Our Time In Poland

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.
University


Lodz Poles

Sign 2

Sign 1

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.

This memorial contains the ashes of some of the victims.

This memorial contains the ashes of some of the victims.

Quotes from senior Third Reich officials

Rid the Nation Total ExterminationAs 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.

Suitcases with the addresses of where the owner thought he or she was going.

Suitcases with the addresses of where the owner thought he or she was going.

Thousands upon thousands of shoes

Thousands upon thousands of shoes

The pots and pans the Jewish people had taken with them, thinking they were being resettled to another town.

Some of the pots and pans the Jewish people had taken with them, thinking they were being resettled to another town.

Prosthetics taken from the infirm after they had been killed in the gas chambers

Prosthetics taken from the infirm after they had been killed in the gas chambers

Brush of every description

Brushes of every description

Cans of creams and shoe polish

Cans of creams and shoe polish

Believing they would stile allowed to practice their religion, many took their prayer shawls with them

Believing they would still be allowed to practice their religion, many took their prayer shawls with them

A canister of Zyklon-B

A canister of Zyklon-B – previously used as a rat poison.

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.

The ruins of Crematorium #2

The ruins of Crematorium #2. When the Russians were advancing in the last days of the war, the Nazis attempted to destroy all evidence of their atrocities. Within two weeks of the end of the war, the Polish government recognised the need to keep the camps intact as much as possible.

One of the cattle cars used to transport people to Birkenau

One of the original cattle cars used to transport people to Birkenau

Looking back from inside the camp to the entrance to Birkenau. At this point people were taken from the cattle cars and put through the selection process

Looking back from inside the camp to the entrance to Birkenau. At this point people were taken from the cattle cars and put through the selection process

The gallon where Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was hanged. I don't understand why he wasn't put in a gas chamber to suffer the same death he caused over 1,130,000 people to suffer

The gallows where Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was hanged. I don’t understand why he wasn’t put in a gas chamber to suffer the same death he caused over 1,130,000 people to suffer

The memorial to the people who were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau

The memorial to the people who were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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.

2 thoughts on “Our Time In Poland

  1. Lynne Cregg-Guinan

    I can totally understand Geoff. We went to the Holocaust museum in Budapest and I couldn’t stop crying afterwards for days. It’s horrendous but more so because thus genocide is still happening around the world as we speak. There are no words.

    Reply
  2. Lois & Robert Marsden

    We went through the Jewish museum in Berlin where there was obviously photos and stories of the Holocaust…One section put us in a concrete high room with a small window in the ceiling..an image of hope and light in the middle of isolation and imprisonment. It was very moving. my uncle was a POW in Stalag 13 (Great Escape) and he rarely talked about the conditions and treatment but he did a bit with me…the first born in the family. Again…they kept, like many of the Jews, quiet about the ordeals and suffering. Thanks for sharing. I am not surprised at your feelings.

    Reply

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