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A Day Trip to Birkenau
Pros: auschwitz-a memorial and museum, amazing experience
Cons: none

Birkenau, Poland

Saturday, Apr 09, 2005 09:00

Birkenau probably doesn't mean much to most people reading this, but the place just down the road from it surely will: Aushwitz. A 90 minute bus ride from Karkow takes us to the site of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, now a memorial and museum. The town is actually called Oswiecim which is it's original Polish name; the Germans renamed it to Aushwitz (essentially the German spelling of the town). Understandably, the Polish reversed that in 1945.

We had done a bit of background reading before arrival - so we left the over-crowded Aushwitz site (there were at least 20 coaches in the car park) and walked 3km to Birkenau. This is essentially the next village along from Oswiecim and was used by the SS as the site of "Aushwitz II". Not so many tourists bother to head out that way, and so the site, which is massive, was practically devoid of people.

It's difficult to describe the feelings that you encounter when there. The weather was drab and it started to rain, which seemed fitting. There are numerous iconic points - most notably the view from the watch tower over the site which looks straight down the railway tracks: that's enough to make you fill sick.

It was strange though: we have previously only seen "footage" of the Camps in films and consequently - and perversly - the site reminded us of a film set and not the other way around. But often, you suddenly thought "right here where I am stood people suffered and died". It is a very strange feeling indeed.