History of Auschwitz speaks for itself. Auschwitz is the location of the gravest crime and genocide in humanity’s history. Auschwitz-Birkenau is something we should strive to never forget. Many people from all over the world are willing to commemorate the memory of its victims. The best way to do it is in person. Seeing the camp with your own eyes is unlike anything else, and will leave a life-long impression on you. However, while the story of Auschwitz is known by many, its location is relatively obscure and easily mistaken. Don’t be ashamed of asking questions such as “where is Auschwitz located”. There is nothing wrong with that.
In fact, to help you, we decided to provide you with answers to the most common and tricky questions you might have about Auschwitz’s location. Read on if you want to know where it is, how to get there, and what are the best transport options available! Don’t worry – while many guides make you feel like you are getting lost before even starting, we will keep things simple.
Where is Auschwitz located?
In what country?
Auschwitz is located in southwestern Poland. The country is divided into regions called Voivodeships, and the one you are looking for is Lesser Poland. Lesser Poland’s seat city is Krakow, and other interesting places nearby include Wieliczka Salt Mine and Zakopane.
Despite being located in Poland, Auschwitz-Birkenau is NOT a polish concentration camp! It was entirely designed, built, and ran by Nazi Germany. Many people assume that because it was within Polish borders, it had to be Polish. Be smarter than that and correct people who say “polish concentration camp”. This is a common error, and you are doing a good thing helping fight it. Thank you!
How to get there?
There are multiple ways to reach Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Museum is located on the outskirts of Oświęcim.
You can arrive there via train. This is not a bad idea if you are starting your journey from one of the more distant Polish cities, such as Wrocław, Warsaw or Gdańsk. The Museum is located 2km from the train station. You can catch a bus, get a taxi, or take a walk to get there.
If you are starting your trip from Katowice or Krakow, there are better alternatives than a train.
Why would you start there? Because the two nearest airports (within 50km) are Krakow Balice Airport and Katowice Pyrzowice Airport. If you are coming over to visit Auschwitz, you will most likely land in one of these two. Most probably, it will be Krakow Balice.
Either way, you can reach the Museum via car or bus. The bus trip takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes. A car ride is twice as fast – you will reach Auschwitz in about an hour. Annoyingly, there also no direct bus lines from Balice Airport to Auschwitz.
While you can arrange the transport yourself, it can be annoying and tricky, especially figuring out the return trip. To help you, we prepared a detailed guide on how to get to Auschwitz from Krakow.
Which city is closest to Auschwitz?
The closest big cities are Krakow (50km from the city center) and Katowice (34km). Of the two, Krakow is the bigger and more important one. Often called the capital of Polish culture and tourism, Krakow is a wonderful city with a proud and long history. If you are planning to visit Auschwitz, you should strongly consider staying in Krakow. Not only due to convenience, but also because the city itself is worth exploring. There is way too much about the city to talk about it here. If you want to learn more, check out our Krakow Travel Blog.
Where is the best place to stay at when visiting Auschwitz?
Definitely Krakow. Krakow is close, and it has a powerful and thriving tourism infrastructure. This makes sense since Krakow is basically the most popular tourist destination in Poland. Thanks to this, you can rest easy and be sure that there will be a hotel in Krakow available for you. You can also expect people to understand English and other common foreign languages. Communication will take little effort, and you will avoid unnecessary tension or annoyance. Probably the best thing about choosing Krakow is that you can get a door-to-door transfer from your hotel or any other place in Krakow, such as the city center, to Auschwitz. This is a very common request, and MrShuttle will take you back directly to your hotel or any other place you choose in Krakow.
Is Auschwitz closed during COVID-19?
No, Auschwitz Museum is not closed! The Museum did everything it could to remain open. It experimented with new safety methods, pioneered a bunch of security solutions, and exercises the highest possible caution. While Auschwitz was indeed closed for a time, it has been reopened since 1st July. From 1st August and onwards, the opening hours have been extended. Here, you can learn everything there is to know about visiting Auschwitz during COVID-19. Don’t worry about missing anything – you will see everything you would see before the pandemic started.
Where is Auschwitz Birkenau Camp? Is Auschwitz II a different place?
Auschwitz-Birkenau itself is located on the edge of Oświęcim city. In fact, “Auschwitz” is the German name for Oświęcim. Rudolf Höss, the founding commander of the concentration camps, choose the names for them very pragmatically. They are German names for nearby Polish towns: Auschwitz is Oświęcim, and Birkenau is Brzezinka.
Auschwitz II is a different name for Auschwitz-Birkenau. Originally, it was supposed to be “just” a second, supplementary branch of Auschwitz. A small addition and so-called waiting room. Because it was supposed to be just a small side project and an expansion, it was initially considered to be a small extension of Auschwitz. Hence, Auschwitz II. However, the project expanded its starting scope, and this tiny addition became massive. In the end, it not only eclipsed “main” Auschwitz but became the biggest death camp in the history of the world. The person responsible for the executive decision to expand Auschwitz into Birkenau was Heinrich Himmler, who personally visited the camp on the fateful day of 1st March 1941.
Heinrich Himmler was the main architect of the Holocaust, and Auschwitz-Birkenau was his most vile and greatest crime.
If you wonder why Auschwitz was chosen out of all possible places, consider this picture.
Have you noticed it? Auschwitz is located in the center of Europe. Because of this, the Nazis decided that it was the most efficient place to concentrate their victims. You could reach it by train from all of Europe easily.
Why people didn’t do anything about Auschwitz when it was still running?
Remember that Nazi Germany hid their crimes behind a smokescreen of perfect propaganda. Very few German citizens knew about the horrible crimes their government committed. The existence of death camps was hidden and only became public knowledge after the war, and it was deeply shocking to everybody in the world.
Do birds fly over Auschwitz?
Do the birds sing at Auschwitz?
You might have heard that “birds do not sing at Auschwitz”. And while it might sound irrational and impossible, it is indeed true. Even now, nearly 80 years after the Holocaust genocide, it is extremely rare to hear the birds sing there. The crimes that have been committed there have scarred the nature itself. The miasma of death still hangs in the air. And if humans can feel and perceive this, animals can too. They are scared of the camp and avoid it if they can.
Some people think that people blow this out of proportion, but the honest truth? The atmosphere of Auschwitz-Birkenau is not something you can capture with words. The heavy, deathly gravity of the death factory escapes any metaphor, any description. Nothing will prepare you for what you will feel once you go there. No matter how much you think you are ready, how much you did read about it, it will always shook you deep down to the core.
Once you leave it, you will understand why birds do not sing at Auschwitz, and why it feels like the most silent, saddest place on Earth.
Be aware – Auschwitz Birkenau will leave you emotionally drained and hollow. This is not a happy, exciting adventure. However, it is something anybody should experience in their life at least once. In the end, you will not regret coming here. It might sound contradictory, but this is the truth. Once you see it yourself you will understand.
What is the best way to see Auschwitz?
While nothing can prepare you for Auschwitz, you still should be aware of the historical context. Because of this, we deeply recommend reading up on Auschwitz beforehand. This is why during the transfer for our own Auschwitz Birkenau Tour, we offer you a chance to watch a documentary. We sincerely believe that you also should experience the camp with a good guide. Guides will explain what you see, and answer any of your questions. Don’t be shy to ask. There will be many things that you will not understand. Auschwitz Birkenau was a sick crime designed by twisted and horrible minds. Things won’t make sense. You will be stunned by the cruelty and horror of this place. Don’t feel embarrassed if your emotions start overcoming you. It is okay to cry.
For practical advice on how to set up your trip, we prepared this guide on how to get to Auschwitz from Krakow in 2020.