One day in Auschwitz and Birkenau

With a slight hungover from a great weekend with Marysia in Warsawa, I got to Auschwitz by train. The journey from Warsaw to Krakow, and from Krakow to the city Oswiecim (the original and Polish name for Auschwitz) went smoothly and took about 2,5 hours. I spent the time reading articles about dark tourism and tried to grasp peoples’ and academics’ opinions further.

What I learned is that the topic is complex, yet widely undiscovered, perhaps due to the challenge of researching tourists’ motivations to visit places of misery. Personally I kept to the thought I’ve always had; that people traveling to sites like Auschwitz don’t do so out of a special interest in death and tragedy, but with the purpose of learning and understanding more about something uncomprehendingly tragic.

I also think people go with a desire to show solidarity to the victims, and in search for peace solutions to the many current conflicts the world is facing.

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When I knew that the train I was sitting in was on the same tracks that were used under WW2, I felt a sudden sorrow and the need to try to imagine how this site looked seven decades ago. I couldn’t stop the tears from coming, and sat there looking out with a salty taste in my mouth. At the same time I felt utterly confident about my choice of being on this journey, thus a personal fulfillment overwhelmed me.

I realised that it’s been a long time since I felt this present. I honestly thought that there is no place in the world I’d rather be right now. And that feeling has continued. If you were wondering: my recent heart-broken state is definitely paused.

At Oswiecim train station Ross picked me up and took me to the camp that he’d set up. We are camping in the garden of a Catholic ‘Centre for dialogue and prayer’ and after hiding some alcohol inside of the van, Ross took me inside the center to present me to the staffs that he apparently already knew well.

The site of Auschwitz I (that is just next door to our camp) was closed, but Ross asked me if I wanted to walk there to get to know the area. We did and seeing it from the outside made me “excited” to be inside of it tomorrow. Ross hadn’t been inside yet this year, but was there last year, which was when he got the idea of his art project.

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Yesterday we got up early and did both of the museums. In Auschwitz I it was packed with people, but in Birkenau (where the vastest scope of gassing and cremation of Jews took place between 1942 and 44, we were almost alone). We walked around for over 10 hours and when we came back to our camp we were completely exhausted. During the day we hadn’t talked much, just walking, observing, thinking and crying. At night we sat talking for hours till we went to bed.

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Impossible as it is to describe with words or photos, what it feels like to walk through the concentration camps Auschwitz I and II (II also called Birkenau) I’d still like to invite you on the journey through the pictures I took yesterday. They’re posted in a chronological order through which you’ll move with us from bright morning to late night and a sunset over Birkenau.

The first pictures are from Auschwitz I

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The following pictures are from one of the prison buildings.

Since 1947 it has served as a museum where piles of hair, clothes, documents, kitchen equipment, shoes and suitcases that belonged to the victims are exhibited in display cases.

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The following pictures are from Auschwitz II, also called Birkenau. Here is where the plans for the Final Extermination intensified drastically from late 1942 to 1944.

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This open field laid closest to the gass chambers and four crematoriums in Birkenau and most of the ashes were put here. Since the end of the WW2 it is known as one of the world’s biggest mass graves.

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