We were up bright and early on Thursday morning to catch a train from Warsaw to Krakow. It was sort of like in the old movies – or ‘Harry Potter’ – where everyone sits in their individual carriages along the train. The three hour trip was scenic in parts, and went by fairly quickly.
We arrived in Krakow and hired a car to drive to Auschwitz. Fortunately, we had a GPS. Unfortunately, it spoke to us in Polish and we couldn’t figure out how to change it. So about the only phrase I can confidently say in Polish is ‘radar ahead’ or something to that effect.
Visiting Auschwitz wasn’t on our original itinerary, but I suggested that we go. I don’t expect I’ll be in Poland more than once in my life, and I felt it was a place I needed to see. Together with a small group, we went on a three and a half hour tour with an exceptional guide. We walked around the grounds of the camp, and saw one of the gas chambers that hadn’t been destroyed. In a number of the blocks there are various exhibits, including the famous – or infamous – pile of shoes of those who perished in the gas chambers. Other belongings of the prisoners have been collected and are displayed, along with a variety of photos, testimonies, and so forth. One of the blocks remains in its original condition. Although we could see where the prisoners lived, I am sure I could not possibly imagine the conditions they were forced to endure.
Our guide tactfully dispensed information and every turn. The second part of the tour was at Auschwitz II – Birkenau. There, the images engrained in my mind from holocaust movies came to life. The train track, the electric fences, the endless rows of barracks. Perhaps the camp looked the way I had expected, but it did not fail to shake me to my core.
It was an incredibly intense afternoon, certainly a worthwhile detour on our trip. As many traumatic things as I saw, and as much alarming information as I was fed, I still cannot begin to imagine what it would have been like for those who were there. Throughout the trip my Mum kept saying, ‘I’m looking forward to reading your blog, to seeing how you will describe these experiences.’ But in this case, I really can’t put it into words. Being there, you just feel it.
After visiting the memorials and monuments, the tour was over. We were still close to speechless when we began the drive to Czestochowa. But that’s the next post.