Tag: Auschwitz-Birkenau

Tag: Auschwitz-Birkenau

Top 10 things to do in Kraków

There’s a lot to see and do in the city. Here’s our list of the Top 10 things to do in Kraków. Click on the links for further information or to book a tour & buy tickets.

1. Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is a UNESCO World Heritage site located around 14km southeast of Kraków and is one of Poland’s most popular attractions, welcoming tourists since 1722. Wieliczka Salt Mine is a subterranean labyrinth of tunnels, shafts and chambers, underground saline lakes, chapels with altarpieces, majestic timber constructions and unique statues sculpted in rock salt. The size of the mine is staggering, it reaches a depth of 327m and extends via horizontal passages and chambers for over 287 km distributed over nine levels. Only a small part of the mine is open to the public.

Further information

Wieliczka Salt Mine tour with hotel pickup from Krakow

2. Historic Centre Of Kraków

The historic centre of Kraków has been featured on Unesco’s World Heritage List since 1978. Packed full of restaurants, museums, galleries and bars, the medieval layout of the Old Town has not changed for centuries. The heart and focal point of the historic centre of Kraków is its graceful main market square, the largest medieval town square of any European city. Most visitors to Kraków visit the market square with its Cloth Hall, the Church of the Holy Mary, Wawel Hill and its Royal Castle, Wawel Cathedral with its outstanding Renaissance chapel, the Barbican and St. Florian’s Gate.

Further information.

3. Wawel Royal Castle

Wawel Royal Castle and the limestone Wawel Hill are extremely important historical and cultural sites containing one of the most important collection of buildings in Poland. Wawel was once the seat of Polish rulers, the residence of kings and the focal point of many Polish historical events. The hill is a symbol of the Polish nation and has witnessed some of the greatest moments in Polish history. Many Polish kings have been laid to rest below Wawel Cathedral. Located south of the old town and next to the Vistula River, Wawel Hill showcases an incredible assortment of architectural delights including Renaissance, Gothic and Romanesque designs. Wawel Royal Castle and the Cathedral are must-see attractions and a walk around the castle courtyards and open spaces are highly recommended.

Further information

Wawel Castle private guided tour

4. Auschwitz-Birkenau

Auschwitz-Birkenau is synonymous with the Holocaust and the largest attempt at genocide in human history. More than a million Jews, and many Poles and Roma, were murdered here by German Nazis during WWII. Both sections of the camp, Auschwitz I and the much larger outlying Birkenau (Auschwitz II) have been preserved and are open to visitors. Everyone should visit Auschwitz at least once in their lives, it is a stern reminder of the horrors that human beings can inflict on each other and the only way to understand the extent and horror of the place and the atrocities that took place there.

Further information

Auschwitz-Birkenau: Entrance + Guided Tour in English

5. Schindler’s Factory

The story of Oskar Schindler is well-known since Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List; however despite the name of the museum, it covers all aspects of the German occupation of Kraków from 1939 to 1945 through a series of well-organised, interactive exhibits. Take a tram to Plac Bohaterów Getta, then follow ul Kącik east under the railway line to find the museum. Learn the story of Krakow and its inhabitants, both Polish and Jewish, during the war. The exhibition, ‘Krakow under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945’, is in the former administrative building of Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory. An amazing venue, not to mention subject!

Tickets for Schindler’s Factory Museum: Skip The Line + Guided Tour.

6. Cloth Hall (Sukiennice)

The Kraków Cloth Hall dates to the Renaissance and is one of the city’s most recognisable icons. Dominating the centre of the Main Market Square, this building was once the heart of Kraków’s medieval clothing trade. The hall was once a Gothic structure but rebuilt in the Renaissance style after a fire in 1555. On the ground floor, you’ll find craft and souvenir shops and on the upper floor is the Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Painting.

Krakow Old Town private tour with Cloth Hall entrance ticket

7. St Mary’s Basilica

Saint Mary’s Basilica is a striking 14th century brick Gothic church adjacent to the Main Market Square in Kraków, best known simply as St Mary’s. The church is dominated by two towers of different heights and is famous for its wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss, which took over 10 years to complete prior to it being consecrated in 1489. The altarpiece has a central panel and two pairs of side wings and is intricately carved in lime wood. It measures about 13m high and 11m wide and is the country’s largest and most important piece of medieval art. On every hour, a trumpet signal called the Hejnał mariacki is played from the top of the taller of Saint Mary’s two towers.

Further information

St. Mary’s Basilica entrance ticket

 8. National Museum

The National Museum in Kraków is the largest museum in Poland and also the main branch of Poland’s National Museum. The collections of the museum number almost 780 000 objects, with the core of the collection being Polish art. You’ll find the museum on ul. Piłsudskiego, around 500, west of the Old Town.

Further information.

9. Rynek Underground

Beneath the city of Krakow and housed within the underground corridors of the market square, you will find a museum; which showcases how the city looked and felt during the Middle Ages complete with stone roads with potholes made by cart wheels during the 13th century. It consists of an underground route through medieval market stalls and other long-forgotten chambers.

Book tickets & further information.

10. Kościuszko Mound

Kościuszko Mound was erected in commemoration of the Polish military hero Tadeusz Kościuszko between 1820 and 1823. It stands 34m high and includes soil from both the Polish and American battlefields where Kościuszko fought. A serpentine path leads to the top with a panoramic view of the Vistula River and the city. The memorial is located in Zwierzyniec, 3km west of the Old Town.

Further information.

Tripadvisor

For further ideas about what to see in the city, Tripadvisor is an excellent resource of information – Click here.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Auschwitz-Birkenau is synonymous with the Holocaust and the largest attempt at genocide in human history. More than a million Jews, and many Poles and Roma, were murdered here by German Nazis during WWII.

Both sections of the camp, Auschwitz I and the much larger outlying Birkenau (Auschwitz II) have been preserved and are open to visitors. Everyone should visit Auschwitz at least once in their lives, it is a stern reminder of the horrors that human beings can inflict on each other and the only way to understand the extent and horror of the place and the atrocities that took place there.

Oświęcim

The Auschwitz extermination camp was established in Polish army barracks on the outskirts of Oświęcim by the Germans in April 1940 and was originally intended for Polish political prisoners. It was then adapted for the wholesale extermination of the Jews of Europe in fulfilment of German Nazi ideology and pursuit of the ‘final solution of the Jewish question in Europe.’

For this purpose, the much larger camp at Birkenau was built 2km west of the original site in 1941/1942, followed by another one in Monowitz, several kilometres to the west.

Most of the killing took place in Birkenau and not Auschwitz. The 175 hectares camp was purpose-built for efficiency with 300 prison barracks housing 300 people each and four huge gas chambers, complete with crematoria. Each gas chamber could asphyxiate 2000 people at one time, and were fitted with electric lifts to raise the bodies to the ovens more quickly and conveniently.

From spring 1942 until the fall of 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over Nazi-occupied Europe. The camp’s first commandant, Rudolf Höss, testified after the war at the Nuremberg Trials that up to three million people had died there (2.5 million exterminated, and 500,000 from disease and starvation), a figure since revised to 1.1 million. Of the 1.1 million people who were murdered in Birkenau, 90 percent of them were Jews.

Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and tens of thousands of people of diverse nationalities. Those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labour, lack of disease control, individual executions, and medical experiments.

Selections

By July 1942, the SS were conducting the infamous “selections,” in which incoming Jews were divided into those deemed able to work, who were sent to the right and admitted into the camp, and those who were sent to the left and immediately gassed.

Prisoners were transported from all over German-occupied Europe by rail, arriving in daily convoys. The group selected to die, about three-quarters of the total, included almost all children, women with children, all the elderly, and all those who appeared on brief and superficial inspection by an SS doctor not to be completely fit. Auschwitz II-Birkenau claimed more victims than any other German extermination camp, despite coming into use after all the others.

SS officers told the victims they were to take a shower and undergo delousing. The victims would undress in an outer chamber and walk into the gas chamber, which was disguised as a shower facility, complete with dummy shower heads. After the doors were shut, SS men would dump in the cyanide pellets via holes in the roof or windows on the side. In Auschwitz II-Birkenau, more than 20,000 people could be gassed and cremated each day.

Sonderkommandos removed gold teeth from the corpses of gas chamber victims; the gold was melted down and collected by the SS. The belongings of the arrivals were seized by the SS and sorted in an area of the camp called “Canada,” so-called because Canada was seen as a land of plenty. Many of the SS at the camp enriched themselves by pilfering the confiscated property.

The last selection took place on October 30, 1944. The next month, Heinrich Himmler ordered the crematoria destroyed before the Red Army reached the camp. The gas chambers of Birkenau were blown up by the SS in January 1945 in an attempt to hide the German crimes from the advancing Soviet troops. The SS command sent orders on January 17, 1945 calling for the execution of all prisoners remaining in the camp, but in the chaos of the Nazi retreat the order was never carried out. On January 17, 1945, Nazi personnel started to evacuate the facility.

Death March

Nearly 60,000 prisoners were forced on a death march toward a camp in Wodzisław Śląski (German: Loslau). Those too weak or sick to walk were left behind. These remaining 7,500 prisoners were liberated by the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army on January 27, 1945.

Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945. Among the artefacts of automated murder found by the Russians were 348,820 men’s suits and 836,255 women’s garments.

On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops, a day commemorated around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Today, at Birkenau the entrance building and some of the southern brick-built barracks survive; but of the almost 300 wooden barracks, only 19 remain: 18 near the entrance building and one, on its own, farther away. All that survives of the others are chimneys, remnants of a largely ineffective means of heating. Many of these wooden buildings were constructed from prefabricated sections made by a company that intended them to be used as stables; inside, numerous metal rings for the tethering of horses can still be seen.

The Polish government decided to restore Auschwitz I and turn it into a museum honouring the victims of Nazism; Auschwitz II, where buildings (many of which were prefabricated wood structures) were prone to decay, was preserved but not restored. Today, the Auschwitz I museum site combines elements from several periods into a single complex: for example the gas chamber at Auschwitz I (which had been converted into an air-raid shelter for the SS) was restored and the fence was moved (because of building work being done after the war but before the museum was established). However, in most cases the departure from the historical truth is minor, and is clearly labelled.

Museum

The museum contains many men’s, women’s and children’s shoes taken from their victims; also suitcases, which the deportees were encouraged to bring with them, and many household utensils. One display case, some 30 metres (98 ft) long, is wholly filled with human hair which the Nazis gathered from people before they were sent to labour or before and after they were killed.

Auschwitz II and the remains of the gas chambers there are open to the public. The camp is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The ashes of the victims were scattered between the huts, and the entire area is regarded as a grave site. Most of the buildings of Auschwitz I are still standing. The public entrance area is outside the perimeter fence in what was the camp admission building, where new prisoners were registered and given their uniforms. At the far end of Birkenau are memorial plaques in many languages, including Romani.

Buy tickets for Auschwitz-Birkenau: Entrance + guided tour in English

Auschwitz Shuttle

Are you looking for an easy and convenient way to get to Oświęcim and explore the Auschwitz – Birkenau Concentration Camp by yourself? Decide whether you want to choose one-way or two-way transportation and travel in a comfortable bus for about 1.5 hours. Fast, specific and convenient. Choose from a wide range of fixed departure times – Buy tickets.

Niepokalanów

Niepokalanów, known as, ‘The Shrine of Our Mary Immaculate and Saint Maximilian Kolbe’ is a Roman Catholic religious community located about 40km west of Warsaw.

The shrine is one of the newest in Poland but also one of the most popular, primarily due to the cult following of Saint Maximillian who was canonised in 1982.

Maximillian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan Friar who founded Niepokalanów in 1927 on land donated by Duke Drucki-Lubecki. The aim was to build a new monastery and in the autumn of the same year the first wooden barracks were built and a consecration of the new monastery took place on 7 December 1927.

Prior to the Second World War, Niepokalanów was the largest monastery in the world, housing as many as 760 men. It contained a printing house producing many publications. One of these publications was called, ‘The Knight of the Immaculate’ and had a press run of 750,000 copies a month.

During the Second World War, Maximillian Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau for the crime of hiding Jews from the Nazis. He died in the camp, giving his life for the life of another prisoner and it was this act of heroism, which fuelled the cult of St. Maximillian to become widespread at the end of the war.

After the war the printing house in Niepokalanów was reopened and The Knight of the Immaculate was issued again. A new church was built between 1948-1954 and this and the monastery were visited by Pope John Paul II during his second Pastoral Visit in Poland on 18th of June 1983. The visit of the Pope made Niepokalanów famous not only in Poland, but also abroad.

Today over 700,000 pilgrims come to Niepokalanów, to visit the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary and also the monastic cell of St. Maximilian. They also come to see the Panorama Theatre, which commemorates 1,000 years of Christianity in Poland and highlights the most important events in the history of the church in Poland.

Visit the official Niepokalanów website.