The entrance to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. Photo credit: Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, www.auschwitz.org.
This is not a normal travel article.
It is not about a
trip that will make you happy. It is not about a place that will be
enjoyable. In fact, if you have even the smallest amount of empathy,
it might be a destination that will make you cry.
It may give you
nightmares. Children under 14 are discouraged.
is a travel article about a place that I think that everyone should
visit and everyone should try to understand, lest the evil and
immorality that it represents be repeated.
* * *
was the largest concentration camp of World War II. The Nazis used it
to exterminate more than 1.1 million men, women and children,
including Poles, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war and a million Jews.
It is not a
highlight of human society. Yet, that is precisely why it has been
maintained, first as a memorial and now as more of a museum that is
visited by millions of tourists every year. In fact, 2019 was on pace
to easily eclipse the record of 2.1 million visitors in 2018.
This month, you will
be hearing a lot about the former concentration camp because Jan. 27
will mark the 75th anniversary of its liberation.
Many heads of state
have confirmed their attendance for the ceremonies, including His
Majesty King Willem-Alexander and Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the
Netherlands, HM Philip VI of Spain and
HRH Crown Princess
Victoria of Sweden.
about 200 survivors will be in attendance.
* * *
The Holocaust, in
general, is a powerful and emotional theme that has been addressed
many times in popular culture and art. Dozens of movies have grappled
with the theme, including films as diverse as Schindler’s List,
Life is Beautiful and Inglourious Basterds.
Books like The Diary
of Anne Frank and Sophie’s Choice are part of the regular high
school curriculum around the world. Music, dance and artwork have all
attempted to capture the horror of the holocaust.
There are often
public memorials, including, a few years ago, an interesting one in
Brno. Justice, the round-shouldered statue who is straining to pick
up a large block in front of the Supreme Administrative Court near
the Česká tram stop, was part of the Justice 300 memorial. The
statue was surrounded by panels of black and white photos. People
were required to duck under the panels (read: make an effort to
understand) and the photos were printed with slowly disappearing ink
(read: symbolic of the once large Jewish community in Brno.) Three
hundred Jews were taken from this city and murdered during World War
One of the best ways to learn about Auschwitz-Birkenau is the official website — http://auschwitz.org/en/. It has basic information about planning a trip.
The website also has
a virtual tour, where you can move around the camps with your
computer mouse in order to get a feel for the layout. There is a lot
of information that you can work through. There is even an online
course that will take you through several lessons, with videos, so
that you can learn about every aspect of the camp.
But nothing, not
movies nor books nor photos, compares with actually being there,
walking the distances between the buildings, seeing the landscape,
feeling the emptiness, imagining what the trees witnessed not so long
* * *
is known around the world and within a few hours of Brno.
Visiting can be
either a long day trip or an easy weekend trip. By car it is just
under three hours to Oświęcim, the town from which Auschwitz gets
its name. The train is a bit more complicated because you need to
transfer; it takes about six hours.
Oświęcim is 50 km west of Kraków, which is a good place to stay overnight. Click here to read about Kraków in a previous article from this Travel Brno series.
Auschwitz-Birkenau site is free to visit. However, it is recommended
that you participate in a guided tour with an educator, which costs
about 110 Zloty or 650kc. There are 344 Museum guides who conduct
tours in 21 languages.
suggested, but there are a limited number of the entry passes for
individual visitors on the day of the visit.
It is not recommend
for children under the age of 14.
But, even though it
is not an uplifting travel destination, it is recommended for
all members of society.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. The publishing of this article does not constitute an endorsement of or any other expression of opinion by the management of Brno Daily.