Visitors to the beautiful Polish city of Krakow should not miss the chance to go to the memorial and museum of the Nazi concentration camp complex at Auschwitz-Birkenau, writes Lucy Oliver.
From 1942 until the camps were first evacuated by the Nazis and then liberated by the Allies in 1945, inmates there – the vast majority Jewish – were forced to live and work in appalling conditions, with more than one million subjected to torture and death. Visitors are guided through the two camps' grounds and buildings, including the wooden shed-like lodgings that prisoners were compelled to build in order to live in appalling conditions.
The personal belongings of prisoners, taken from them upon arrival, are on display, with piles of reading glasses, shoes, children’s playthings and even human hair speaking of the barely imaginable degradation experienced.
The tour also includes a visit to the gas chambers, built to exterminate hundreds of thousands of Jews – along with Polish and Russian intellectuals, gypsies, Catholics, homosexuals and other prisoners of the Nazi administration – and provides a stark opportunity to reflect on the lessons of history. Indeed, as we remember the 70th anniversary of the liberation, an eerie silence continues to prevail over the site of atrocities which must never be repeated, nor forgotten.