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Auschwitz: Guided Tour or On Your Own?

We've hired a service to drive us to Auschwitz with an 8am pickup time. Apparently, if you get there before 10am, you cna tour the facility without a guide. I've read many different opinions about taking the tour with a guide or not. Some people mention the guides hurry you along. I'm wanting to take my time and take some photographs as well.
Any opinions from folks who have been there?

Posted by
687 posts

When I visited in 2004 the site provided a video and a guided tour for Auschwitz I, after which you were free to wander around both I and II as you liked. I found the tour informative and worthwhile.

Posted by
8946 posts

Yes, the guides will be rushing you around. The reason they enacted the new rule is to keep the crowds moving, it's a real problem in the summer time. In terms of photographs, they're banned inside the buildings for the same reason: to keep people of moving to avoid bottlenecks. Having said that, if you arrive early or late without the guides they guards seem to look the other way. Is there anyway you can visiti off-season during the spring or fall, when visitors are allowed free-reign of the camps?

Posted by
2206 posts

We just returned from Krakow and a tour of the camps. We could not get there before 10, also we did not have a useful printed guide such as Eastern Europe with us. We took a regular Auschwitz tour, in English. The tour and guide were excellent, and we got much more from that than we would have if we had simply followed a preprinted path such as in Eastern Europe.
The charge - 30zl for the guide + 10 zl for the headphone - or about $30 total for the two of us - is nominal. I would gladly have left as much as a contribution to help maintain the site had we gone on our own. The guided tour ran close to 3 hours, at which point we were free to wander on our own at either site. If you feel that you were rushed through anything, you could always go back. One should not think of this as a standard tour. This is a remembrance and a paying of respects to victims of an unspeakable horror.

Posted by
46 posts

Well, I have plane tickets in hand and 2.5 weeks already blocked out...so it's now or never. That's a shame about not taking photos inside, but I understand about keeping the crowds moving. From the sounds of it, I think we'll be doing the right thing by getting there as soon as they open, as to avoid the majority of the tour bus crowds. Also, I've heard they have a orientation movie presentation at the front entrance. Plus I've been watching the 6 part BBC documentary on Netflix, trying to get additional information (very in-depth show btw) The main thing I think will be the tiem to reflect and try to absorb what happened to the masses of people that met their end in this place. I have mixed feelings about how this will affect me and my partner.

Posted by
2206 posts

The prior poster stating no photographs is incorrect. They encourage taking photos, they want this story to be spread. There are certain rooms/exhibits that they do not allow you to photograph because of the content, these will be clearly marked. They also do not want you using flash inside, but there is enough light that any reasonable camera should be able to get an acceptable image with the flash down.
I can assure you all of the above from my experience last week.

Posted by
687 posts

"I have mixed feelings about how this will affect me and my partner." It took me a week or so to recover from visiting Auschwitz, but I was on my own, which made it more intense. I could just feel evil seeping out of the ground.

Posted by
2876 posts

We were there last September. Took the guided English-language tour. Our guide was awesome and we wouldn't have gotten nearly as much out of the visit if we'd done it on our own. You can ask questions of the guide - and our group had many interesting questions - but you can't ask questions of a guidebook.

Posted by
8946 posts

"...There are certain rooms/exhibits that they do not allow you to photograph because of the content, these will be clearly marked. They also do not want you using flash inside, but there is enough light that any reasonable camera should be able to get an acceptable image with the flash down..." The content of the room has nothing to do with photo ban. It's strictly a crowd control measure. In theory they want every visitor to be able to take as many photos/videos as possible to spread the word of what went on, and at one time it was permissible to take photos of the "hair" exhibit. But when a group of 25 visitors arrives and each of those 25 want to snap a photo, with another couple of groups waiting, huge delays occur.

Posted by
31294 posts

Bart, I haven't been to Auschwitz / Birkenau yet, but I'm very interested in WW-II history so it's on my list of places to visit. One of my Sons has visited there, and he described the experience as "intense". Based on my visits to other camps, it's a good idea to be somewhat "prepared" for the visit, as the experience can be upsetting.

Posted by
2206 posts

I will repeat. I was there on July 4, 2011.
There were certain buildings marked "No photographs", and this had to do with content, not with the size of tour groups, as these signs were permanent and were also there for those arriving before or after the tour group mandate. I do not wish to start an online fight with the other poster whose memory om several years back may be in error, or the procedures from several years ago may have changed. But when a question is asked for which I have explicit direct knowledge of what is the correct procedure, I am going to make certain that knowledge is provided. And I certainly do not wish to start a fight over hallowed ground. I would also make the case that the guides keep things orderly and mannerly, and allow large crowds to move through in an efficient and sensible manner, and allow the most people to view the most of the memorial in a given time. I will even get controversial now and posit that to go through here beating the crowds and saving money on the guide just seems to me to be a "let's check Auschwitz off the list" attitude. This is not a museum, amusement park nor other "top 10 sites to amke sure you see". Several million people, primarily but not exclusively Jews, were horrifically MURDERED here. You come here to learn and pay respect.

Posted by
46 posts

Larry, Thank you for your posts and advice. I really appreciate your tips on visiting this important world site. However, let's keep the dialog civil and understand that other people may have a different opinion or memory of this place and their policies. Let's remember that sites like this teach us that tolerance and respect is what we strive for as a society. The no photography (inside certain buildings) can be for a number of reasons...avoiding distractions, keeping crowds moving, to preserve the artifacts, etc. I have no problem with that. Secondly, my original question about visiting before 10am (hence the tour guide question) was about avoiding large crowds. I find it difficult to focus on reading, pondering and reflecting, when I'm fighting large crowds for viewing position, not to mention loud talking, etc. I guess it depends on how you want to visit the site, and absorb this moving place. For me I think having less crowds will help strengthen the expereince for me. I'm willing to for-go having a guide verbally explain each area (I'm sure they have signage and other informational aids). Again...I'm not sure how I'll feel about visiting Auschwitz I & II, but I want to know and understand better what happened here...and to make sure events such as this one never happen again.

Posted by
2206 posts

Bart- just a word on your wanting to go before 10 to avoid the crowds. This is not something you can do quickly. You may be able to get started without a tour, but you will find that beginning at 10 there will be people all over the place, in organized tours. And very large crowds. You will simply not be part of one of these groups.
And believe it or not, it is these same tours (actually, their guides) that will keep the crowds orderly and manageable for all who are thereon tours or not. However, the groups of 20 (that appeared to be the tour group size) will get priority moving through and out of buildings. I suppose that one could piggy-back along one of these, but the tours themselves are broadcast closed on headphones, so there would be nothing gained from it. And another thought. Perhaps you may feel rushed, or maybe pushed around a bit by large crowds. Look at it as part of the learning experience in what conditions were like for the inmates here. A philosophical approach can add to the experience. Face it you're not going to be able to avoid crowds, even if you get there at 8 AM. However, Birkenau isn't crowded, because it's gigantic.

Posted by
2206 posts

PHOTOS-Straight from the official site (http://en.auschwitz.org.pl/z/): "• Taking pictures on the grounds of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in O?wi?cim for own purposes, without use of a flash and stands, is allowed for exceptions of hall with the hairs of Victims (block nr 4) and the basements of block nr 11. Material may be used only in undertakings and projects that do not impugn or violate the good name of the Victims of Auschwitz Concentration Camp." Does this once and for all resolve the photography issue? If I recall, our guide said that there was harmful effects on the hair from flash photography. There is much more useful information on this website.

Posted by
173 posts

Hi Bart, I arrived before 10 and was going to wander around by myself, but ended up taking the guided tour. I had originally been worried that I wouldn't be able to "be alone with my thoughts" if I did the guided tour. But I'm glad that I did. There was enough time at each "exhibit" (feels weird to use that word to describe this place of so much pain) to have a few silent moments to let it really sink in. Mind you, most of the "exhibits" are at Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) does not have very many specific things to see but once you are guided around you have time to yourself to wander around the huge grounds. One tip, there is a brochure type item you can purchase (cheap) that has a map of the grounds; I recommend doing that before you start your tour, guided or not. If you have any other questions I'd be glad to help you out as best I can.

Posted by
173 posts

Oh - one last thing. You can purchase postcards of places that do not allow photography. I was there in September and didn't even think of taking photos inside the buildings or when the tour guide was talking, I was too stiff with emotion.

Posted by
8946 posts

I'm not sure where the notion that the last time I visited the camps was in 2004 comes from:) I've visited twice in 2007 and 2011. The passage about photography on the official web site hasn't changed since my first visit in 2007, and the signs outside the buildings banning photography have always been there as well. So obviously the folks running the camps are providing contradictory information. This passage from Rick's guidebook sums up nicely the what the "reality" of the situation is regarding photographs: " ...because the philosophy of the camps is to spread the story of Auschwitz, taking photographs of anything outside is encouraged. However, to ease the movement of visitors, photography is not allowed inside the museum buildings..." From my own experience (though obviously thing may have changed since 2011)as long there aren't large crowds the guards will allow you take take pictures inside, if it starts getting crowded, they will move you along; YMMV. I also have a very touching story involving photos at the camps. I was at the Dr Mengle exhibit inside one of the the buildings. (He was that sicko Doctor who did those experiments on twins.) An elderly woman asked me to take a picture of her in front of a large photo of two children. Long story short, one of the girls in the photo was her. It sent shivers down my spine, and the courage it took her to revisit the camps is amazing! Also, if you have time to kill waiting for the shuttle bus to the second camp, visit the nearby florist shop for flowers to lay at the large memorial at Birkenau.

Posted by
17 posts

Thank you for all the replies. I am also going this fall.

Posted by
12040 posts

I haven't been there since 2006, so who knows how accurate or not this information still is... but... Is the 10 AM rule new, or is it for summer only? I visited during the month of April, arrived well after 10 AM, walked around freely without a tour and took pictures of everything. The only building where I remember a specific prohibition against photography was the crematorium. On a personal note, I remember feeling enraged that evening while watching the news back in Krakow. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had delivered a particular venomous Holocaust denial speech that day. What an a**hole!

Posted by
31294 posts

@ Tom, "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had delivered a particular venomous Holocaust denial speech that day. What an a**hole!" Jay Leno frequently mis-pronounces his surname as "I'm a nut job".

Posted by
7 posts

My daughter & I spent three weeks in June in Poland. While there we visited Auschwitz. We hired a taxi driver in Krakow as we also wanted to go to the Salt Mine on the same day. We took the English tour. Our guide was wonderful. He told lots of stories that we would not have heard any other way. It took over three hours. We did not feel rushed at all. We were free to wander back around after wards. The main reason that photos are discouraged is not for traffic control but because this is a place where many lives were lost. They want people to learn about what happened there and do not want it to be irreverent. We talked with our guide after the trip. He is also one of the curators of the museum. He said that many people are not really prepared for what they are seeing. They do not understand that they are not in a typical tourist place. When asked how he does this over and over, he said it is because the world needs to learn about what happened there. It is a very serious place. It truly was life changing for me. I would encourage anyone to go, but I would buy a book, not take photos. I took maybe a half a dozen. I love to take photos. I took over 4000 in our three weeks, but it seemed inappropriate there.
Have a great trip.

Posted by
4 posts

My husband and I went to Auschwitz a year ago and had a guided tour, we did not feel rushed at all. Paying the little extra for the guide also allowed us transportation to the other section of Auschwitz. We actually learned a lot from our tour guide.

Posted by
1525 posts

Just another thought; As horrible as Auschwitz was, Birkenau was 10x worse. I found Auschwitz (in summer 2010) to be too crowded at mid-day. While our tour guide did an admirable job, I found the experience to be stifling. I would have much preferred to go at my own pace - either faster or slower in parts. In any case, try to focus your emotive attention on Birkenau. It's harder to do, superficially, because the place is largely in ruin instead of the relatively pleasant looking (on the outside) Auschwitz. But this is where the evil really did seep from the ground, so to speak. And no matter how crowded Auschwitz is, at Birkenau you can be alone with your thoughts...

Posted by
1001 posts

We returned several weeks ago from a trip to Poland and while in Krakow visited Auschwitz on July 6. Our tour guide allowed pictures in all the buildings at Auschwitz 1 except the bldg where the human hair was displayed. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable but would have liked more time in the bldgs than we were given.

Posted by
3696 posts

I was there a few months ago and my impressions were that outside the gates it had a terrible carnival like atmosphere. Maybe it was the tons of tour buses and the loads of motorcycles and the people laughing and acting like they were getting in line to go to Disney. We had just left Birkenau and felt that was quiet, reflective and had a somber mood, as well it should. I had previously been to Dachau and could feel the energy change the closer we drove to the camp. There was such an overwhelming sense of doom, and it took me days to shake the feeling. I guess I expected the same quiet respect on the area surrounding Auschwitz and my friends and I were surprised at what appeared to be just another sight for many to check off their list.

Posted by
1882 posts

Terry, you shouldn't have been surprised by the carnival attitude at Auschwitz, we found the same at Dachau and at the museum in DC. I didn't understand it but it was a good learning experience for my boys to see how not to behave.

Posted by
31294 posts

Terry & Gail, Your description of the atmosphere at Auschwitz and Dachau is surprising and it's disgusting that people would behave that way. I didn't find that to be the case at all when I visited Dachau a few years ago. Everyone present that day walked around very quietly and the mood was somewhat sombre. At the end of the tour, the Guide provided everyone with a few moments for "quiet reflection". I hope to visit Sashenhausen this fall, and hopefully I won't find a "Carnival atmosphere" while there.

Posted by
1882 posts

Ken, we were there several years ago and there was a group of students on a field trip pushing each other, laughing, chewing gum, etc. Teenagers can be stupid but teachers were worse for allowing it. Am very ashamed to say though was the worst we ever saw any place was at Holocaust Museum where a couple of teenager girls were actually doing back flips in the middle of the inside lobby and no one said anything, guards, parents or teachers!!! Believe me when I tell you that I spoke up and I was not quiet at all about it. Hope you do not encounter any problems.

Posted by
1758 posts

We visited Auschwitz/Birkenau about 3 months ago. Our hotel arranged the visit, which included door to door transportation from our Krakow hotel, within the camps, and back to the hotel. We probably arrived around 10 AM or so, and there were large numbers of people already. I cannot remember the last time we took a tour in 30 years of travel, but felt this was well done. Our guide conducted our group with the solemnity and respect it deserved. She was informative and responsive to questions. I never felt rushed. We both felt the tour and guide added immeasureably to our visit. All told, it was about 6 to 7 hours from start to finish.

Posted by
31294 posts

Gail, I'm glad to hear that you spoke up and "tore a strip" off them! I'm assuming the students were from a European school, or were they from this part of the world? It's unbelievable that the Teachers weren't saying anything. Yes, hopefully my visit to Sashenhausen won't be marred by teenagers behaving in a cretinous and boorish fashion.

Posted by
3696 posts

My visit to Dachau was very moving, reflective, quiet and respectful. It was about 10 years ago and the visit to Auschwitz was a few weeks ago. I don't know if things have changed so radically in those years or if I just happened to be there on a day when this chaos was not going on. I have been to the memorials in DC and although very emotional there is something totally different when a memorial is built where the souls of these people lived and died. I applaud you Gail for disciplining those kids...I hope I would have done the same...not just stand by like most people do.