The Importance of Historical Preservation Throughout Poland

The two sites we visited in Poland, Auschwitz-Birkenau and The Krakow Museum, illustrated the devastation World War II inflicted on the country. It’s impossible to describe the emotional toll of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. Every step through the grounds weighs on you. While walking through the gas chambers and crematorium, anything but silence seems disrespectful as those four gray walls signified death for tens of thousands. The uncommon silence among my colleagues on the ten-minute bus ride between the camps showed that everyone felt the gravity of this site. One reason Auschwitz-Birkenau evokes such strong emotions is its historical preservation. With many original buildings still standing at Auschwitz I, the purpose of its construction remains evident. The high electrical fences, public gallows, and the infamous Block 11 death wall cement the reality of the Holocaust, which no class discussion ever truly does. After visiting the camp, I understood why successful-escape stories were rare. To give context to the camp’s powerful physical presence, a guided tour detailed all members of society, such as Poles, Roma, and homosexuals condemned to life – death — in the camp and emphasized the importance of preserving important historical sites for their memory. 

Walking into Auschwitz I


The Krakow Museum, which is situated within the old workplace of Oskar Schindler, presented information regarding the war’s effect on the city of Krakow. The museum occupied the building of a former government office, a space never intended to house grand historical exhibits, but I felt as if this element added to the museum’s effectiveness. The narrow hallways and intricately designed displays force the viewer to travel through the stages of the war. I genuinely enjoyed the layout of the site, but its emphasis on Krakow’s war experience limits its applicability to the entirety of Poland. The exhibits highlight the mistreatment of Krakow’s Poles and Jews, but there is no reflection on the anti-semitism prevalent throughout the country’s history. Although the museum provides an engaging account of the war in Krakow, it runs the risk of over-generalizing information about Krakow for less informed visitors, who might be led to assume that all Poles experienced a similar war.  

Cross found in the wreckage in Krakow