Roughly an hour outside of Krakow is the gruesome, incredibly powerful site of one of humanity’s most horrifying tragedies: the Holocaust. From 1941 until 1945, Auschwitz was the biggest and most notorious concentration camp in the Nazi system. Until the camp’s liberation in 1945, at least 1.1 million people were systematically murdered here—approximately 960,000 of them Jewish.
The emotional power of walking through Auschwitz (and the adjacent camp, Birkenau) is jarring. The sheer scale, organization, and effort that the Nazis undertook to exterminate innocent men, women, and children is unspeakably shocking to see in person. Words cannot express the feelings of profound sadness—and anger—that overwhelmed us while seeing the remains of the camps (such as the crematoriums and gas chambers), the belongings and pictures of many of those who perished (including mini-mountains of their hair, shoes, and luggage) and hearing the gruesome, tearful descriptions of the function and purpose of each structure and area of the camp.
So, you may be wondering: Why visit a horrible concentration camp on your vacation? Well, as put by the travel writer Rick Steves, Auschwitz is “one of the most moving sights in Europe.” He further explains why this site is a must-see for all travellers:
"Auschwitz survivors and victims’ families want tourists to come here and experience the scale and monstrosity of the place. In their minds, a steady flow of visitors will ensure that the Holocaust is always remembered---so it never happens again. Auschwitz isn’t for everyone. But I’ve never met anyone who toured Auschwitz and regretted it. For many, it’s a profoundly life-altering experience—and at the very least, it will forever affect the way you think about the Holocaust."