This is not a post which will entertain you. Our visit to this corner of Poland, on the whole, is not one you could describe as enjoyable. It was one which filled us with a sense of sadness bordering on despair. We ask the same question millions have asked over the years – How could any sane person have allowed the Holocaust to occur? How could intelligent, rational people not rise up and say “This is wrong”. I know that communications are different now than they were 70 years ago, that the Nazis resettled people from the immediate area of concentration and death camps (they are different) in order to commit their despicable acts away from prying eyes, that even those who may have suspected could never have imagined the scope of the killings. But still, how could the guards, the German officials and others involved not have rebelled at the inhumanity?
(As you read this, it may be you notice some adjectives or adverbs over-used. I apologize, but sometimes those are the only words which work.)
It is difficult to describe our time in Poland. On one hand we visited a lovely old Polish city, had some good food and a fantastic time at a fantastic restaurant. If you find yourself in Krakow, be sure to go to Pod Baranem on Gertrudy Street, renowned as the finest Polish restaurant in Krakow. We had lovely accommodation in a 400 year old apartment building and visited a lively, vibrant market with wonderful aromas, goods and beer.
On the other hand, we visited Oskar Schindler’s factory as well as Auschwitz-Birkenau. Strangely, it seemed to be the visit to the factory which evoked the most emotion. On reflection, for Terry and I it is perhaps because we had visited the killing fields of Cambodia which may have inured us to the horrors of Aushwitz-Birkenau. This is not to say that we weren’t moved or emotionally affected, but rather, either sadly or fortunately, we weren’t as affected as we might have otherwise been.
There aren’t a lot of words to describe the three memorials. Perhaps a few photos will convey a sense of the sadness and inhumanity.
First off, on Sunday afternoon we found the factory. These are taken from the displays there. It was overwhelming, to say the very least. They provide a minimal description of what happened in Krakow and elsewhere in Poland.
On Monday we travelled to Auschwitz-Birkenau by bus – 70 minutes in some comfort. I could not help but think of what that trip would have been like 73 years ago.
Quotes from senior Third Reich officials
As we all have learned over the years, the Nazis were incredibly organised and collected everything – and I mean everything. In Birkenau, there were huge warehouses which the inhabitants of the camp referred to as Canada I, II and III. They were call Canada because it was believed that not only was Canada was a land full of riches, it was a safe and welcoming country. These warehouses contained all of the riches and belongings taken from the prisoners.
When the Nazis built Birkenau as an addition to Auschwitz (a 10 minute bus ride away), they built 5 crematoriums which could accommodate the killing of 2000 people at a time. Zyklon-B reacts to heat, so the more people who could be forced into the chambers the faster it would work. Women, children and the infirm were forced in first, followed by “healthy” males, since they would be strong enough to push the others further in. Thousands suffocated even before the 20 minutes it took the gas to kill them.
We came away with many more stories, photos and information than this brief post. At one point during the tour of Auschwitz, I suddenly stopped taking pictures. I experienced an overwhelming sense that in taking the photographs, it was an affront to the dignity of those who had lost their lives to this evil. This was an experience none of us will ever forget.