Auschwitz Birkenau 1Auschwitz Birkenau 31Auschwitz Birkenau 23Auschwitz Birkenau 19Possibly one of the most iconic places to visit in Poland is Auschwitz. Just that thought in itself is depressing. However, being one of life’s most important history lessons, Ned and I had to see for ourselves whilst we were staying in Kraków.

Also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, visiting the museum and grounds is recommended with a guide. I was amazed at how strict the admission was.

We had to all queue up as a group off our tour bus, have our bags searched (which weren’t allowed to be any bigger than a handbag!) and then take off all our valuables to go through a security scanner. It was like going through an airport!

Auschwitz Birkenau 2Auschwitz Birkenau 3Auschwitz Birkenau 5Auschwitz Birkenau 7Auschwitz Birkenau 8

Once inside the grounds, you’re moved around slowly as a group in an organised but very well put together format. Our guide was fantasticly knowledgeable and his English was impecable, making the whole tour really high standard.

Having close links to my family history (my Babcia was taken from Poland to a Syberian prisoner of war camp age 2) it was a surreal experience walking through that infamous arch and down pathways and roads that millions have previously trudged. I had expected to feel incredibly saddened and overwhelmed by the tour, but I will admit it felt quite detached and unreal as we were shown from building to building on our tour, facts and figures jumping out but not really sinking in that this was REAL. It’s not just a museum, but it actually happened to thousands of people and suddenly everything you have learnt about in your history GCSE is tangible. 

Auschwitz Birkenau 14Auschwitz Birkenau 13Auschwitz Birkenau 24Auschwitz Birkenau 25

There were some serious heart in throat moments- one was early on as we walked in silence through a very powerful room filled from floor to ceiling with shoes. Shoes of all varieties, leather men’s work boots, red shiny high heels, tiny children’s booties, posh brogues, strappy sandels- I’ve never seen such an array, and that was only a tiny percentage of what was actually collected off the feet of those believing they were about to start a better life for their families.

Another was right at the end of the first half of our tour, we’d been waiting outside in the blistering heat for quite a while, waiting for it to clear, when they lead us into the only remaining gas chamber that stands complete. A solid bunker, built into the hard ground, the scratches that covered the walls told more of a story than our guide ever could.

Auschwitz Birkenau 22Auschwitz Birkenau 26Auschwitz Birkenau 20Auschwitz Birkenau 15Auschwitz Birkenau 16Auschwitz Birkenau 21

The first half of the tour wound through the firing range, torture chambers, officers quarters and a hallway entirely lined with photographs (I found numerous Janina’s – my great grandmothers name and my middle name- and Halina’s – my mothers name). We were then taken back to our bus and driven about ten minutes down the road to the second part of the camp, Birkenau.

Auschwitz Birkenau 29Auschwitz Birkenau 30Auschwitz Birkenau 28Auschwitz Birkenau 27Auschwitz Birkenau 32

Here, there were some buildings preserved incredibly, even after all those years. The train track still stretches for hundreds of meters where new prisoners would arrive, entirely unaware of their fate. Most of the gas chambers in this section had been destroyed at the end of the war, desperate men blasting apart the evidence of the hideous crimes they had committed. 

In tiny stone houses were stacked wooden sections that made for beds, terribly small and cramped for the number of people that would have been living there, sleeping practically on top of each other.

Auschwitz Birkenau 10Auschwitz Birkenau 18Auschwitz Birkenau 6

A group of German school children were being guided around in the group in front of us, and it shocked me how nonchalant and even bored they all looked. This incredible,  horrific place, so important a part in all of our histories, and they were more worried about taking selfies and shouting. It truly shocked me that they didn’t realise the significance of their trip, and made me consider that even in the decade between myself and them, how one generation further on perhaps made the reality of what happened at Auschwitz even more detached. 

Auschwitz Birkenau 9Auschwitz Birkenau 11Auschwitz Birkenau

If you are ever visiting Kraków I would highly highly recommend a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, it simply cannot be described through words and photos alone. The tour was very well done, and unlike any I’ve ever been on previously. We spent the journey back to the city in awed contemplative silence, thinking of the past and the cruelty of humankind.

Auschwitz Birkenau 12Auschwitz Birkenau 17