2 Best Sights in Auschwitz and Birkenau, Malopolska and the Tatras

Auschwitz and Birkenau

The Konzentrationslager (concentration camp) had three parts: Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Monowitz (where a chemical plant was run by prison labor). The barracks at Auschwitz have been completely restored and made into the Miejsce Pamięci i Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oświęcimiu (Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum), which has been described by one survivor, the author Primo Levi, as "something static, rearranged, contrived." With that in mind, begin with the heartrending movie filmed by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945, the day they liberated the few prisoners left behind by the retreating Germans. The English version runs a few times a day, although narration isn't really necessary. You begin by walking through the notorious gate marked "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Brings Freedom). The most provocative exhibits are the huge piles of belongings confiscated from victims, as well as the 2 tons of human hair intended for use in the German textile industry. The execution wall, the prison block, and the reconstructed crematorium at the end of the tour are harshly sobering.

Far more affecting than the restored Auschwitz are the unaltered barracks, electric fences, and blown-up gas chambers at the enormous Birkenau camp, which is 3 km (2 miles) away. More prisoners lived and died here than at Auschwitz, including hundreds of thousands who went directly to the gas chambers from boxcars in which they had been locked up for days. The camp has been preserved to look much the way it did after the Nazis abandoned it. A walk to the back area brings you to the Monument to the Glory of the Victims, designed by Polish and Italian artists and erected in 1967. Behind the trees to the right of the monument lies a farm pond, its banks still murky with human ashes and bone fragments. Admission to the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau is free of charge, but your entry must be reserved in advance online, preferably well in advance. This is due to very large numbers of visitors, both inividual and tour groups (more than 1.7 million people in 2015). There are fees for engaging a guide, and it is also possible for individual visitors to join a guided tour with an educator. It is not recommended that children under 14 visit the memorial, and it is a very dark and heartwrenching experience at any age. To reach the camps from Kraków, take the E22a or the train or bus from plac Kolejowy. Alternatively, join an organized tour (information available at tourist information points and hotels). You can park at either camp; from April 15 to October 31 a shuttle bus runs between them once an hour.

Więźniów Oświęcimia 20, Oswiecim, Poland
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Auschwitz and Birkenau free; guided tours in English zł 40–zł 300, Auschwitz museum daily 8–6, Birkenau daily 9–4

Nadwiślański Park Etnograficzny

Nadwiślański Park Etnograficzny showcases the folk culture of the regions situated west of Kraków all the way to the old Silesian frontier on the Przemsza River. This 10-acre area contains more than 20 wooden buildings accompanied by exhibits grouped into three sections: town homes, religious buildings, and rural architecture. There is also a restaurant designed to look like a typical country cottage.

Podzamcze 1, Babice, Poland
Sights Details
Rate Includes: zł 10, May–Sept., daily 8–6; Oct.–Apr., daily 8–3