Auschwitz Sees Jump in Number of Visitors, Urges Reservations

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People stand in front of a gate with the words "Arbeit macht frei," meaning "work sets you free," at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in Oswiecim on October 19, 2012. Kacper Pempel/Reuters

The number of visitors to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum has grown to such an extent that it may soon have to turn people away who haven't booked their trip in advance. During the first three months of this year, more than 250,000 people have visited the former concentration and extermination camp, representing an increase of more than 40 percent over the same time last year.

January 27 of this year marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Many say this accounts for some of the increase during a time of year that is usually less busy than the summer months, according to the museum.

"We already see that on particular hours, long waiting may be necessary in order to enter the former camp," Andrzej Kacorzyk, deputy director of the museum, is quoted as saying in a press release Wednesday. "If the attendance continues to grow in such a dynamic way in the months to follow, it may result in the fact that not all persons willing to enter the former camp and learn about the history of Auschwitz in its authentic space will be able to do it."

Since the former Auschwitz I camp can admit only a certain number of visitors per hour for safety reasons and demand has been high, the site was created in December. "An online reservation is the only guarantee of entering the museum on the date and time of your choice," the museum says.

The museum reported record attendance in 2014, with 1,534,000 visitors, more than triple the number that visited in 2001 (492,500). Over the past several years, the site has reported new records frequently, often seeing one surpassed by another the following year. The number of visitors in 2010, for example, reached a new high (1.38 million) that exceeded the record set in 2009 (1.3 million). Save for 2013, each year since 2009 has seen a new record.

Nearly 400,000 visitors came from within Poland in 2014, putting it at the top of the list of visitors by country. The U.K. came in second, with roughly half that number. The U.S., Italy, Germany and Israel followed, with tens of thousands from each country visiting the museum last year. According to the report, about 70 percent of the total visitors were "young people," and "over the course of the year, several hundred journalists and 180 professional film crews from over 30 countries worked at the memorial."

Auschwitz I—the original camp with brick barracks in which the museum is housed—contains iconic cases with piles of belongings and human hair collected from new arrivals as part of the main exhibition. It also hosts a dozen national exhibitions—created by countries whose citizens (or would-be citizens in the case of Israel) died in Auschwitz—including those installed by Poland, Russia, France and the Netherlands, as well as the recently updated exhibition from Israel's Yad Vashem Institute in Block 27. The sprawling Auschwitz II-Birkenau—the second of three total camps in the Auschwitz complex that the Nazis built to hold a growing number of prisoners—became the site of four gas chambers and crematoria.

The entrances of both—a gate reading "Arbeit macht frei" and the railways with an arched brick structure sitting above them—are images that have become widely recognized symbols of the Holocaust. Both camps are open to visitors as part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

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A view of the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau is pictured in Brzezinka near Oswiecim on December 10, 2014. Kacper Pempel/Reuters

News of the high number of visitors during the first quarter of 2015 comes soon after the museum announced financing from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Poland to create a new main exhibition, which it will continue to work toward for the next 11 years. The increase in visitors also comes in the midst of a high-profile trial of Oskar Groening, who was charged in September with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder for his work as a bookkeeper at Auschwitz.