Birkenau (Auschwitz II)

Buses leave Auschwitz I for Birkenau at a half past the hour, every hour. It costs two zloty and takes no more than five minutes. The experience of the camp is very different from Auschwitz I. For one thing it is much larger, covering over four hundred acres. It also retains the air of the place as it was when abandoned to a greater degree than the former camp. Some sixty seven buildings have survived virtually intact, and the interiors, with their stark wooden furnishings, take you right back to the war era. The other buildings remain as they were - some burnt to the ground and others massed up in heaps of rubble.

Background

Birkenau was created in 1941 as a satellite of the Auschwitz camp. The village of Brzezinka was evacuated for this purpose, and a handful of farm buildings were woven into the structure of the camp. This was even the case with the main gas chambers, which were located at the northern end of the site, where the railway tracks meet their end. Transits of prisoners were brought here from across Europe, and it was here that the 'Final Solution' was conducted at its most relentless level.

Inmates at Birkenau numbered around 100,000 at their peak. They were of many different nationalities, but the vast majority of those that entered the camp were unregistered Jews, many of whom were immediately sent to their deaths in the gas chambers. Women and children stood the least chance of survival, and many died even before arriving at Birkenau due to the appalling conditions of the railway journeys. The unloading platform, where the brisk selection process was conducted, remains. Apart from physically fit men (who often perished later from the rigours of the camp) it was often only an accident of birth that merited a possibility of survival. Large numbers of twins survived until liberation as they were objects of interest to the research of Dr. Josef Mengele - a man disliked even by his Nazi peers.

The Camp

The old gateway - familiar from the wartime photographs - still stands, complete with the watchtower above it. This is a good point from which to gain a sense of the sheer expanse of Birkenau.

As you walk about the camp it is not difficult to picture the squalor and anguish that victims had to endure. The living accommodation tended to be built like makeshift barns. There were no foundations, and little defense against the elements. Unsurprisingly, inmates were plagued by ill-health - the bitterness of the Polish winter must have been unbearable.

The crematoriums and gas chambers lie in ruins at the northern end of the camp. They were blown up by the SS during the last weeks before liberation. A guide will point out the remnants of each part of the apparatus. Behind these ruins are several memorials to the Holocaust and there are individual plaques in many languages.

Birkenau is a very large place and thus it is easy to miss a small portion of camp. In this respect it is well worth visiting the small exhibit located behind Canada - the storehouses where victims belongings were kept. The exhibition is to be found in what was known as the Sauna. Inmates were disinfected here, their hair cut, and they were stripped of their belongings. The exhibition is simple and moving. There is also a room devoted to specific families caught up in the tragedy. Smiling holiday photographs are in contradiction to the madness of what was in store.

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Paul Donais from United States Reply Nov 26th, 2012

I have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau five times over seven years. The Main Camp offers graphic examples of man's cruelty to man (such as the hair exhibit in Block 5). Don't forget to witness the antechambers of hell in Block 11. It is Birkenau, however,which offers the true measure of the cost of following a tyrant into his madness. Enter the main gate and visit the womens' camp (to your left) and the primitive horror of Block 25. Follow the ramp to the monument and witness the ruins of Kremas II and III, Just beyond the sauna, turn left to the mass graves surrounding Bunker 2/5 and return to that corner, this time straight to the ruins of Kremas IV and V. Stand in front of the sauna and witness the vast expanse of hatred that fuels genocide. Auschwitz-Birkenau was God's test of our humanity - we failed!

Michael from United Kingdom Reply Oct 13th, 2012

In less than 24 hours I shall be departing with my wife and two friends for a holiday in Krakow. As a minority of one I have been outvoted on whether we should visit Auschwitz Berkenau. Very reluctantly I will go. As an ex soldier, I am hardly a shrinking violet and perhaps more aware than some of the horrors of war or even lesser conflicts. I don't need to pore over such things. But many seem to cherish a ghoulish and prurient interest in such places. They are right to remember what happened there. From such knowledge mankind just might avoid or prevent anything similar happening again...but I doubt it. Look around the world. Horrors have existed, still exist and almost certainly will happen again. The scale is not the most significant factor. One child or adult butchered with machettes, bombs or bullets or bombs or tortured to death is just as horrific. Somehow I already feel guilty for allowing myself to go. For me it is almost on a par with digging up a coffin just to observe the putrefying remains of some departed soul. Why do some feel compelled to do that...does it awake in some a compassion that they did not previously have? No number of visits to such places can possibly make anyone feel and suffer as the inmates undoubtedly did. It takes some considerable effort to understand how a post-Auschwitz society can promote and run profiteering bus tours to one of the closest places humanity has to Hell. History cannot be changed by tears. Perhaps it is a forlorn hope but we would all do well to remember such places and events and then move forwards, using our best efforts to stop the slaughters that are occurring right now. That is where our consciences and efforts are most needed.

Cross-Culture from India Reply Aug 18th, 2012

Greetings to everybody, I will be visiting Krakow in September for 5 days in order to attend a wedding and also to meet some colleagues. I am an Indian, however, before moving to India I have lived and worked in Germany. I can speak fluent German. Would just like to have one piece of advice from any one of you please, if possible. I know for a fact that I will start to weep and cry if I go to Auschwitz (Oswiecim at present). At times people call me very German by the way I speak. Is it advisable for a person like me to visit the place, though I know that I will weep and tears will flow out from my eyes like heavy rainfalls. I hope it is not a matter of shame to call my self a German Speaker. Would be grateful to someone's advice on this. Best Regards,

Sue from United Kingdom Reply Nov 24th, 2011

I am visiting both Auschwitz and Birkenau in two weeks time. I am dreading it, as I find myself choked and horrified everytime I look at websites on here, or when watching films and documentaries about the Nazis and the holocaust. but I know I have to go to feel for myself the true true horror. Its a shame that the likes of Waldo didnt experience the concentration camps themselves....but then he is probably just a little kid doing his best to shock...he doesnt even have any idea of how many people were killed...laughable idiot.

LGreen from United Kingdom Reply Nov 3rd, 2011

The Holocaust was a 20th Century atrocity caused by men and women who were driven by hatred, ignorance and greed, Auschwitz is a reminder of what can happen if we let for one moment the fanatics/extremists and some elected politicians tell us that our way of life is threatened, we have a duty to our children and theirs to show them what really happens when hatred and discrimination is used as a weapon against your fellow man, It is a crime in itself to even deny the holocaust, there are no words to describe the pity I feel for those who lack any emotion or lack the intelligent to absorb the truth,

Chris from Australia Reply Apr 28th, 2011

Did visit this camp (for want of a better word) its a trip all should do. I brought a stone from the railway line inside the camp home with me to give to my children to take back when they visit.

Jayne from Australia Reply Jan 8th, 2011

I have never been to the death camps, but have done a lot of reading...how can anyone deny that these existed? Never let the neo nazis become a dominant force...RIP

Wayne Bentley from Australia Reply Jul 25th, 2010

I visited in 1991 with a bus full of young people partying around Europe. When we got back on the bus - there was silence and sobbing for an hour or more as we drove off to our next destination. It is a traumatic experience seeing the depths of evil that mankind can descend to - every human should see this place and think twice about how you treat your fellow man. The sheer scale of the place is amazing -I am so lucky to live in a free multicultural country where racial discrimination is not tolerated and where we learn history about the rest of the world - not just our own. But nothing can prepare you for the horrors of this place - it makes you wonder how such hatred can infest the mind and you can then treat fellow humans - including children and babies - as less than animals like stamping on ants. Here I am writing about it 20 years later when out of interest I was browsing the subject on the internet and came across this site - and it saddens me that ignorant people who havent been there can make some of the disgusting comments that are on this page.

Emma from United Kingdom Reply Jul 8th, 2010

I'm 15 years old, and visited Auschwitz and Auschwitz Birkenau about a month ago on a school trip. It was an incredibly moving experience, and something I think everyone should visit at least once i their life. I know for sure that one day I will take my children and even grandchildren, as it is just so important for future generations to learn as much as they can about what happened so that we can be sure it will never, ever happen again.

NORMA ANN PINTO from India Reply May 21st, 2010

IT IS VERY SAD WHEN YOU VISIT THE CAMPS AUSCHWITZ I & II PERSONALLY AND THEN READ ABOUT IT AND SEE MOVIES NOT BORN DURING THAT PERIOD, STILL IT IS ONE OF THE CRUELIST THINGS OF HUMANITY. WOULD LOVE TO VISIT IT ONCE MORE-HOPE SO.

kit from United Kingdom Reply May 19th, 2010

i've been doing about the holocaust at school and we have been given a project to do on auschwitz and im going to visit there next easter, i cried at all the films and i am dreading what im going to be like when i visit the camp. the thought of all that happening makes me really annoyed, and what hitler done to them poor jews and the other minority groups was a terrible terrible thing but im so interested and just want to know more and more!

Ret Navy from United States Reply Apr 23rd, 2010

Not only was it horific for the Jews, 6,000,000, plus all the other "undesirables" 3-4 million, but, few know that Russian, US, French, Britian POWS also faced the horrors of the death camps. They are actually called the forgotton victims.

Julia from Russia Reply Feb 25th, 2010

I visited Birkenau a few days ago Well....its horrible place....but not like in movies...i think they should make this camp's more terrible.....coz some people dont believe that it was a place for mass executions And if u wanna visit Birkenau....go there in winter.....coz in summer it look just like old prison So strange to hear from people that they hate Jewish (but they never met Jewish) What about me....i was stressed after these both camps (Birkenau I and II)....dont think i will ever go there again (but for 1 time everybody must visit it)........ P.S. Its really awful when smb take pictures with themselfs in such a place .....

diane from United Kingdom Reply Feb 2nd, 2010

i am going to poland in march and intending to visit auschwitz as it has always been of inerest to me is there a bus direct to birkenau from krakow and what number does anybody know?

jojo from United States Reply Jan 30th, 2010

I had a dream last week that I was on a street in a small village in Poland. I've never been to Europe, much less Poland. But in the dream I recognized the street and thought "I'm in Poland!". Then I turned around and saw a distant fortress-like building with a big gate and a "watchtower" right over it. When I remembered the dream upon awaking I Googled "Death Camps" and sure enough there was the "fortress" EXACTLY as I dreamed it. It was Birkenau! I'm not even Jewish. I'm 61. Did have a strange fascination with The Holocaust as a child. I researched a lot of old photos online and found prisoner faces that closely resemble friends. Even found a face that looks a lot like I do now. I've never liked Nazis either.

martin from United Kingdom Reply Jan 22nd, 2010

a party of us are visiting kracow in may i will definitly be on a trip to see the true horrors the jewish community suffered at auswitz god bless them all

sallie from United Kingdom Reply Jan 16th, 2010

been researching holocaust this evening after watching the pianist which really made me cry. after reading all the comments on here, i now want to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau to pay my respects

Gigi from United States Reply Jan 6th, 2010

I have been to Dachau and Auschwitz and as sad as it is to see the movies and books, it is a much sadder reality to see these attrocities up close. Anyone who does not believe that this unhuman behaviour(idiot guy from last post!) took place should take a closer look at their education and spoiled life today in comparison to how it was back then to fear your life every day. It wasn't just jews and religion shouldn't have mattered,but it did. It was human beings been murdered out of pure blind hatred and ignorance.

L. Stanislawski from United States Reply Nov 29th, 2009

We visited in 1996. So sad. I wanted to take a small stone as a reminder of what happened but felt even that would be disrespectful.

Clara Pienaar from South Africa Reply Nov 14th, 2009

To visit Auschwitz- Birkenau is a must. Everything is so good preserve and it learns you about the horris that hapeend to the poor people , woman and the small children. The blocks that shows you the glasses , hair and suitcases let you image how the people arrived there unknown what hell they are going to meet. Please visit these camps and tell all your friends to visit. we must learn so it will never happend again. I am takeing my brother and his family the November 2009. Been there 3 times already with different people. Since I visit auschwitz-Birkenau, Mathausen 9Austria)and Dachau (Germany), I cry each day thinking about the poor innocent people.

Random guy from Canada Reply Nov 12th, 2009

Thinking about all the jews and other people who died during World War 2 makes me realy sad.

Matt E from United Kingdom Reply Nov 7th, 2009

Hi, I am travelling to Poland - Krakow on the 11th of november and thought of visiting Auschwitz Birkenau......But i am a little confused.....I can see from satelite photos the site of one of the concentration camps, but i know there are 3 but i only want to go visit Auschwitz Birkenau. Can someone please explain which one is which and if the Museaum is in fact one of the camps??? Many thanks in Advance Matt

Manoel from Brazil Reply Oct 22nd, 2009

I have visited Poland but wasn't possible to visit the camp, I thought this page great because I know this history about 2nd WW, of course there are more details to add at this issue but it is enough to know about the humiliation with human being at that time.

Ruth Moore from United States Reply Oct 16th, 2009

Betsy ten Boom died at Birkenau, but her life continues to give life to many, both survivors and we who learn of her.

lucky birdy from United States Reply Sep 27th, 2009

screw u waldo.i think nazis r the worst.y would any1 do that extermanaiton of jews-and-other-ppl-thing?this page dnt give much in4mation.plz add more facts person who made dis website.

Joan and Martin from United States Reply Jul 31st, 2009

We went to both Auschwitz and Birkenau, and for some reason found Birkenau much more affecting. Maybe it's the big open spaces. You can really imagine how it must have been.

Luckie from United States Reply Jun 4th, 2009

This was good. I'm doing a reasearch report on all the places Dr. Mengele worked the top picture was very helpful to get an idea of what the place looked like. For all the people in the comments who cant spend the time to correctly spell out the words 'people' and 'you'. either take a typing class or don't write comments at all, its a disgrace.

Fritzy from United States Reply Apr 20th, 2009

Ya know i believe this sort of thing couldn't happen in the United States... Except the fact that everyone has a gun there are enough ppl to say, 'whoa this isn't right we need to stop this'. We just watched schindler's list last week in school and then discused it, we talked about how the nazis believed they could erase history, but there is always someone that will know what happened and we will always remember what happened, we will not forget and will not let it happen again.

Will from United States Reply Apr 8th, 2009

I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau last week. I am from the Southern States in the U.S. Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau was the most moving experience I have ever had. A week after visiting, I still have periods of tears - that, I am glad for. My prayers and best thoughts for the victims/survivors.

Lisa and Patrick from United Kingdom Reply Apr 1st, 2009

we are going to Auschwitz Birkenau tomorrow and it was really useful reading the information and comments on this page beforehand - apart from that Waldo who is clearly very unwell. We are apprehensive but looking forward to it

Nicola & Michela, Pistoia from Italy Reply Jan 27th, 2009

Non ci sono commenti da fare quando arrivi a toccare con mano quello che i nazisti sono stati capaci di concepire durante gli stermini. Abbiamo voluto che anche la nostra bimba di 7 anni potesse rendersi conto di quello che certe persone sono arrivate a fare perchè non si debba perdere memoria di tutto questo.

Your Mum from United States Reply Jan 20th, 2009

does not tell you what items were removed

Wendy from United Kingdom Reply Jan 14th, 2009

I visited both Auschwitz 1 and 2 Birkenau in November, it was a cold, grey, miserable day. As I walked around camp 2 I couldn't speak nor could my friend. The full horror and evidence of the past was right in front of me and I still found it difficult to process. Let us never forget all those people regardless of nationality, race or gender who died but let us remember they were all someones relation.

JL from Israel Reply Nov 25th, 2008

waldo...i spit on you... your grandfather..and your mother...i smile when i remember Dresden and how you germ like germans were bombed and burned into oblivion...you are the true scum of the earth

Lisa Marie Palumbo from United States Reply Nov 6th, 2008

The education system in America does a very good job regarding the issue of WW2. I think the problem with some American student is that there is still a very deep rooted assumption that this kind of thing could never happen on our soil. Even with the civil war and slave history in this country, people fail to look for similarites in experience. The more people focus on the difference between us and them, the less likely one is to truly undertand HOW such history CAN happen.

waldo fitzgerald from Germany Reply Oct 25th, 2008

my grandfather was in the world war 2. and i am glad that we killed more than 1 million people. oh yeah screw the jews

josephina gaspar from United States Reply Oct 16th, 2008

I THOUGHT THAT IT WAS A GOOD INFORMATION BUT ITS DOESNT REALLY DESCRIBE THE PLACE THAT WELL

Eschelle from Germany Reply Aug 30th, 2008

I am german, my grandfather was german nazi soldier during World War II and i am so sorry about all that what has happen to Jews or Poland during this time.We should learn from that.

a from United Kingdom Reply Aug 24th, 2008

Pete, see my comments On Aushchwitz 1 for a couple of tips. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time, don't take a tour, make sure you plan your journey back to wherever you are staying as transport gets less frequent late evening

purpletrumpet from United Kingdom Reply Aug 21st, 2008

ladybird is right. it wasn't just the jews although they were the MAJORITY. why are brits irrelevent?? thats a bit harsh. ladybird is not attacking americans indeed no one really just making a point. the holocaust happened and it was shit, what ladybird is saying is it wasn't JUST jews is all. don't get personal just make it about the place it's reveiwing

from United States Reply Aug 10th, 2008

Ladybird. Your tone sounds a lot like the enablers. 6 million jews die at the hands of the Nazis and your comment is it wasn't only jews. You sound a lot like many other irrelevant Brits.

Ladybird from United Kingdom Reply Jul 16th, 2008

Reading the comments below, it is interesting to see how little people know about history and what actually happened during WW2. Is the education system so bad in America that one person doesn't know that Poland was invaded in 1939 by the Nazi - pick up a book! The lesson of Auschwitz should be learnt, but once should also realise that it wasn't just the Jews who were murdered. There were gypsies, native poles, political opponents, homosexuals to name but a few who were exterminated in the gas chambers or worked to death. By studying and learning from the past can we help avoid these situations again. However in this climate I sometimes wonder if anything has been learnt.

Teresa Sager from Canada Reply Jun 27th, 2008

If you fail to educate yourself, you allow it to happen again. Don't be ignorant - learn so that we don't make these mistakes again.

Pete Austin from United Kingdom Reply Jun 7th, 2008

I am going there later this year and would welcome any help or tips from anyone. Where to go and what to see. Best times to visit. I have seen Bergen - Belsen and aslo Dachau.

chase from United States Reply Apr 7th, 2008

Who wrote this page of information i doing a bibly

tom from Botswana Reply Apr 4th, 2008

good but not alot information

Robert Baugher from United States Reply Apr 3rd, 2008

My study is WW2 and I have personally been to Auschwitz and i can tell you that it gives you a tingle down your spine. Don't people hate me for this, but i'm a descendant of one of the officers that was in charge of Auschwitz. Now it doesn't upset when i see this, as living in Chester, Va i have seen some crazy stuff. However i do feel kinda sorry for those people.

chasen from United States Reply Mar 27th, 2008

i feel soooo sorry for those people

lmnl101 from United States Reply Mar 17th, 2008

who built it!!!!!!!!!!!! the germans?? and did poland join the germans of were they invaded??? can someone please tell me thanks.

jimmy from Ireland Reply Feb 27th, 2008

A visit to these camps is a must for every person to witness the horror that took place. No films I've seen or books I've read could prepare me for what I saw on my visit. This must never be allowed to be forgotten.

Shay Clark from United States Reply Feb 23rd, 2008

This was so awful! How can ANYONE disregard this as DUMB?!? Who the hell ARE you ppl to think of this that way? You weren't there...don't judge it...this is a place of evil and murder. Millions of innocent ppl killed everyday for YEARS!! Anyone who thinks this camp is not worth hearing about..seriously has no LIFE! No HEART! Nothing...you would be considered lowlife..heartless ppl..how could you... To all who actually CARE about what happened...thank you. We will never forget.....

Antonio Bertoni from Italy Reply Feb 8th, 2008

Nazi killed the many people of jewish, now, the israelite jewishes are kiling many peoples of Palesinian. Why.

linda rutkiewicz from United Kingdom Reply Jan 20th, 2008

my dad came from poland and was in birkenau i would like auy one to send me a email to see if i can find anything out about my late father u has just pass away thanks

samantha from United States Reply Jan 8th, 2008

I think yall need t tell what happened to camp Birkenau after the Holocaust

ashley from United States Reply Jan 4th, 2008

hi. this was terrible!!

Sarah from United Kingdom Reply Nov 22nd, 2007

I went to Auschwitz in 2005. It was chilling. Especially Auschwitz 2 - Birkenau. I am going again on Saturday. People need to go there & NEVER forget the evil of the Nazis.

Angela from United States Reply Nov 20th, 2007

When i think about the holocaust it something really scary to think about. We really don't want this to happen again in the future, and if it were who knows if any body would surive.

isabelle from Australia Reply May 30th, 2007

ther holocaust really makes me think about all this. it was only like 65 years ago. the holocaust means alot to me and always will and we have to remeber the ones that perished

David from United States Reply May 27th, 2007

I've been to Auschwitz Birkenau. On a cold November day I stood at the spot where the "selections" were made. Large snowflakes fell out the the gray somber sky, and skeletal poplars or other similar trees stood in the distance. I was chilled to the bone with a coldness that did not leave me until long after I reboarded the heated bus that took me back to Krakow. Every civilized person should go there and see how apparently civilized people conducted the most inhumane and uncivilized rituals in all of recorded history.

jessica lara from United States Reply Apr 11th, 2007

u need jesus

Peter Matthieson from United Kingdom Reply Apr 2nd, 2007

Really, this is the most horrifying part of any visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I had been to see Auschwitz I twice before, but only last month had the opportunity to visit the horrific 'sister camp' of Birkenau (also called Auschwitz II) The scale of the evil is what is most terrifying. Climb the lookout tower of the main entrance building and you will see the enormity of the crime. You can even see where future death dormitories were planned. It is an abbatoir for humans on an industrial scale. Everyone must see this - and pray it never happens again.

berit forsberg from Sweden Reply Mar 26th, 2007

I visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, with 37 other deafs from Sweden 2002. We find it verry terrible, but we were sgreed, peoples must see it!

ashesly from United States Reply Mar 8th, 2007

u guys needs to put more unformation about War II and what to all of the jews

Emilie from United States Reply Nov 18th, 2011

I haven't ever been to a concentration camp, but I just finished reading a book -a true story of a boy who survived Birkenau- called "Night" by Elie Wiesel. I read it for school and I really liked it. It was very upsetting, but it was still a good read. If you're interested in this sort of thing, I suggest reading it.