For centuries the town of Oświęcim was a quiet backwater community, largely bypassed by world events. That changed with WWII when Oświęcim, known as ‘Auschwitz’ under German occupation, became the chosen site of the largest death camp in the Third Reich. Between 1.1 million and 1.5 million people were exterminated here, etching the name of Auschwitz forever into the history books; countless films, documentaries, books and survivor accounts have since burned it into the collective consciousness.
Visitors to Poland, particularly to Kraków and Katowice, are faced with asking themselves whether or not they will make the effort to visit Auschwitz. It is a difficult question. There are few who would say they actually ‘want’ to visit Auschwitz, though many are compelled to do so for their own reasons. For those of us who don’t feel so compelled, it’s easy to give reasons for not going: not having enough time, already knowing as much as we need or want to know about it, not feeling personally connected enough to the site or the history to need to visit, or being uncomfortable about the prospect of visiting a site of such emotional resonance at the same time as hundreds of other tourists. Having been there, we can tell you that all of these explanations for avoiding Auschwitz are perfectly reasonable until you’ve actually visited the site; you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who has made the trip and still argues against going.
The Auschwitz Museum and tour present one of the most horrific acts in human history with a level of tact, passion, poignancy and professionalism that is so profound, it almost makes as lasting an impression as the site itself. Without being heavy-handed, the history of the site is presented in all of its contexts and guests are perhaps spared from fully surrendering to their emotions only by the sheer relentlessness of the information. No matter how much you think you know on the subject, the perspective gained by visiting is incomparable. Whether or not you choose to go to Auschwitz is up to you to decide. However it should be understood that Auschwitz is not a site of Jewish concern, Polish concern, German concern, gypsy concern, historical concern... It is a site of human concern. As such, we believe everyone should visit.