From the World Heritage inscription:
Auschwitz-Birkenau was the principal and most notorious of the six concentration and extermination camps established by Nazi Germany to implement its Final Solution policy which had as its aim the mass murder of the Jewish people in Europe. Built in Poland under Nazi German occupation initially as a concentration camp for Poles and later for Soviet prisoners of war, it soon became a prison for a number of other nationalities. Between the years 1942-1944 it became the main mass extermination camp where Jews were tortured and killed for their so-called racial origins. In addition to the mass murder of well over a million Jewish men, women and children, and tens of thousands of Polish victims, Auschwitz also served as a camp for the racial murder of thousands of Roma and Sinti and prisoners of several European nationalities.
The Nazi policy of spoliation, degradation and extermination of the Jews was rooted in a racist and anti-Semitic ideology propagated by the Third Reich.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest of the concentration camp complexes created by the Nazi German regime and was the one which combined extermination with forced labour. At the centre of a huge landscape of human exploitation and suffering, the remains of the two camps of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, as well as its Protective Zone were placed on the World Heritage List as evidence of this inhumane, cruel and methodical effort to deny human dignity to groups considered inferior, leading to their systematic murder. The camps are a vivid testimony to the murderous nature of the anti-Semitic and racist Nazi policy that brought about the annihilation of more than 1.2 million people in the crematoria, 90% of whom were Jews.
When we celebrate the collective heritage of the human race, most of what we preserve and wish to preserve are ennobling and uplifting things. Things which are reminders of the stepping stones which made up the people we are today.
Unfortunately, history does not always follow an upward trajectory. Auschwitz Birkenau is one of a small number of world heritage sites which remembers the worst parts of our history. Along with Hiroshima, Grand Pre, and Masada, Auschwitz is probably the most poignant reminder of how low humanity can stoop.
Auschwitz isn’t a “great” site in the sense that it is a world wonder on a par with the pyramids or the Great Wall of China, but it is probably just as important and significant.
If you have the opportunity, you should take the time to visit Auschwitz. It isn’t a pleasant experience, but something which everyone should experience at least once.
View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.