A week before our trip we booked transport through Prime Tours Krakow to drive us to/from Auschwitz – Birkenau. Rafal picked us up on time, showed us a (very) sobering documentary on the hour-long ride, and walked us through the security line. Entry tickets are free but you have to pre-book your time slot and show ID after passing through a security checkpoint.
Our arrival around 3:45pm meant we were not required to do a guided tour, so that left us about 90 minutes to see as much as we could at our own pace. The grounds of Auschwitz were smaller than expected and somehow a little charming – which made the whole experience creepier. It’s difficult to imagine what millions of people went through here, and learning about the tragic events from the Polish perspective was educational and deeply heartbreaking.
Auschwitz II – Birkenau feels more like the concentrations camps typically shown in documentaries. It is massive, with rough cobblestones, overgrown pastures and broken brick. Not many buildings are actually open to tour but you can view the ruins of the industrialized gas chamber buildings the Germans tried to destroy after the war. It’s a 1km walk from the entrance gate to the memorial along the train track that used to bring prisoners into the camp. The whole place feels desolate and sad but it’s worth a visit for the history and memorial value.