time to explore the main drag, the Old Town, or Lazienki Park. And that gets you to 7/27. I'll continue these thoughts in the next post.

Posted by
73 posts

Back again.

Including 7/27, you have 14 days to get from Warsaw to Munich. It's really up to you how you want to spend that time. What are you hoping to see in Germany? Would you rather spend that time in Poland? Is getting to Germany by 7/27 fixed in stone, or a goal?

Gdansk is a beautiful city, really one of Europe's under-rated gems. I would love to go back, especially since, when I visited years ago, the Solidarity Museum was closed. The problem with Gdansk is it's out of the way of basically everything. It's three hours from Warsaw - not bad - but then close to six hours by train to Wroclaw, and eight to nine hours to Berlin. IF you can spare a few more days, and seeing the sites in Lodz and Wroclaw are important to you, I would spend a few days in each city - maybe 2 night each? You'll be taking long day trips, but try to see some of the cities.

If you do two nights each, that has you leaving Poland for Germany on 7/31. Perhaps this isn't the post to discuss this, but what the heck. If it were my trip (and it's not), I'd head to Berlin for 4 nights/three full days. You should definitely see Sachsenhausen and it is possible to do a long day trip to Ravensbruck that I think is absolutely worth it. Berlin is a great city, and I'd recommend even more time there, but this would be the bare minimum. From there, I'd probably do Weimar (Buchenwald), Nuremberg, and Munich (Dachau). Again, try to see more of these places than just their Nazi and Holocaust pasts.

I usually end these posts with, "Enjoy your trip!" Which is an odd sentiment for this particular trip. So I'll just say I hope everything goes to plan, whatever plan you choose, and should you have any other questions I'd be happy to try to answer them.

Posted by
1615 posts

We visited Auschwitz on a bus tour this past May, and it was a good way to visit. You don't have to actually stay in the town to have a good visit. It was a two hour or so bus ride each way over somewhat windy roads. Auschwitz was very crowded even in May, in July probably much worse, so please be aware of that.

Posted by
21 posts

Allison - you make excellent points, and have a wealth of knowledge. Thank you! I’m thinking it might be best to forget Germany for this trip and use my days to really see Poland. As I research I see so much more than just the Holocaust sites that I want to explore, and it would be a shame to miss them.
Do you have an opinion about using a rental car to do day trips from Lublin? Thanks so much for your help.

Also, I could fly from Budapest to anywhere in Poland to start my trip. Is there a better / more efficient way to see the country? Appreciate any thoughts.....

Posted by
12000 posts

As someone with a significant (but non-academic) interest in WW II and the Cold War, perhaps I can make a suggestion: Don't try to get to all the historical sites you've mentioned in one trip. It will be a depressing slog, and you will hardly have time to do anything else--even assuming that the availability of public transportation allows you to pull it off. You'll put in all those miles and probably will end up retracing many of them on a future trip to see what you missed (such as the time-consuming-to-visit museums). It would be more efficient to cover only about half the miles and allow time for some traditional sightseeing on this upcoming trip. You could then complete the second half of what you want to do on your next trip.

Posted by
10574 posts

Hi,

True, there is much to see in Poland other than the Holocaust related sites. I would suggest the lower Vistula area and the former Upper Silesia. such as towns like Pszczyna , known prior to 1919 as Pless with its famous Schloss (zamek). It's located south of Katowice. In 2001 en route from Krakow to Berlin, the train stopped at Katowice which caught me by surprise since I didn't read up on cities where the train would stop.

When I saw the station sign Katowice, I wished I could have gone off to see that place. Both the Poles and Germans after WW1 wanted this place, fought three "uprisings" until the belligerents agreed that a plebiscite would determine the issue. This was the Upper Sllesian Plebiscite of 1921...sad and bloody history. The Poles got their way in the end since they had the French on their side and to a lesser extent Italy. Of course, there were plebiscites held, the results of which did not go the way the Poles had expected and wanted in those early years after WW1.

If you intend on focusing on Poland on this trip, just don't visit the main places, Krakow, Warsaw, Gdansk, etc. There is a lot more ,ie the smaller places, such as along the Baltic, in the northeast, eg, the Masurian Lakes, and to the southeast, eg, Przemsyl.

Posted by
10574 posts

"...or bus where best." Absolutely. When we were in Torun in 2005, I had the aim of seeing a small place as a day trip to the northwest, Chelmno, located on the Vistula, just as Torun is. The other town was Grudziadz...well, next time.

The Mrs and her mother had no objections, so we all walked to Torun's bus depot, bought the ticket for Chelmno, and then waited for the next bus going out there. The bus network went to numerous towns from Torun.

Bottom line here...what is not accessible by train can be still possible by bus.

Posted by
194 posts

I did a "WWII research trip" this past May, mostly in Poland. Might I suggest that you definitely spend a full day at Auschwitz/Birkenau but spend time at places like the fantastic WWII museum in Gdansk, the Uprising Museum in Warsaw, Schindler's Museum, and the Museum of the Armia Krajowa in Krakow? Next time I'm in Warsaw, I will be concentrating on the years of the Russian occupation.

I visited three concentration and extermination camps, but believe you would benefit from hearing a larger picture of what really went on in Poland during WWII and beyond. The history of the Russian occupation has really just started to be released and will give you a broader picture of the realities and outcomes of WWII. Learn about the amazing contributions of the Armia Krajowa (Polish resistance fighters) and groups like Zagoda. For example, you may not be aware that Jewish prisoner did not start to arrive at Auschwitz until about 1941. It was a prison for Polish prisoners. Do a little research on the concept of "Righteous Among the Nations" in Jerusalem. I have two names in for nomination with them as I write!

There are other hidden gems that almost no one outside of Poland knows about. A visit to the historical site in Blizna might give you perspective and allow you to understand the plight of the average person in the surrounding villages who were forced out of their homes as the Nazis built the largest SS training camp outside of Germany. That is also where Hitler sent his top secret research project for the V-1 and V-2 after much of it was blown up in Peenemunde.

I had a chance to interview an elderly man whose brother was a former AK and WiN officer. His brother was arrested, put on trial, and executed by the Russians in 1950. The history of WWII is so vast and had so many implications and consequences. Poland wasn't all about the concentration and extermination camps. Some of my relatives were sent to the camps and all were forced laborers, and they weren't Jewish.

Like others recommended, don't make your trip to Poland all about the war. Even though mine was for WWII research, I found lots of time to go to Zakopane, the cathedrals and churches, Lancut, Przeclaw, Rzeszow, Malbork, etc. and eat lots of great Polish food. Look at the faces of the oldest residents and ponder how they were so severely affected by living under the Nazis and Communists for so long. My cousins, both the young and the elderly are so kind, hospitable and resilient. Make an effort to meet some wonderful Poles and ask them questions.

I just finished writing a historical novel based around Blizna and also write for historical journals and magazines. I am ready to publish a declassified CIA document written by the American vice- consul in Warsaw from 1939-1941. His report is the most objective material I have ever read.

Posted by
3537 posts

judy, there is a tour of some of these sites from England. I will come up with the name and post it later. I respect you for having the motivation to do this. If I were doing it, I think I'd want a tour as well, because as I understand it, the transportation logistics and infrastructure for visitors are not very developed.

edit. OK, here is the website I found for a British tour company: concentration camp tour There's also the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, on the site of the ghetto.

Posted by
21 posts

Wow! Thank you all for sharing your wisdom, much needed and appreciated. As I mentioned in my original post last October, I did a Holocaust tour with a group from Amsterdam in 2017. I saw Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Ravensbruck , Terezin, Mauthausen, Nuremberg, Wannsee, and Eagles Nest. We were in Krakow but didn’t explore the city for various reasons. The tour was a great way to get to all these places, but the visits were necessarily limited and left me feeling that I needed to see them again to really know them. On this trip I was going to spend one day in Auschwitz and a second day in Birkenau, just to take my time and see all the exhibits we ran past or skipped. I’m that kind of traveler -the read every line- to be sure I have all the information and not miss anything. This is why I travel solo for historical visits.... it would be torturous for others.

I see now my original plan would be doing the same speed- through sites just to get on to the next. I will start over and plan to explore each of the main cities in Poland, as well as the smaller areas mentioned by other posters. Any suggestions for where to start to tackle this? I have Ricks Eastern Europe book and Lonely Planet arrives tomorrow. I can fly in and out of any of the major airports, and I have roughly 22 days to explore. I’d appreciate any advice on how to make this work. Thanks!

Posted by
21 posts

Stan, thank you for that link. I’d looked at that previously and thought it looked promising, but the dates wouldn’t work for me. I’m responsible for getting grandkids to all their activities during the school year, so I’m a summer traveler. Thanks for reminding me about it!

Posted by
2056 posts

There might be some confusion:

The city in Poland "Chełmno" is not the site of the extermination center, that was sites in and around Chełmno nad Nerem, a village.

Note that the Holocaust occurred primarily in Poland (and states of the Soviet Union like Ukraine and Lithuania) so visiting concentration camps in Germany is not really seeing the main Holocaust sites, just the periphery, and not getting to the significant places Judy wants to see.

I think a visit to a memorial at one of the 4 extermination centers without a labor camp component (Chelmno, Belzec, Treblinka, or Sobibor) is a must for Judy.

Posted by
12000 posts

Judy, I see you and I are alike. I, too, read every line of English explanation at historical sights and in museums. And I try to watch every bit of English-subtitled video. Be advised that Poland has done a superb job of making its tourist sites accessible to English-speakers. Thus the 20 hours I spent in the WW II Museum in Gdansk. Five weeks in Poland, and I did not get to Lublin or other places in the eastern part of the country. The country is a time sponge. I can only suggest that you start with the city you most want to see, investigate its offerings and come to a conclusion about how many days you'll want to spend there and on day-trips to nearby destinations. Then move on to the second city. My bet is that you'll be out of time somewhere around City 4 or City 5--maybe even City 3 if you plan a lot of far-flung day-trips.

Be extremely cautious about expecting/planning to get to more than one out-of-town destination per day. Accomplishing that depends upon a precise alignment of bus/train schedules that seldom materializes in real life.

Posted by
10574 posts

There are two places with the name of "Chelmno" One of these located in the east central of Poland was connected with the Holocaust.

The "Chelmno" in the northwest, located on the lower Vistula, is near Torun and Grudziadz. Before 1919 it was known as Kulm, the immediate surrounding area was called "Kulmerland," part of the province of West Prussia.

Posted by
544 posts

Judy, I’m not sure you will need 2 days for Auschwitz / Birkenau. I thought the regular tour was quite thorough. You should investigate your options. On the regular Auschwitz tour, once you were done, you were not allowed to linger. You could linger at Birkenau, but I felt like I had really seen it on the tour. The only thing I might have done (which I did not) was walk the perimeter to get a better feel for how large it was. I think a long day would be enough time. We did need a full day for the WWII museum in Gdańsk. (I agree with the others — don’t miss Gdańsk!)

(Thanks for the clarification, Fred and Tom_MN, on Chelmno. We visited the Chelmno near Torun and I thought we had missed the camp. Now I see why it wasn’t mentioned — different Chelmno)

Posted by
10574 posts

@ Emf...You're welcome. The town of Chelmno near Torun, both places located on the Vistula had had German names, Kulm and Thorn respectively, which are used in anglophone historiography.

Chelmno/Kulm came through the war unscathed. The Soviets bypassed it in their advance into Pomerania. This town was part of West Prussia until 1919, whereas the Chelmno, the site of the death camp, prior to WW1 was part of Russian Poland.

Posted by
12000 posts

Yes, thanks for the Chelmno explanation. I thought I had missed something, too.

Posted by
2056 posts

FWIW: The German name for Chełmno nad Nerem is Kulmhof.

Both Chelmno and Treblinka were featured in the film Shoah.

Posted by
73 posts

Judy, I think devoting your full time in Poland would be a wonderful idea. It would give you time to see the major cities, as well as time to get to the harder-to-reach places. As far as flying from Budapest, it looks like you can only get to Warsaw or Krakow from there, which doesn't help or change things too much. I agree that you'll only need one full day to explore both Auschwitz I and Birkenau. As far as renting a car in Lublin, I've never done that, but am sure it is doable.

However, I'm going to throw something crazy out here. What if you spent two weeks in Lublin? The Catholic Univeristy of Lublin (KUL) offers a summer language program. It's what I did three summers I was in Lublin. The shortest session is two weeks, and one runs from from 22 July to 3 August. It's a really well done program, includes all your meals, and the people who attend are very diverse - Undergrads from Michigan, Mormons from BYU who are learning to go on missions, grad students, nuns, and older adults who are looking to connect with their family heritage. It's not just Americans, either. Here's the website: http://www.kul.pl/programs-for-2019-2020,art_13829.html I'm suggesting this because the teachers and staff are really helpful, and would likely be able to give better on-the-ground advice about getting to where you want to go. The one weekend you would be there, the school offers a walking tour of Lublin and it looks like a day trip to Sandomierz (we went to Kazimierz Dolny). If you only do morning classes, you would be free to explore in the afternoon; the school might even be helpful in locating drivers or local guides to take you to the memorials and camps.

Should you choose this, you could still fly to Krakow on July 17 and stay until the 21, when you could take the day-long trip to Lublin and spend the night before classes start. That would give you an extra day in Krakow. You could do a (long) day trip to Pszczyna in Upper Silesia, as Fred suggested. It's a very small but very cute town, and the "castle" (more of a manor house) is a worthwhile tour. As someone who lived in Katowice for almost a year, I'd say it's a nice place to live but I wouldn't want to visit, if that makes sense. (Although, Fred, if I may tweak your history, the decision to hold a plebiscite in Upper Silesia was decided at Versailles, about two months before the First Silesian Upring erupted, and the Third - and biggest - occurred after the March plebiscite, in May 1921. The vote was 60/40 in favor of Germany, but the Victorious Powers split the region. Germany got the most territory, but Poland got the coal mines - ie the part that made Upper Silesia so valuable.).

After classes end (and they do a very nice graduation ceremony that involves taking everyone out for a traditional Polish meal), you would have basically a week before flying home. Would you change your flight to Warsaw? If so, you could do a few days in Gdansk, then finish off with 3-4 days in Warsaw, with time to do a day trip to Treblinka?

I know these would be quick trips, and likely something that you'll choose not to do. But I wanted to throw it out there as an off-the-wall option. You're lucky to have so much time to devote to travel, and you might enjoy taking the time to settle in a place, and learn a bit of its language and culture.

Posted by
10574 posts

@ Allison...Thanks for the historical accuracy.

With the vote 60-40 in Germany's favor, the smart move, morally and legally, should have been to let all of Upper Silesia as defined by the 1914 boundaries stay in Germany. Otherwise, by ignoring the plebiscite results, the Allies, mainly the French, merely gave more political ammunition to the anti-democratic elements in Germany, ie, what counts is power (Macht geht vor Recht), also contributing to the voters' lack of faith in the Wilsonian principle of "self determination." by a democratic practice, ie a fair vote.

Posted by
21 posts

Wow! Allison, you certainly give me something to think about.... I will take a look at the website and investigate. Who knows?

I’ve been looking at my pictures from Auschwitz/Birkenau and I see many from Birkenau as our visit started there. I’m hoping to get a ticket for the study tour which is longer and should be enough to satisfy me. Lonely Planet Poland arrived today, so I’m going to dive in, come up with an itinerary, then ask for the forum to evaluate and fine tune.....or redirect :-).

You have all been such a help! Thanks so much for taking time to respond, instruct, and guide me. I appreciate each one of you. Judy