I am far behind...Krakow & Auschwitz

I haven't blogged in about a week and out here on the road a lot happens in a week. The internet has been a little hard to come by, and what I really mean is super expensive. So in the last week, I have been to Krakow, Auschwitz, Vienna, Venice and currently find myself in Florence for a night.

Krakow, Poland seems like a different country from Warsaw. I kept having to remind myself that I was still in Poland. The architecture and the entire vibe are just two things that make the cities so different. Warsaw is more soviet while Krakow is charming, and castle-like with a little bit of a bohemian vibe. I didn't get to do as much in Krakow as I had hopped but I did meet some really fantastic people who I saw some live music with. I also made it to their castle and had a fantastic walk through the fog in the evening.

My main reason for stopping in Krakow was so that I could visit Auschwitz. There really aren't any words to describe a place with such a reputation and history and it is also one of the reasons I haven't been writing much lately. It takes so much out of you to just enter the camp, never mind go to the exhibits and watch the video. There is such a feeling of negative anticipation before you arrive. I went to Auschwitz I first and then on to Birkenau. You take a train from Krakow to the town of Oswiecim (there are a couple of accents and curly Q's on the letters, but this keyboard doesn't have them). When you arrive at the train station, there is a sign for which buses to take, but no one speaks English so you have no idea what stop to get off. I just picked up the polish word for museum and asked the driver, or more likely I made it up. I got off the bus and just started walking, I finally saw a sign for it, and was able to get in. I paid for an English tour and was told to wait for the video, after the horrific video, we were told to wait another 45 min for the tour. At that point I had already been there for two hours and decided that I couldn't hang around any more and wait for the tour to happen. It was probably a mistake to do that, but it was hard to just wait around there.

I toured Auschwitz reading all of the well documented signs. Each former barrack had an exhibit in it, one for each type of people killed in the camp. Everyone from political prisoners from all countries to the mass amounts of Jews killed. The Jewish museum/barrack was terrifying. It was set up to make you feel claustrophobic and like there was no way out. At first I was going through slowly and reading everything and then by the time I reached fourth dark hallway/staircase, I was looking frantically for an exit. After walking through the gas chambers and an area where they had a quasi crematorium I headed to the shuttle for Birkenau.

Birkenau is only about a mile or two away. You get off the bus and it immediately feels different than Auschwitz I, plus by the time I got there a deep fog had set in adding to the already eerie feeling. Birkenau is enormous, you really just can't get over the sheer size of the place. There are a lot more ruins there and the feeling of mass amounts of death creeps into your psyche immediately. The majority of prisoners at Birkenau were sent straight to the gas chambers. They came in on a train through the main entrance of the camp, where the tracks still stand. They got off the trains and marched down long roads to the chambers. On each side of the main road, where the tracks are, there are ruins of barracks, mostly just chimneys. For as far as you could see into the fog, there were chimneys. Some barracks here had been reconstructed as well, but a few were somewhat original, with one housing an original drawing on the ceiling from when the camp was actually open. It was closed for conservation but I tried to look in the window to see it and got the overwhelming sensation that I was about to see something. I'm not one for the paranormal, but I felt like I couldn't look in any more windows after that one. After that I crossed the tracks and walked down one of the roads that people had been marched down to the gas chambers. I hadn't intended to walk down the whole way, but by the time I got half way down I was too far to go back. The end was quite foggy, and original barb wire encased the road on both sides, making you feel trapped. I finally got to the end after much emotional labor, and found that the gate was open. It wasn't until I was on the other side of the gate that I realized that I had walked almost clear out of the camp. It was unbelievable. I tried to get in the next gate because I didn't want to walk back down the road I had come in on, but it was chained shut. Finally I found one that wasn't and ended up walking back to the other end, at which time I realized that the road just ended in a field surrounded by barbed wire and did not have a gate like the other road. I found myself amongst the chimneys. After searching around for a bit I found a place where the two barbed wire fences were not connected and shimmed through, very happy to back in the more heavily trafficked area of the camp. I was happy to be done with that little journey. I had some time before the shuttle back and went to the remains of one crematorium and gas chamber. The Nazis had destroyed them with dynamite at the end of the war in an effort to conceal what they had been doing. Some of the brick rubble is still in tact forming a roof, but other parts are just piles of bricks. There is a huge monument right at the end of the train tracks and flanked on either side by these brick rubble piles. It was a moving and disturbing day to say the least and I still haven't been able to really look at the pictures I took. But with that said, I am glad I made it there and was able to see how horrible a time it was in history and the inhumanity that can run rampant through hate.