Auschwitz II – Birkenau

This is the camp that is now better known as 'Auschwitz'. It was here that over one million people, mostly Jews, Roma and Sinti were murdered.

Located in Birkenau, this camp is three kilometers from Auschwitz I, and its construction was started in 1941. Its area was divided into several sections, each of which was separated into fields. These were fenced with electrified barbed wire on the periphery. It could hold 100,000 prisoners at a time.

Its main purpose was extermination and not slave labor, as with the other two. It had four crematoria with gas chambers and each of these could hold 2500 people at a time.

Prisoners arrived by rail, the track extending right into the camp. After a horrifying journey, they were often subjected to a selection procedure, where they were divided into categories of those to be killed immediately, those to be used for medical experiments and those to be used as forced labor. Children were separated from their mothers to be gassed along with the old, weak and sick. At other times, the whole transport of prisoners was sent to its death immediately.

A section known as 'Canada' (the Germans believed that Canada was a land of riches) was reserved for storing and sorting of the inmates belongings, to be later shipped to Reichsbank.

While Birkenau does not have as many exhibits as Auschwitz I, its sheer size and solitude, make for an extremely disturbing experience. The vast killing fields can be viewed from the SS watchtower. Most tourists tend to skip Birkenau. This is a mistake, as it the larger of the two camps and represents the Holocaust at its worst, darkest, most horrifying depths.

Tourists have the option of taking reasonably priced organized bus tours to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. These include transport, a film on the camps in the bus and guides at the camps. However, keep in mind that you will get to see only about 60% of the museum this way as the guides need to take the next tour. Auschwitz II - Birkenau (ten times bigger that the first camp) is usually rushed through. However, if time is short, this tour will prove informative enough.