Polish UNESCO: Auschwitz-Birkenau

Established in 1940, the Death Camp State Museum in the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps, documents the biggest genocide in mankind's history.

The museum is entered through a gate with the notorious inscription "Arbeit macht frei" ("Freedom Through Work"). First you see a documentary film. Then, following gravel pathways, you visit several brick prison blocks with gruesome displays of clothes and personal belongings of the murdered inmates: glasses, shoes, toys and such like. The tour continues to gas chambers, the execution wall and the cell in which St. Maksymilian Maria Kolbe was starved to death, sacrificing his life to save another prisoner.

The nearby Birkenau (Brzezinka) camp is even more depressing. This was a true purpose-built death factory, its 'facilities' including almost 300 wooden barracks constructed by the prisoners, four gas chambers and four crematoria. There are no exhibitions here and nothing has been changed since the end of the war.

Every spring on Holocaust Day (the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan) the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp is visited by thousands of young people who take part in the March of the Living, organized by the Israeli Ministry of Education and the March of the Living Organization. The participants walk along the Death Way from Auschwitz to Birkenau.

A relatively new institution in Oświęcim, the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer (Centrum Dialogu i Modlitwy) was established in 1992 in agreement with bishops from all across Europe and representatives of Jewish organizations as a place for meetings, talks, education, meditation and prayer for all visitors to Auschwitz.

Info: The camp is on the southern outskirts of Oświęcim, www.auschwitz.org.pl; English-speaking guides available, also for a tour of the Birkenau camp. On site you can buy a guidebook with a map (recommended). In summer there is a shuttle bus running between the car park outside Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Source: Poland - an ilustrated guidebook. For more information look at Pascal

See more pictures of Auschwitz-Birkenau

See other places worth seeing in Cracow area: Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and Wieliczka

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