Krakow Poland, Auschwitz-Birkenau
Finally I did it I made it to Poland to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. A bucket list trip to say the least. This is my story, my thoughts and opinions and nobody else's. I am warning you that some of the pictures are graphic and that the text is heavy.
We flew to Krakow Poland from Lyon, a quick 1.5 hour flight. We had an airport transfer arranged from our Airbnb site which was great, very affordable and definitely the way to travel by the way. Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River (Polish: Wisła), the city dates back to the 7th century.
Our Airbnb was amazing and on the hippest pedestrian street in Krakow, Florianska street. One street off the main square of the old town. Dating back to the 13th century and holds the record of being the largest medieval town squares in Europe. Loaded with churches, monuments, shops, restaurants, and buskers, very lively at all times of the day - perfect. We spent the day exploring the Main Market Square of Krakow and wow what a city we found ourselves in. We learned about all of the districts for which we would tackle after our tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Bright and early the next day a transfer picked us up and since Auschwitz-Birkenau is about an hour away they played a movie about the Holocaust. Not a peep was said during that bus ride.
We opted for a guided tour and we were glad we did - our guide was very knowledgeable as she took us through the barracks for which they have created museums from and then through the expansive grounds. The Auschwitz concentration camp is a large campus-like area with many blocks. The detail and planning for which they were built is methodical and rather impressive if I can use that term. Each block has a significance with some being more heinous than others. For example block 24, the first block you see when you enter the camp was the brothel. Introduced as an incentive for Kapos to collaborate, the story gets more and more disgusting as you read the history for which I will spare you.
Block 5 has been restored into an exhibit called Material Evidence of Crime. These rooms are filled with items collected by the Nazis from prisoners, a practice called "Plunder". The sheer amount of volume is overwhelming, shoes, suitcases, prosthetics/artificial limbs, glasses, clothing, religious items and so much more. The amount of hair collected leaves you speechless, hair braids still intact big and small. We were not able to take photos here but this site has a good representation. They would collect, sort and store these items in a barrack - a place they referred to as "Canada" since they revered Canada as a place of great wealth and prosperity.
Block 11 which is the block primarily used to torture prisoners. This block was very dark and in its rawest form therefore we took no photos, but trust me when I tell you that some of the torture devices and mechanism for which the Germans conducted their interrogations were so cruel and inhumane that it begs the question of how someone even came up with these punishments. One of them, a standing cell where four prisoners were made to stand for at least 10 days. Measuring approximately nine square feet, it was meant to be small enough to barely be able to turn. It was at Block 11 that the first attempts to kill people with Zyklon B were tested and then implemented.
Block 10 was the block where prisoners were subjected to medical experiments by teams of doctors including Dr. Josef Mengele. Infamous for his cruel, sadistic and relentless experiments mostly done on children. He had a particular interest in twins, dwarfs and those with physical deficiencies.
Between block 10 and 11 stood the execution wall where prisoners were led for execution. SS men shot several thousand people there—mostly Polish political prisoners and, above all, members of clandestine organizations. I could not take a picture here and even had difficulty looking at it. We were to have a moment of silence in front of it but not once could I look up. This picture shows the wall and two buildings adjacent. Can you imagine being a child in block 10 and hearing the screams of those begging from the last moments of their life and then subsequent shots being fired...
We also toured the gas chambers where the ovens still stand. This room where so many were lead under the pretense of a simple shower. You can see a square hole at the top of this large room where they would drop the Zyklon B gas. The walls still showing marks from those scratching, needless to say a very eerie room.
The walls seem to echo a deep sadness. I would often touch the walls, I felt as though someone struggling to live another day, another hour was would have touched these walls, they were with me. I suppose it was completely normal since I was walking on the biggest human cemetery. The Auschwitz camp was earily pretty, with large trees and plants blooming a midst the soil filled with ashes of those who died there.
We also walked past the roll call booth where prisoners would be counted everyday sometimes standing for hours with the worst of weather conditions while the SS would stay warm in the hut. Many executions were held there as well.
We traveled to Birkenau afterwards a quick 10 minute drive. While Auschwitz was no piece of cake Birkenau was where you went to die, never having had the chance to work or prove your worth to the Germans. This site spread over 170 acres was enormous and there we saw where those awaiting their deaths would sleep in 9 per bunker. made of wood and cement you can really grasp the scope of cruelty here. Dark, cold and primitive spaces where you wouldn’t even keep animals but so many slept there...
Birkenau held the largest crematorium but it was bombed and destroyed just as the war ended in an effort to conceal evidence of the genocide. The ruins are still present and hold a very dreary visual reminder of this time.
I am very grateful to have been able to experience this in person. This trip was like no other, I felt anger, disgust, and so much sadness but I am so glad to have gone. I will always remember the sadness I felt that day and the images of those innocent people who suffered will never leave me. While I post pictures I realize that they do not reflect the intensity and magnitude of the sorrow, grief and anguish that screams from those places but I hope this has encouraged you to learn more about the events of World War II and especially the Holocaust.
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