Auschwitz remains the most terrible symbol of the Shoah, a symbol that is periodically threatened with being either denied or reclaimed. Since 2005, however, the Museum’s curators have done an outstanding job in putting together a new permanent exhibition, in addition to the one that has existed since 1947.
A visit is therefore a must for anyone who has any doubts about the reality of the Final Solution, or who still imagines that it could be a mere “detail” of the Second World War. Over 800,000, perhaps more than a million victims perished at Auschwitz.
The tour includes both camps: the central Auschwitz camp (Oswiecim) and the Birkenau camp (Brzezinka), where the gas chambers were located. Although the visit is trying and exhausting, you absolutely must see both camps.
It is advisable to visit Auschwitz during the day, for example from Krakow, without spending the night in this place of absolute horror. Allow four or five hours for your visit. Given the number of tourists, it is advisable to visit the site either in the early morning or at the end of the day. With 2 million visitors a year, the place of remembrance has become almost impossible to visit. For those who would like to reflect in an atmosphere more appropriate to the attitude to be adopted in this kind of place, it is advisable to visit less frequented camps, such as Sobibor for example.
The museum, located on the site of the former camp, was created thanks to the efforts of former prisoners from 1947 onwards, and has added new wings since 2005. Its aim is to safeguard the remains of the former camp, commemorate the victims and pursue scientific and educational activities.
The place of remembrance covers an area of almost 200 hectares, with more than 150 buildings and around 300 ruins, including the remains of the gas chambers and crematoria that the Germans destroyed. It is also a research centre for documents, archives and the world’s largest collection of works of art dedicated to Auschwitz – around 6,000 works.
In 1979, on Poland’s initiative, Auschwitz was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, emphasising that it would be the only ex-camp on this list and that it would be the symbol of all other similar places.
The Museum’s educational mission is carried out by the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. The Centre’s main activity consists of educational programmes which, based on the history and experiences of Auschwitz, aim to raise public awareness and foster a responsible attitude in the world today.