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concentration camps

We will be travelling through Eastern Europe and wanted to see at least one concentration camp. Which would you recommend as the most important to see?
We will be in Prague, Krakow, Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, so are considering Auschwitz, Dachau, Terezin, Mauthausen. Any of these stand out? Any others to consider?

Posted by
1568 posts

I can only speak for Dachau. It is within easy reach by train from Munich....think about 45 mins...get off the train and there is a bus to take you to Dachau. Allow at least 3 hours.

Posted by
1068 posts

I was at Auschwitz and found it very powerful. The famous "Work will set you free" sign is well......... It is an easy trip from Krakow.

Posted by
13531 posts

I have never had the strength to visit a camp. I did visit a holding facility once but didn't know that was what it was used for until weeks later but i still feel uneasy about it. Come to Budapest and go to the house of terror, step across the line into the deportation ghetto and picture the bodies like cord wood stacked all around you. Walk to the river and stand on the edge, close your eyes and wait for the gun shot that will put your lifeless body into the water. Then try to not get as angry as i do. When you walk the streets in Budapest and many other cities you will from time to time see a brass square embedded in the pavement. These are Stoplerstienes ( i think i spelled that correctly) in English the word means stumbling block. The were placed by friends and relatives to mark the last known location of a holocaust victim. I guess what i am saying is that you should probably take the opportunity to see a camp if you can, but be aware that this entire part of the world was profoundly affected and reminders of the horrors are every where.

Posted by
175 posts

Tom,
We have been to both Dachau and Auschwitz. Since you'll be in Krakow you really should go to Auschwitz/Birkenau. It's such a moving site and people need to go there. Some of it isn't easy to see, but we're glad we went. We had a wonderful guide who treated everything with such respect. Your trip sounds great.

Posted by
227 posts

For a long time I have agreed with James and have avoided the camps, just not the stomach for it. This year, I will be making an exception - we are going to visit Terezin. My husband really wants to go and he is always so agreeable when we travel that I don't have the heart to complain. I have prepared myself by reading as much about it as possible so I will be prepared. I have also just finished reading "Prague Winter" by Madeline Albright, and a fictional novel "The Lost Wife" along with my other searches. I made it thru the Anne Frank House last year along with 3 hours at the Holocaust Museum in Paris, but was depressed, especially at night when I had time to think about it more. I was very impressed with the Holocaust Museum in Paris .... it took them (the French) long enough to come to grips with their involvement but better late then never.

Posted by
1957 posts

Colleen, since you are going to visit Terezin, highly suggest you read Hana's Suitcase, very moving true story about young girl who was in the camp and I believed transferred to Auschwitz. Some fifty years later, a Japanese teacher finds the suitcase and researches the story. Words can't describe a visit to one of the camps.

Posted by
2876 posts

Auschwitz/Birkenau was for me the most stunning and horrific. We were lucky enough to have a superb guide there as well. To stand on that railroad siding where the "selec*ions" were done, with the remains of gas chambers 50 feet away, was an experience I can't put into words.

Posted by
2469 posts

To go further on Birkenau: You will stand near one of the cattle cars used to transport the condemned there, and only now realize how small it really was. You will look across the remains of the Men's camp, and not be able to see the far end of this section 3/4 a of a mile away, and the enormity of this will overcome you. My wife and I went here, not as tourists, but felt that touring so close (several days in Krakow) it was an obligation to visit and pay respects to the victims.

Posted by
227 posts

Gail....thanks, I am on it. Just downloaded it from audible and will begin that journey tomorrow while I do my treadmill thing at the Y!
My husband is on a journey to see all the DiVinci paintings - there is one in Krakow....I will cross the Auschwitz bridge when I come to it - maybe Terezin will be a good start as there were no gas chambers.

Posted by
107 posts

I have been to Dachau and Aushwitz, well worth going to both. The guide at Aushwitz was the best guide I have ever had. We did dachau with the audio tour by ourselves. It is an intense experiance but adds a lot to the trip.

Posted by
13531 posts

Colleen, I consider it my issue not being able to go. Im a pretty big, pretty stubborn old guy but there are times and places related to the holocaust that come very close to putting me on my knees. I have no problems with those stronger and just feel sorry for those that don't get it. This is sort of new for me. Seven or eight years ago i was in Prague where there is a small synagogue that has had all of the interior walls white washed and the every square inch is covered with the hand lettered names of the victims. I was changed in that place that day.

Posted by
1957 posts

James, I understand why you can't go to a concentration camp. I have been to several as well as the Holocaust Museum in DC but being born and raised in NYC I can't go to ground zero. Not sure if I will ever be able to do that. It still hurts my heart especially when I hear Ronan Tynan sing "The Town I Loved So Well".

Posted by
227 posts

Yes James, it is funny how something can affect you. When I was about 12 (over 50 years ago)and home from school ill, I pulled out two volumes of a book about World War II my parents had on one of our bookshelves. An envelope of photograph's fell out of the pages and I looked at them. They were photographs of prisoners being liberated from a concentration camp. My uncle had been one of those liberators and he took photographs. When my mother discovered me, crying, she explained them to me (in great detail.....I am an only child and my parents were very open with me....obviously, not always a good idea) and I never saw them again. When I approached my Uncle about them he told me he was physically ill for days while there and had nightmares for years and that was all he was going to say. I was profoundly affected by those photos even still today. But, I have been thinking, this afternoon, about what Larry said......I shall consider my visit as a tribute, small though it will be.

Posted by
11286 posts

I'm not an expert on this subject, but I do know that there were differences in what we now call "concentration camps." Some (like Dachau) were places where people were starved, worked to death, and tortured. These were originally for political enemies, and only gradually became focused on extermination of Jews. Dachau, started in 1933, is the oldest. Others (like Sobibor and Treblinka) were extermination camps, where almost everyone was killed immediately after arrival. Auschwitz was by far the largest camp, and had both concentration and extermination functions (hence the famous selec-tion platform, where people were divided into those who would work and those who were killed immediately). Terezin was different again. It was a "model camp," built to fool the world into thinking that Hitler was building a "model city" for Jews, with theater programs and the like. Once the Red Cross was done with their inspections, people were shipped to Auschwitz to be killed. So, if you are up for it, you could see Terezin, Dachau, and Auschwitz, and see three different kinds of places (with, of course, a lot of overlap). I, personally, would only want to see one per trip, but do be aware of what the functions were of the one you are seeing. I've only been to Sachsenhasen, near Berlin. But my sister has seen both Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz, and she emphasized how much more horrible Auschwitz was (Sachsenhausen had gas chambers, but being started earlier, it was not primarily an extermination camp, and has nothing like the scope of Auschwitz).

Posted by
1957 posts

Colleen, we are close to the same age and are only children.I encourage you to visit a camp. My father died helping to liberate Europe and the horrors there and we owe it to them as hard as it may be visit these horrible places.

Posted by
2263 posts

Last summer, we visited Mauthausen. This was a "work camp", not an "extermination camp". Plenty were exterminated anyway. Mauthausen is close to Linz, between Salzburg and Vienna. We did have a little trouble finding it off the autobahn - the location did not seem to be well-marked. The camp is well-preserved, although not all buildings remain. I strongly believe that all should visit a camp. It is a powerful moment. We must confront the evil that men can do, and the camps are the epitome of evil. I strongly suggest that all go once. I have been to 3 or so, although I visited some as a child.

Posted by
14898 posts

I have never wanted to visit a concentration camp and probably never will, but when I planned my trip to Prague, I put Terezin on the itinerary. Terezin was a walled city with a fortress just down the road. The fortress was turned into a prison that held mainly political prisoners, and there were many executions. The entire walled city was turned into a camp and there are several museums which give something of an idea of what life was like there. In Berlin, I went "The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe" and was very disturbed by the playground atmosphere that the design, sadly, encourages. The Holocaust Museum in Budapest is excellent. I found the shoes by the river (near the Parliament) very moving too.

Posted by
129 posts

I think the most important one to see would be Auschwitz. I've been to Dachau and I felt like it was a little "made-up". Only 1 or 2 barracks were still standing, they even remodeled the barrack they did have. On the other hand, it wasn't very crowded so it wasn't exhausting in that sense. They had a nice museum. But I think that Auschwitz would be a better experience overall. I'm planning on going this summer and am deciding between Auschwitz and Terezin. I'm a little nervous as I will be traveling alone and won't have any travel companions to discuss my thoughts with. But maybe the solitude might be better? I think it is important that we all visit these places. I've also been to the museum in Hiroshima which was incredibly moving. Your time in Berlin will be wonderful. After traveling there last summer my being proud to be an American increased immensely!! I also think we should all visit Normandy. Anyways, have a great trip!! I may see you guys as I will be in those places (minus Germany) this summer, too!!

Posted by
1525 posts

Since you will be in Krakow (fantastic place) you might as well see Auschwitz/Birkenau. The others may be unique and interesting in their own way (I haven't seen any others) but you might as well see the iconic one, since it's definitely worth seeing. Especially interesting is the contrast between the two parts. Auschwitz (the original) looks almost pleasant if you can shut the ghosts out of your mind. But Birkenau just down the road is pure evil. I think everyone should see it. Forgive, but never forget.

Posted by
2263 posts

I went to a camp first when I was 8 or 9. I don't remember much of what my parents told me, but I am sure that they told us some of what happened. Children can understand things, even when they are young. I don't believe that I was scarred for life, but it did make a profound impression on me, a positive one for my understanding of things.

Posted by
173 posts

Hi Tom, I was in Krakow 2 years ago and did the trip to Auschwitz. That was the only camp I visited in my trip to Europe. But I wanted to say that if you are going to be in Krakow and decide to go to a camp elsewhere maybe check out the Schindler Museum. Probably one of the best museums I've been to. It isn't so much about Oskar Schindler as the experience of the Jews in Krakow under Nazi occupation. It is relatively new and very well done.

Posted by
403 posts

Both Dachau and Matthausen made a huge impression, but somehow seeing the high walls, pausing at the memorials from each country, and climbing the quarry stairs at Matthausen really made it real to me. The experience was horrifying-I couldn't leave fast enough. But it was so important to go, see, learn, and honor those who died there. I am glad I went, but don't have any desire to see another.
Another excellent book is "The Girls of Room 28" by Hannelore Brenner. It is the true story of several girls who survived Terezin and the adults who tried to protect and educate them there. I would recommend the print version because of the photos and children's drawings that are included in the book.

Posted by
31471 posts

Tom, In order to choose which Camp(s) to visit, I'd approach the decision like this: 1.) Decide what level of "intensity" you both can tolerate. For most people, Auschwitz-Birkenau is the most intense and disturbing of the camps and Terezin is possibly the least, with the others somewhere in between. This is somewhat of a subjective evaluation, and others may have differing opinions. A few points on the camps.... > Auschwitz: As the others have said, this was purpose-built for extermination on a huge scale. > Dachau: Started in 1933, was the first of the Camps and the model for many others. It was initially used to get rid of political opponents and others considered "undesirables" such as Communists. > Sachsenhausen - Located in Orienenberg, just outside Berlin. This was designed on a new model in a triangular formation (supposedly to allow the Towers to see all areas of the camp). After the war it continued service with the Soviets as kind of a "Gulag". Before the camp was built, "wild camps" nearby were temporarily used to house opponents. 2.) Especially if you're planning on visiting more than one of the camps, determine which will be easiest to reach and fit best with your travel plans. I've found that as a solo traveller, I prefer visiting the camps with a local tour, as I tend to learn more and it seems easier being part of a small group for an experience like that. I used Radius Tours at Dachau and Berlin Walks at Sachsenhausen. I can very much appreciate why some would be reluctant to visit the Camps. I'm interested in the history, so want to see at least a few of them. If you're interested, the Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church is another significant WW-II site in Prague.

Posted by
227 posts

Midway thru Gail's suggestion - Hana's Suitcase....just ordered The Girls of Room 28. I will be prepared!

Posted by
3696 posts

My first visit was Dachau and it was the most overwhelming experience. I drove with my daughter and it was an undeniable change in energy the closer we got to the camp. Even though it was a bright sunny day there was this heavy feeling in the air. There were very few tourists there and it was very quiet and extremely emotional. Just writing about it I can feel the somber feeling we had. Unforgetable. Last summer I went to Auschwitz and I have to say that the day we went there were so many tourist buses, motorcycle groups, people smoking and picnicing in the parking lot that it felt like a carnival. Lots of teenage school kids who were obviously not given any restrictions. After waiting in line my friends decided we would leave and go to Birkenau.... I have to say there was the same feeling that I had at Dachau. Undeniable, epitome of evil.
Last November I took my 15 year old grandson to Dachau... again there was a school group of teenagers who were laughing, talking, etc. We continued on exploring and I have to say that by the end of our tour I think the reality of what happened there finally hit those kids as they became more quiet and respectful...thankfully.

Posted by
1525 posts

Terry Kathryn, We had a similar experience at Auschwitz (the original). It wasn't a problem with kids and school groups. But there were so many people there with their water bottles and clean clothes and 30 extra pounds being herded around by the tour guides that it seemed (to use an overused term) touristy. That, combined with the fact that it's not an unattractive complex to look at from a distance, struck an uncomfortable discord with me. I'm still glad I saw it, and there were certainly plenty of grim things to see there. But Birkenau was much different. Fewer people. Larger area. Nothing pretty. Pure evil.

Posted by
26 posts

Thanks everyone for sharing all the great insights and advice! We were moved when we saw the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC last year, but expect it will be nothing compared to seeing the actual sites. I hope we will be ready.

Posted by
215 posts

We have been to Dachau and Auschwitz and found both moving. However, Auschwitz was the more emotionally intense experience. Neither compares with Yad Vasham in Jerusalem as to its
intensity.

Posted by
31471 posts

Tom, "I hope we will be ready." That's why I suggested that it might be a good idea to choose which camps to visit on the basis on how much "intensity" you both would be able to tolerate. As terry kathryn and the others have mentioned, most people experience some fairly strong feelings when visiting the Camps, and there's really no way to prepare for that. The jocularity of teenager school groups would bother me also, but so far I haven't encountered that. I'm surprised the Teachers haven't given them a lesson on appropriate decorum.

Posted by
1957 posts

As Vernon stated so well, the adults should have stepped in if any kids were inappropriate. We were in Holocaust Museum in DC and there is what I would call a main area down a few steps from ticket booth and saw 2 teenage girls doing back flips, kid you not. I could not keep my mouth shut and I did not care who heard me!!!! Made me feel good when my kids said "Way to go Mom!"

Posted by
16 posts

I've been to all four of these camps (not all on the same trip), including Auschwitz last month. Harold is right - they are all different. Part of your decision may revolve around the rest of your itinerary, e.g., how long you plan to stay in the cities you mentioned and what else you plan to see and do there. If you want to truly understand the horrors of the Holocaust, I would choose Auschwitz over the others. It is the largest of the four camps. Your visit will consist of two parts - you arrive at Auschwitz I - a former Polish army base consisting of brick buildings that housed prisoners during the war, and have largely been turned into a museum. You will see rooms full of personal possessions confiscated from the prisoners - eyeglasses, shoes, luggage, prosthetic limbs - as well as hair that was turned into fabric used to make Nazi uniforms. You will also see the horrific camp prison. From Auschwitz I you take a short bus ride to Auschwitz II (Birkenau) - the much larger part of the camp. You will see the infamous "ion" platform, where most prisoners (especially women, children and the elderly) were sent to their deaths immediately upon arrival; those ed for labor generally died within a few months from overwork, lack of food and poor sanitary conditions. which you will also see. Most of the barracks were destroyed by the Nazis as they evacuated Auschwitz toward the end of the war, but a few remain, where you will see the horrific living conditions. The barracks that remain at Auschwitz II are the originals, I believe, unlike those at Dachau, for example, which are reconstructed. I was also moved by the memorial candles left behind by family members with the names of those who died written on little pieces of paper.

Posted by
16 posts

One more comment ... Make sure you allow the better part of a day for a visit to Auschwitz - it's about 1.5 hours by bus from Krakow (each way) - quicker by car. I recommend you arrive early.

Posted by
45 posts

Tom,
I have only visited one camp, but it left an impression on me for sure. I visited Dachau in 2009 during the winter. To be honest, it really opened my eyes to the harsh realities that were commonplace in these camps. It was in January when we visited and the snow was very deep and it really made you realize just what all of those poor people went through. It was very moving. We opted to do our own tour with the help of the audioguides. If you visit Dachau, make sure to visit the bookstore. They have an enormous selection of books about the Holocaust.