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The Auschwitz 6 Hour Study Tour : What to Expect

I grew up listening to my grama’s stories about living in Scotland during WWII.  To this day, she still watches movies and documentaries about Nazi Germany and as a result, I’ve grown up fascinated by this period of time. So much so, that I planned our Eastern Europe trip around Poland and Auschwitz.

A Visit to Auschwitz

It’s our second day in Kraków, and we woke up extra early to catch the shuttle bus an hour and 20 minutes outside of the city to Oswiecim, the home of Auschwitz. There are two official tour options when visiting, a 3 hour tour or the Auschwitz 6 hour study tour. You cannot visit the site without a guide unless you go before 10am.

Jewish Flags at Auschwitz - Birkenau

We opted for the Auschwitz 6 Hour Study Tour because I wanted to see everything. Unfortunately, by the end of it all, I still felt extremely rushed.

Auschwitz I

When you arrive at Auschwitz I, you are ushered into the the camp and paired with your tour group. Your guide whispers into a microphone which transmits to your individual headsets. If you take your headphones off at any point during the visit, you’ll hear no noise, just the shuffling of feet and the faint whispers of guides. It somehow feels appropriate, given the setting.

Auschwitz IIMG_2682

During the Auschwitz 6 hour study tour, our guide took us through several different barracks, all containing original Nazi documents, photographs from the camp and personal belongings of the Jewish prisoners.

Auschwitz - Jewish Prisoner's Luggage
Jewish prisoner’s luggage. They were told to bring their valuables, and write their name on the outside.

Auschwitz 6 Hour Study Tour

I could have spent the entire six hours at Aushwitz I. Each room was lined with such important information. Our tour guide gave us no time to stop and read plaques or documents. If we wanted to read anything, we had to listen to her at the same time. There were certain rooms where you long to take a few minutes to reflect, but you are pushed through like cattle. I know there is a lot to see and many people who need to see it, but I felt overwhelmed with the information and desperate for time to process it.

IMG_2675

As part of the Auschwitz 6 hour study tour, you are taken into the brick barracks where you can view the living conditions of the prisoners. We saw Death Block, which was a series of punishment rooms. There were cells where prisoners were forced to stand for a minimum of three nights in a row, after working 11 hour days on little to no food. There was a dark, concrete room with no light or air or airflow.  We were told most people suffocated overnight in that one.

Auschwitz

We went into the actual gas chamber where hundreds of thousands of Jews lost their lives. In one room, there was a glass display along the entire length of the room, and inside piled apprx 7 feet high, was piles of women’s hair. Hair that had been cut off after the prisoners were exterminated in the gas chambers. They ask that you abstain from taking photos out in some of the rooms, this being one of them.

Zyklon B
Empty cans of Zyklon B, the poison used in the gas chambers

 

Walking through the camp was eerie and you feel a heaviness in the air. Dark lookout towers loom above you as you walk through the entire camp. We passed the Death Wall, where executions took place.

Auschwitz Death Wall
The Death Wall

Before the Soviets liberated the Jewish people, the Nazi’s burned most of the evidence in the camps. Whatever didn’t burn is on display in Auschwitz I, including personal belongings from the prisoners.

Auschwitz

One of the most moving parts in Auschwitz I was a hall lined top to bottom with photos of the prisoners. Each photograph contained the name, birthday, profession, date of entrance to Auschwitz, and date of death. In some cases the date of death was a mere days after they arrived at the camp. I tried to read as many of their photos as I could, noting their profession and acknowledging them.
Auschwitz Victims

The last room of the tour contained The Book of Names, a 6.5 foot tall book containing 4 million names of the Holocaust victims.

The Book of Names | Auschwitz - Birkenau

The Book of Names | Auschwitz - Birkenau
The names of 4 million victims

Birkenau

When you finish the tour of Auschwitz I, the tour guide gives you a quick 30 min break and then you are shuttled over to Birkenau. Birkenau was built because Auschwitz couldn’t physically keep up with the number of prisoners being sent there.

Auschwitz - Birkenau

Birkenau became the largest concentration and extermination camp. It held over 100,000 prisoners and it was massive. It took us 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other.

 A Visit to Auschwitz - Birkenau

Unlike Auschwitz I, Birkenau is not a museum. For the past 71 years, it has stayed pretty much in the state as it was found. Before liberation day, the Germans attempted to burn down this camp as well. Many of the living quarters are gone; all that’s left are brick chimneys standing where the barracks used to sit. The gas chambers and crematoria also burned but the ruins remain just as they were found.

Remains of Gas Chamber in Birkenau
The ruins of one of the gas chambers and crematorium
Auschwitz - Birkenau Watch Tower

In the middle of the main road there is an intersection . When the Jews arrived at Birkenau, they exited the trains and were examined by a doctor. If they were deemed healthy enough to work, they walked to the right but if not, they were sent left and straight to the gas chambers. It was pretty sobering to stand at the cross street where millions of people’s fate was decided in an single instant.

Auschwitz - Birkenau
If you were unfit to work, you were sent down this road to the gas chambers

During our visit to Birkenau, our guide took us through the men, women and children’s barracks. This was one of the most intense parts of the visit. To see how small the bunks were, and to imagine up to 10 prisoners on each level of the bunk. We were told new prisoners were forced to sleep on the ground, which was covered in diarrhea and also inhabited by rats.

Auschwitz Beds
The Men's Barracks at Auschwitz - Birkenau
The men’s barracks

 

Women's Barracks at Auschwitz - Birkenau
The women’s barracks
IMG_2777
A flower left on the bunk in the children’s barracks

 

At the end of the tour we were taken through the bathhouse and disinfection area. The last room in the building contained an exhibit filled with family photos of the prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The photos were found on the grounds and it was a powerful way to wrap up an intense day. We have all seen photos of prisoners in concentration camps, identified only by numbers. This exhibition gave the prisoners back their names and identities.

Auschwitz Memorial

The tour ends in Birkenau and you are free to check out the camp on your own, or catch the shuttle bus back to Auschwitz. Since I felt so rushed the entire tour, we stayed for another hour to process everything we’d seen.

Auschwitz Memorial
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Comments (8)

  • Hi, thank you very much for your post, it is very interesting and your photography is amazing. I will be visiting Auschwitz soon and was wondering if you would recommend the 6 hour tour or the shorter 3 hour tour and then having our own time to look around?

    Reply
    • mm

      Hey Catilin!
      Auschwitz I was the camp where I really wanted more time, but on both tours you leave Auschwitz I with the group and almost immediately shuttle to Birkenau. So you wouldn’t have time there to explore on your own either way. At Birkenau, you have ample time to walk around on your own after the tour though. So with that said, I would still recommend the 6 hour tour.

      Hope this helps, thank you for reading!

      Reply
  • Hi! Thank you for your post, it was very detailed and interesting.
    I was wondering; is a tour really worth it or would it be better to just walk around Auschwitz I and Birkenau alone (without a guide), to take our time? Do you learn more with a guide than you do by reading the descriptions in each site? I really don’t want to feel rushed and on a schedule throughout the visit…

    Reply
    • mm

      Hi Ombeline!
      I really did learn so much with the guide. There are information plaques at Auschwitz I but they mostly talk about what’s on display and they definitely didn’t go into as many details as the guide gave us. There were not as many information plaques at Birkenau.

      Even though I really wish I had more time in each room at Auschwitz, I don’t regret joining the tour and would probably do it again.

      Hope this helps!
      Lindsey

      Reply
  • Thank you for your pictures and commentary. I will be visiting Auschwitz in August, 2018. After reading your commentary, I will be signing up for the 6 hour tour. Did you travel from Krakow that day via public transportation or did you travel on your own? I plan on taking public bus transportation from Krakow in the morning and touring Auschwitz that day. Can you offer any advice with traveling to Auschwitz with public transportation? I am flying from Krakow to Berlin that night after my tour at Auschwitz, so have to make sure I have enough time to travel back to Krakow via bus, so am hoping that I can fit this all in and still make my flight. (I see the 6 hour tour begins at 0900) Also, did you utilize the luggage area in the museum for any oversized baggage? I emailed the museum, and it was not clear whether it was a locked area or not, although she stated that there were no size limitations. (I will be traveling right from Auschwitz back to the airport in Krakow). Thank you for any more advice you may be able to offer. Again, your photos and commentary are wonderful, albeit very somber, and brought tears to my eyes.
    Julie Rahaim
    Cumberland, WI USA

    Reply
    • mm

      Hi Julie!
      We traveled from Krakow via bus (it’s more of a shuttle van) to Osweicim and it was very easy. We picked us the bus at the bus station which next to the main train station, and bought our tickets there (they were cheap.. I think around $3-4). The bus to Auschwitz was located on the lower level of the station and the journey was around 1hr 30 min. We got there early just in case because there aren’t that many seats on the busses. The bus will drop you off about 3-5 min from Auschwitz I. Chances are most people will be getting off there so we just followed the crowd. I remember it being pretty self explanatory. On the way home, you pick up the bus at the same spot and there are regular busses to Krakow so you shouldn’t have to wait long. You can check out this page for rough schedule times http://rozklady.mda.malopolska.pl/?lang=eng

      I didn’t utilize the luggage storage area at Auschwitz, but I saw it. There are no lockers, it’s more of a kiosk where you can check your pieces in and out with the attendant. Another option could be to leave your luggage at the Krakow Train station as it’s located right next to the bus station. The only issue is that they filled up quickly when we were there. If they are full, there’s also locked luggage storage at the Galeria Krakowska Mall which is also located next to the train/bus station. It’s basically right across the street with easy access bridges from the train station. So I think you will definitely be able to find a place for your luggage 🙂

      Hope this help, let me know if you have any more questions!
      Lindsey

      Reply
      • Hi Lindsey,
        Thank you so much for your reply! Your comments on transportation were very helpful, and I will check out the link you sent. For my one night in Krakow, I’m staying at Hotel Europejski https://www.google.com/maps/place/Lubicz+5,+Kraków,+Poland/@50.064479,19.9440594,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x47165b10bdf2aa63:0x33f2943e5ef8e810!8m2!3d50.064479!4d19.9462481
        and it looks like it’s not too far from the bus station. Did you travel alone or with others? How safe is it? I have not traveled abroad before, and I am on my own for this part of my trip, so any advice is much appreciated! I am looking forward to my adventure over in Germany and Poland in a few months! If I have any other questions, I will let you know!
        Again, thanks for your advice!
        Julie

        Reply
        • mm

          Hi Julie!

          I stayed in an Airbnb near your Krakow hotel and it’s definitely an easy walk to the train/bus station.

          I traveled with my boyfriend while in Krakow but would 100% feel safe going back alone. It felt safer than many other bigger European cities that I’ve been to, actually. I have also done solo traveling in other parts of Poland and feel very comfortable in this country in general.

          Do you use Google Maps on your phone? I always download an offline map and save pins where my hotel is, sites I want to see, restaurants I want to visit etc. So even if you lose service (or don’t have an international plan), your location/map will still work and you can get directions easily.

          In Krakow, you have to validate your public transportation tickets when you get on. You’ll see little yellow machines on the bus/trams that you stick your ticket into. Sometimes plainclothes officers will check tickets randomly and it’s easy to miss if you’re not familiar with the system.

          I’m excited for you to take your first trip abroad! I know that you’re going to love it, and Germany and Poland are great places to start. If I think of anything else that might help you, I’ll let you know.

          Lindsey

          Reply

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