5 November 2009

Auschwitz [Day Two]

Day two started very early - 6:30am to be exact. The time difference made it worse - to us it felt like getting up at 5:30am. We were out the door by just after 7 - pretty good going for us. We made our way to the main bus station to find a bus headed for Oswiecim. We only had to wait about half an hour and we were on our way.

The 90 minute journey seemed to drag - maybe it was us fearing for our lives as the driver sped down side streets and jumped up curbs. Once we arrived at Auschwitz I, things got a little serious. The place seemed to be in monotone. Even the weather was dull and grey. It felt right to be taking pictures in black and white - but I almost didn't need to, the color seems to have been sucked out.

We decided not to take a tour and to just make our own way around. I am glad we did as we were in no rush and could just take our time to soak it all in. Auschwitz I was the original concentration camp and was the site of roughly 70,000 deaths. There were around 30 two or three story 'blocks' mostly used to house the prisoners. Most of these are closed to the public, but a few have displays showing the type of life the prisoners lived, how they were treated, and how they were killed.

It is a sobering experience reading about the insanely horrible things that happened at this place. It is truly gruesome. And to think that these things happened in our grandparents generation, not more than 70 years ago. Words cannot describe how this place makes you feel.

One of the displays really hit home with both of us, but especially Rochelle. In one building they had all the things they had collected from the camp. For example, they had a HUGE pile of reading glasses, hair brushes, tooth brushes, basic cooking utensils, and a whole room full of suitcases - all with names and addresses written on them. These were peoples whole lives. The one thing Rochelle couldn't even look at was the pile of children's shoes. Not a nice thought.

At around 12 we grabbed a bite to eat, then headed over to Auschwitz II (Birkenau). This camp lies about three kms down the road and was built to ease congestion at the main camp. The first thing you notice about this camp is the sheer size. The barbed wire fences seem to stretch for miles in every direction.

We headed to take a look at were the prisoners barracks. They used a design for a horse stable - designed to hold 50 horses, and used it to house 400 people. Most of the barracks were burnt out as the Nazis retreated, but their chimney stacks still remain. Again, the scale of the place just blows you away - the chimney stacks stretch out as far as you can see.

We then headed down to the back of the camp. What we found was almost enough to make you physically sick - the gas chambers and crematorium. There is not a lot left now - again the Nazis destroyed most of it, but you can still see the place where most of the 1.1 million people died during the holocaust. You can still see the entry to the gas chambers, and where the furnaces were. As you walk around, you slowly come to the realization that you are walking on hundreds of thousands of peoples ashes. Not something I will easily forget.

That bought our day at Auschwitz to an end. This post sounds extremely bleak so far, but I would not take it back. If you don't make it anywhere else in Krakow, Birkenau is a must for anyone visiting this part of the world.

It still being early afternoon, we decided to head back into town and check out some of the 'Old Town'. By the time we got back into town, mucked around, ate Gelato, the sun had set and it was starting to get COLD! (A quick aside, I dont think I have really mentioned the temperature yet - but trust me, its bloody cold!). But this did not detur us. We found Rynek Glowny - Krakow’s central Grand Square. The square is a huge 10 acres, the largest of all Europe’s medieval cities. There were lots of cool stalls selling some really amazing hand-made things.

We then had a bit of a wander through the old cobble-stone streets. We found a nice looking pub and had dinner and a pint before retiring to our hotel.

Tomorrow we had planned to visit the Wielczka Salt Mines, but have decided against it. We have found mixed reviews on the internet, plus its a bit of a hassel to get there, and we are quite pushed for time. Instead we are going to do the Krakow Cycle Tour. Should be good :) Then off to catch our overnight train to Budapest.

Next Post - 'Krakow'

1 comment:

  1. I really like this post. Sad, and like you said, sobering, but fascinating.


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