Most, if not all, of our travel experience was about trying to see something beautiful, special or touching. In fact the theme “Sit back, relax and enjoy” on this blog does reflect what we want to achieve in our travel (well,not the “sit back” part of course). The visit of Auschwitz was a notable exception: We did not enjoy it. We felt depressed instead of relaxed after the visit. Yet the irony was we knew in advance it wouldn’t be an enjoyable experience but still we did it. Actually it was one of the reasons why we travelled to Kraków.
Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp built by the Nazis in World War II. The exact number of people died in it was impossible to know but the general consensus is something between 1 to 1.5 million, mainly Jews. One can go there by himself/herself but it’s actually better to join a half-day tour from Kraków as inside the camp it’s a guided tour anyway. The tour covers both Auschwitz I and II (Birkenau) with an excellent guide explaining different aspects of the camp.
As I said it was a depressing visit as all the exhibits we saw was about sorrow, fear and tragedy. While the camp was converted to a tourist attraction in a certain way, we did not feel like visiting one. We didn’t hear laughter. We didn’t see souvenir shops selling T-shirts or magnets (they did have a shop selling documentary books and DVDs) and we did frequently see visitors shaking their heads. I still remembered when we finished the visit and returned by a fully occupied coach, it was completely dead silent.
When I saw the theme “Escape” in this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, I couldn’t think of a better topic than Auschwitz. Nowadays we talk about escaping from reality, work or whatever binding us but I believe most of our desire to escape won’t be as strong as that from the poor prisoners in the camp. This picture was taken at the entrance of Auschwitz I with the iconic (or ironic) sign of “arbeit macht frei” meaning “labor makes (you) free”. I think for most of the innocent prisoners there, when they saw this sign they would see it as a hope for escape. Yet in reality, escape means death to them.
Lastly an advice for those who plan to visit Auschwitz via a tour: It’s better to join the afternoon tour. If you join a morning tour, your mood for the whole afternoon may get ruined. There is another advantage for the afternoon tour – see my next post.