My 5: Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial & Museum – Oswiecim, Poland.

Auschwitz entrance gates Arbeit Macht Free Work sets you free

1. April 2003. Many moons ago a bunch of friends and I jumped on a train in Bratislava. Our journey took us east through the centre of Slovakia and then up north through The Tatra Mountains and into Poland. Our destination was the city of Krakow, where we’d planned three nights of sightseeing and partying, such was the remit back in those days. But the thing that stands out the most from that trip was our day visit to the nearby town of Oświęcim, home to what is arguably Planet Earth’s darkest historical chapter. I can still remember the uneasy feeling that seeped into me as we passed through those famous gates with its chilling message: Arbeit Macht Frei (work sets you free).

Watchtower Auschwitz Oswiecim Poland

2. April 2003. I’m not gonna go too deeply into the atrocities that were carried out in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, as I think you’re all well versed enough with the grisly details. In fact, I wondered if I should even do this My 5 at all, partly due to the poor quality of my old photos but mainly because I’ve never had much of an appetite for it. But with LL becoming more and more of a complete directory of my life travels, I recently decided to roll up my sleeves and add this hugely important location to the My 5 vaults. This shot is of one of Auschwitz’s watchtowers, which instantly had me thinking of a scene from Schindler’s List.

Memorial wall Auschwitz Birkenau memorial and museum Oswiecim Poland

3. April 2003. This little exercise yard, set between several barracks, also sticks in the mind. Anyone who couldn’t follow the German guards’ exercise routines, looked out of shape or generally misbehaved in any way would be dragged over to the back wall and shot. I remember a guide going into the particulars of it all, but I just found myself walking off, unable to listen.

Railway tracks Auschwitz Birkenau memorial and museum Oswiecim Poland

4. April 2003. I think it was the Birkenau leg of our wanderings that had the biggest effect on me that day, especially the overview of the grounds from one of the watchtowers. The place was just huge, the long, dark somber-looking railway tracks literally sobbing from the memories of all those trains that rolled in here carrying their doomed occupants. It was a grey drizzly day too, which only added to the pervading gloom.

Ruined building Auschwitz Birkenau memorial and museum Oswiecim Poland

5. April 2003. The Germans knew that Soviet forces were coming to liberate the camps ahead of the actual event on January the 27th, 1945. So they set about killing off as many people as they could and destroying key buildings such as offices and meeting rooms. I was able to photograph a few of these structures, which had simply been left as they were found. Nobody ever wants to go and see the camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, but I do feel everyone should. At the very least it’ll instill you with a huge sense of gratitude for the times we’ve been lucky enough to live in, even if we often find ourselves despairing at the state of the world. For all the details of when and how to visit, along with the various pricing options, pay a visit to: http://auschwitz.org/en/visiting/

For more on that long ago trip, have a look at my travel report on Krakow.

For similar sites I’ve visited around the world, have a look at:

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Phnom Penh, Cambodia).

The Killing Fields (Phnom Penh, Cambodia).

Nanjing Massacre Memorial (Nanjing, China).

Death Railway Bridge (Kanchanaburi, Thailand).

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (Kanchanburi, Thailand)

War Remnants Museum (Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam).

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world for nearly twenty years, so why not check out my huge library of My 5s from over 30 countries.

Leighton Literature travel reports short stories travel blogger

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Freelance travel writer, voice over and English teacher from London. Former music and film journalist, interviewer of the stars. Passionate about travel, film, music, football, Indian food.

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