Because this place seems to intrigue me for quite a while, I put it on the bucket list, and, after several unsuccessful attempts that are a story for another time, I finally made it this year.
I don’t want to get too much into the details of what happened there and the ideology behind it, Wikipedia does a better and probably less biased job on that, but focus more on my personal impressions.
After boarding a bus from Krakow that runs frequently between this city and the camps and a one hour journey, at first it looked as if I arrived at some kind of tourist site. At least 30 coaches where parked in front of the museum area, and “tourists” from all over the world were buzzing around on a big parking lot and between some small booths that sold snacks, gave general information or stored luggage for a fee.
While it is definitely not a tourist trap, it is well organized to make the visitor spend some extra money along the way.
Luckily I reserved a ticket in advance on the internet, so I did not need to spend time in a queue of about 200 people waiting to buy tickets.
To keep the site organized, they only let in a certain amount of people in at the same time and organize most visits into guided tours, which definitely makes sense to prevent a total chaos.
However, these tours are in such short intervals, that guides have to somewhat rush you through the exhibits because the next group is already a few steps behind your group.
While the central Ausschwitz camp was about the size I more or less expected, the Birkenau part was huge, as in like town on its own, and some additional parts were not even completed until the end of the war.
What gave me a lot of thoughts were two issues. At first, that efficiency does not always work in your favor. In these camps the “management of death” was a highly efficient and effective process with everything part of the process being meticulously planned. It takes quite some sick minds to make this happen.
The other thing was how well maintained this structure is until present days. While some buildings or parts were destroyed at the end of war, either by the operators of the camps to cover up what happened or by the allied forces, a lot of it still looks like it is ready to be put back to “production” again by just adding staff and performing a few repairs.
This second thing is a two-sided sword. While, on one side, it helps to show in the whole brutal reality, how things were done at the installations, it delivers, on the other side, ready-to-use infrastructure for future, maybe not so benevolent, governments.