This is a guest post by Jeremy from Budget Travel Adventures
Dreams of visiting Europe stoke the travel flames of many who seek the beauty, history, romance, and sights of Paris, Rome, or Barcelona.
I love to travel to Europe in the Fall. However, there are times when a visit to Europe can be somber and even painful.
Sometimes these moments are necessary.
A cold drizzle greeted us as we arrived. Yet the dark skies, cold air, and damp conditions seemed appropriate for this visit to a concentration camp.
The empty buildings, dead end railroad tracks, and empty space were just a reminder of the horrific finality that met many people who came here in the 1940s.
Any visit to Auschwitz is a solemn reminder of how tragic history can be.
Like everything else Germany did in the 1940s, they took over the town of Oswiecim, Poland (referring to it as the German name Auschwitz) as they set up their concentration camp.
Arriving at Auschwitz, visitors park near the main entrance where the train tracks lead inside of Auschwitz I. Sadly, the beginning of our tour at the end of the tracks was the final stop in the lives of many Jews and other political prisoners brought to Auschwitz.
Auschwitz I – Arbeit macht frei
When new arrivals came to Auschwitz, families were separated into men, women, and children and then evaluated. Many of the men were put to work while the development of the Zyklon B gas chambers meant death for women, children, the elderly, and disabled.
A tour of Auschwitz welcomes visitors the same as it did those first prisoners when the camp opened in 1940 – a sign that encouraged those who began each day with “Arbeit macht frei”, or work sets you free.
A tour of the grounds of Auschwitz I included administrative buildings as well as standing cells, starvation cells, and other prisons of torture.
Row upon row of buildings revealed the meager conditions in which the Jews and other prisoners lived with numerous bunk beds, a single toilet in the rooms, and bathrooms.
Walking along the grounds, beautiful trees and landscaped areas contrasted with a firing wall marked with the bullet holes of those executed.
Stunned silence was the reaction of most people as they walked through these buildings and got a sense of what life was like in Auschwitz. Add the extreme weather conditions, poor nutrition, and long hours of labor and it’s hard to even imagine the suffering of the people here.
If the prisons and harsh conditions weren’t painful enough, exhibits inside Auschwitz revealed the torture and evil that resided here.
Solemn reminders of the lives lost were displayed with the piles of suitcases and shoes left behind. More horrific signs of this tragedy were displayed in the piles of human hair and lamp shades made of human skin.
Like many of the Jews who came here, we finished the tour of Auschwitz I with a trip to the gas chambers and the crematorium. Painful, yet appropriate, the end of our tour was the same place where many had met their end.
Auschwitz II Birkenau
Auschwitz II, better known as Birkenau, welcomes visitors with more train tracks and an area more desolate, cold, barren, and lifeless than Auschwitz I. The only welcomed sight is the green grass which was often covered with snow.
Opened in October 1941, the conditions here were even worse than Auschwitz I and death was much more prevalent here. There were more prisoners here than Auschwitz I and the crematoriums were filled to capacity with the dead.
Auschwitz III at Monowitz provided slave labor camps for industry and included Jewish and non Jewish prisoners.
Practically speaking, this was a perfect place for a concentration camp – cold, barren, and rural. The Germans set up shop to destroy the Jews and their enemies in a place no one would ever care to attack or even discover.
Lessons and emotions from a Nazi concentration camp
It is hard to describe the feelings that I experienced. It’s unfair to assume or even begin to conclude what others felt because the emotions of those who visit Auschwitz are varied.
The overwhelming emotion for me was anger, which only grew with each place I saw. To be honest, I don’t hate Germany, but I walked away from Auschwitz hating Hitler and Nazi Germany.
Places like this can be so painful and uncomfortable to visit because it is hard to believe human beings can be so evil. However, if sadness or anger prevents these events from happening again then places like Auschwitz are necessary.
So many places we visit when we travel take a look at history or fill us with good feelings. Auschwitz isn’t one of those places. Regardless of what reaction people have, those feelings don’t make us feel good.
There is nothing about Auschwitz that can comfort you.
However, travel that makes you think and reflect about the world and reveals some things about yourself is good.
From experiences like this, I’ve had my share of travel confessions as both the beautiful and the ugly have been my teacher.
“Arbeit macht frei” – there may never a sign that lied more than that one. However, visiting Auschwitz touches people in different ways. For many people, this place will always be a tragic reminder etched upon their hearts.
May we remember these people, the evil, and this place so this world may never experience another Auschwitz again.
What memories and experiences do you have of Auschwitz? Is a visit to places like Auschwitz still necessary in our world today?
Bio: Jeremy Branham is a budget traveler, travel writing dad, sports fan, and lover of all things Europe. He loves the colors of Fall and traveling in Autumn. He explores the world of travel through sports with his College Football Travel Tour. He believes that spending less means experiencing more. And he shares his honest, candid thoughts on travel in an effort to become a better person and make the world a better place. He currently lives in California with his wife and 2 young kids. Check out the world of travel through his eyes on Budget Travel Adventures and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google +.