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The Auschwitz Birkenau Experience

Can one miss Auschwitz and still come to appreciate it's relevance? I have seen enough movies, pictures and read enough books on it to partly understand the horrors. I would now prefer to move on and learn more from the various museums, neighbourhoods in Warsaw and Kracow in this regard.

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Posted by
10985 posts

It's a shame that only that one singular experience can be so enlightening. You are so fortunate. .

Posted by
17682 posts

To me, Europe is so much more than just the holocaust. I learned about it in HS history, and I've been to Dachau. I'm ready to move on and see some more interesting places.

Posted by
12117 posts

Re: all the books on Bull Run and standing actually on the physical battle field itself. What about Waterloo? That's a relatively small battlefield, I spent ca seven hours exploring that place, the museums, the field itself, the memorials, monuments, and there is more now than was the case in 1984.

Posted by
2487 posts

When I was in Kraków, I haven't visited Auschwitz either. But I did visit the Jewish cemeteries in Lódz and - not too far from Kraków - Tarnów. There I felt the intense sadness of the dead with no-one left to remember them.

Posted by
2083 posts

This is an interesting question. I went to Auschwitz last fall. I'm very interested in WWII and have read tons about the war and the Holicaust over the years. The year before my trip I focused on the Holocaust, the Nazis and the resistance. I will tell you it was a depressing year, but an enlightening one. I cannot imagine learning all that and missing the opportunity to see Auschwitz. It was a very meaningful and kind of spiritual experience for me. It was my opportunity to pay tribute to and remember the victims (as best I could). But that's me. You may not be looking for that type of experience. I don't think I learned much if anything on the tour - I had heard or read it all before. Even being there, you cannot truly imagine what it was like for the victims. So you may not need to go there to understand it better or appreciate its relevance. That is not why I went or what I got out of it.

Posted by
25 posts

From all appreciated responses, I know I will probably be short-changing all possible personal experiences and knowledge by not visiting the site. And it's impossible to discount the tragedy. But I think I will get the same personal reflection out of touching a piece of the remaining ghetto wall in Warsaw, walking through Kazimierz in Kracow or visiting Schindler's factory (with it's corresponding museum.) Having recently read (and believed) "Story of a Secret State" by the late Jan Karski who witnessed a camp (which is a must read for any WWII / Holocaust buff) I have come to realize that all Nazi extermination camps must have been hell on earth for many peoples, no matter what scale. When they were in operation. A visit to now see Auschwitz-Birkenau will not serve any further purpose for at least me.

Posted by
2096 posts

As someone who has always been interested in WWII--all theatres, not just Europe or the Holocaust in particular--my travels to Europe will always include visiting sites pertaining to the war as much as possible. Last year I went to Auschwitz and while it was a very intense experience, some things about it surprised me--mainly that the barracks felt very much like college dorms, and the overall atmosphere was serene in a very surreal way. Some of the exhibits, viewed and digested as a symbol of the enormity of the horror, continue to haunt me. I felt very strongly that I needed to go there, but later in my trip I was in Prague and decided not to visit Terezin, nor any other concentration camps ever again.

While in Krakow I spent a lot of time in the Kazimierz district and the former Jewish ghetto, explored the old cemeteries, synagogues and buildings there and gained another perspective, and the Schindler factory museum was very well done. The fairly new Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw is also worth a visit.

Posted by
10985 posts

This is one of those times when I think the RS philosophy for traveling holds water. The more exposure the better.

However one finds the truth, if they do, then it is important as the world betters by the revelation of truth. Camps, movies, museums, text, places of worship, testimonials; for one to suppose there is one singular source of enlightenment is somewhat short of reality.

It’s a subject that I spend an inordinate amount of time in association with and I know of individuals whose heart is such that the written word carried more burden on their soul than many could bear; while others require a trip to a camp as described above; and yet others you could take back in time to the actual even, push their face into the death and they would still not get it. These and all experiences in-between.

But what has been revealed. The horror of death, or the horror of death at a scale impossible to imagine? No death is more or less important than another and quantity on one side of the table doesn’t mitigate a single death on the other side of the table. So what’s the real lesson? I believe that when one understands that, then one has the essential enlightenment to help develop a better world.

In a perfect world I would do it in this order. First, go to Budapest and visit a synagogue or shul on a Saturday morning. Go early, share their coffee and listen to them speak; hear their stories. Then join them in their service and then their meal. http://www.oprah.com/belief/Mendel-Hurwitz-Prepares-to-Become-a-Man-Video Then to the camps; and then to Prague where there is a small synagogue called the PInkas Synagogue. Find a name on the wall memorize it https://czechallieout.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/dsc_0842.jpg. Now you have seen the beauty of the people, the horror of what happened and have a gift you can take with you as a reminder. But one last stop; Paris. Visit a synagogue and ask yourself, what has changed? What has the world learned, that we must have soldiers with guns protecting the places of worship of the people of the holocaust? When does it end? https://www.google.com/maps/place/15+Rue+Notre+Dame+de+Nazareth,+75003+Paris,+France/@48.8672224,2.3599791,3a,89.9y,170.99h,89.65t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sIiAqTqOso_3pYvdGGBfcyw!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo1.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3DIiAqTqOso_3pYvdGGBfcyw%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dmaps_sv.tactile.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D203%26h%3D100%26yaw%3D314.34586%26pitch%3D0!7i13312!8i6656!4m2!3m1!1s0x47e66e0f717cc4a3:0x56fc613f3b9570d4!6m1!1e1?hl=en

Posted by
16782 posts

For many travelers, Krakow poses a long transport day or detour from the rest of their European route, so you may not return soon. It's your trip - try to fit in everything that interests you. Of course, other camps and war history are widespread and accessible in Europe, even if you don't return to Poland.

While (or since?) I have not much studied the war nor even liked to watch war movies, I found it worthwhile to visit five different concentration camp memorials in my travels (and some a second time with our tours). I have better enjoyed learning from the various Jewish museums, synagogues, and city memorials that I have also visited in Europe, but felt I got something different at Auschwitz. It wasn't more information than what you already have, but a confirmation, and as Carol said, a form of tribute.

Posted by
12117 posts

When visiting Krakow and Warsaw, especially by doing a ton of walking in the center, etc. one is bound to come across the blatant, strong memorials to Katyn. In Krakow it is a large cross between two streets with the word "Katyn" on top. My visits to Poland are pretty limited I have to admit in numbers of cities/towns..5. Only in Warsaw and Krakow did I see memorials to Katyn.

Posted by
14004 posts

Alert! Long (rambling) post.

We observed Holocaust Remembrance Day here two days ago, so this is very timely. It comes just 4 days after the end of Passover, and for those 4 days television and radio are almost complete focused on it: documentaries, interviews, movies and anything else that can be related. There are still thousands of survivors living here, too many of them in poverty and loneliness. One of the most interesting interviewees said that we focus too much on the victims and ignore the many who succeeded, in spite of what they were subjected to and often after losing their entire extended families. There are tens of thousands of second and third generation "survivors" (the children and grandchildren), many of whom have made significant contributions. We should be emphasize proudly what they accomplished.

Would Israel be what it is today if the Holocaust hadn't happened? No one will ever know. The seeds were sown in the 19th century by Jewish tradition and European anti-Semitism. By the beginning of the 20th, there were sizeable Jewish settlements in much of what is today Israel, budding social, economic, and political infrastructures and the beginnings of the army. But without the rise of Hitler, the events that followed, and world sympathy, who knows how many European Jews would have made their way to Israel to establish the state, how much political support there would have been from other governments or how much economic support from individuals, and subsequent economic and military support from foreign powers, or how many North African and Middle Eastern Jews would have arrived.

The most chilling thing I heard was a man whose parents were survivors. They never spoke about "before" and he and his siblings knew not to ask and also to avoid certain "trigger" words and subjects. All that is typical. One morning his father came home and said quietly, "today I burned Eichmann." He never said another word about it. Years later the man learned the whole story. His father was employed in making furnaces. He was asked to build a special furnace but wasn't told what it was for. On the day it was to be delivered he was told to go with and he was the man who operated it. (Note: Eichmann was hanged in prison and his body was cremated shortly thereafter; his ashes were spread over the Mediterranean.)

On to Auschwitz. As you can imagine, the Holocaust is an integral part of the school curriculum. Many high school classes take a field trip to Poland in junior year, as an (expensive) educational experience, including a day in Auschwitz. Many adults here have visited, either as chaperons on those trips, or on similar adult tours. Most just say it's very difficult.

Like you Brian, I don't believe that seeing a death camp would help me comprehend the incomprehensible, neither the enormity nor the inhumanity. And when I visit Poland, I plan to do as you.

I did spend a day at Theresienstadt (from Prague) which was not a death camp. It was very interesting, especially the museums, where you see the indomitable human spirit of the inmates in their artistic outlets (music, drama, art) in spite of the incredibly miserable conditions and the likely knowledge that they were doomed.

I don't plan to visit any others. I will continue to visit Holocaust museums and memorials. And light a candle on Remembrance Day.

Posted by
5352 posts

For anyone living near enough to visit a Holocaust museum, it can also be an amazing experience on its own -- items provided by survivors or their families, and sometimes living survivors telling their own stories. In the U.S. I have been to well-done museums in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles.

Posted by
2454 posts

Wonderful posts by both Chani and James E. Thank you!

Posted by
32 posts

You could go to Schindler's factory and the Jewish quarter instead. The underground Salt mine tour was terrific.

Posted by
11613 posts

I have visited many camp memorials, in Germany, Austria and Poland. Although some were not designated "death camps", I found no evidence that after about 1943, anyone was expected to be released from them. Mauthausen in particular comes to mind, where the "work" was so brutal that it had one of the highest death rates of any camp. The artwork done by the inmates, or the poetry on the walls of documentation centers, or the graves, has an impact because it is in situ that a museum can capture from a distance, although the museums are important, too.

If I travel to understand human history, this is a part of it. For me.

Posted by
89 posts

No, imho it shouldn't be missed, if there is a chance for one to see it.
It is powerful and unforgettable experience to see the sites of Auschwitz (I) and Auschwitz-Birkenau even for people who have significant historical knowledge and have visited other camps in the past thinking they can do without it.

Posted by
10 posts

That conversation is really interesting. I come from Poland and Holocaust, especially concentration camp history seem preety close to me. I would say that you don't necessary need to visit Auschwitz to understand the history but it for sure will make you feel it deeper. What might not be a need.

If you want to go to Schindlers factory I really recommend checking this https://discovercracow.com/tours/krakow-former-ghetto-with-plaszow-concentration-camp/. Its A plaszow Ghetto which is closely connected with Schindlers factory. I went for it and guides are extreamly passionate about history and some small facts like Roman Polanski (The Pianist) history who got away from Ghetto https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Polanski.

For me its also interesting what happened after the WWII. Poland went under ZSRR curtain and cities like Nowa Huta were built. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nowa_Huta

That would be my Polish perspective you make take into account :)

Posted by
2525 posts

For me, it's necessary and I would do again if near. Not an easy visit mind you.

Posted by
2773 posts

To me, Europe is so much more than just the holocaust. I learned about it in HS history, and I've been to Dachau. I'm ready to move on and see some more interesting places.

I didn't learn anything in detail in HS history about the holocaust, and I don't think many did until the last 15 years or so. Also, I do not think Dachau qualifies as a "Holocaust site" since it was not a location with large scale extermination of Jews.

Why in some places (like Vienna) did people turn out to cheer the rounding up of Jews, and in the Dutch town of Nieuwlande every house hid a Jewish family? And the mechanics of the killing matter. Did you know that most who died in gas chambers were killed with diesel exhaust? Did you know that most of the killing was done in remote forest outposts and afterward the facilities were obliterated and made to look like farms? And the bricks from the gas chambers were repurposed to make the farm buildings?

In a sense the Holocaust is the deepest and most profound human experience.

Anyway, planning to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau myself in 2017. Would prefer to visit one of the forest sites, Belzec and Treblinka have memorials that look to be sensational, but access is time consuming.

Posted by
12117 posts

Keep in mind too that in western Europe the physical extermination of the Jews had the highest percentage in Holland.