Visiting and then subsequently talking about your trip to a concentration camp is a very tricky thing. I talked in a previous post about how I don’t know how to talk about Auschwitz; I will try to make this post as respectful, sensitive, and un-awkward as possible.
I messed up my visit to Auschwitz.
I’ve been looking forward to the visit ever since I decided to go to Krakow. I expected it to be a humbling, life changing experience, going at my own pace through the camp and showing as much respect to the murdered as possible. I knew during the high season summer months free entry is only allowed from 8am-10am and then again 3pm until closing. This is what my friends have done when they visited, so I was going to do the same.
I did some last minute research the night before, trying to figure out when the buses left for Oświęcim (the Polish name for the town; ‘Auschwitz’ was forced upon them by the Nazis), when I saw people commenting on forums about the reservation website.
Apparently in 2015, after my friends visited, the museum added an online reservation system. Even those going during the free hours must have a reservation. I understand why they have this system; it limits the number of people at the museum and makes things a bit more orderly. Still, this came as a surprise to me and threw a wrench in my plans. Sure, I could still show up at 8am and hope for the best, but that still wouldn’t guarantee me entry to Auschwitz I. (Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, is always free, but you are not allowed to enter any of the buildings in that camp.)
I didn’t come all this way to take a gamble with visiting Auschwitz (disclaimer: yeah I should’ve done my research ahead of time, but hindsight is 20/20), so I took the only option left. At the last minute I booked a tour with SeeKrakow for 120 zloty, about $32, which included pickup at my hostel. This included a guide for both camps. What was supposed to be a free day trip (bus transportation would’ve cost 30 zloty, or $8) suddenly got a lot more expensive.
I still could’ve shown up at 8am and hoped they would let me in, which is what two girls in my hostel did and it worked out for them. I just didn’t want to take the risk since it was my only day to visit.
Learn from my mistakes. I’m of course very grateful for the privilege that even allowed me to visit the camp, but I would’ve appreciated Auschwitz a lot more if I didn’t have to do a guided tour. After toying around with the reservation website, I suggest you reserve your place at least a month ahead, since that’s how long I would’ve had to wait for a ‘free visit’ reservation spot. The website says to do it even further in advance, so keep that in mind. Of course you don’t absolutely have to have a reservation like the girls in my hostel, but it’ll save you some peace of mind.