Literally 24 hours in Krakow, Poland. We didn't come here for shits and giggles. We came here with a purpose: to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp.
Last night was the first time I ever slept in a sleeper car on a train. How cool is that? I had the room to myself and went to bed early, listening to Mumford & Sons before sleeping. It was pretty relaxing and I slept pretty well minus being incredibly hot.
We got into Krakow, Poland at 7:30am and went to our hostel. We weren't able to check-in or anything, so we left our luggage, found food, and did some minor sightseeing around the city prior to our tour pick-up. Krakow is a beautiful city in the morning. It's a shame we don't get to see more of it.
Our driver picked us up at 9:15am to drive us out to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It's about 45 minutes away from Krakow and the drive was through Polish countryside. It was a beautiful drive, but there was a slight chill about where we were going. We were dropped off at Auschwitz I, the smaller of the two camps, and awaited our guided tour to begin. I had never been on a tour in which we wear headphones to listen to our guide, but it made the experience much easier to gain information and take pictures.
We began by walking through the infamous gate of Auschwitz: 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Work Makes Free). At Sachsenhausen and Dachau, their entrance gates contained this similar phrase. However, Auschwitz's was much larger and much more eerie. It gave me the odd feeling I was entering some twisted amusement park that was going to steal my soul -- and in a way, it did for the prisoners.
Our tour visited some of the small museums and exhibits on the Auschwitz grounds, some of them creepier and sadder than others. As a Concentration Camp Enthusiast (as horrible as that sounds), I had seen a good portion of the exhibits at either other concentration camps or the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C..Yet, it never stops to be striking and poignant. For example, one exhibit at Auschwitz contained a good portion of suitcases people had brought with them. Prisoners were convinced by Nazis that they were being taken to a better place, to Canada (why Canada, I'll never know). They packed all of their personal belongings and took them on the trains. When they arrived, these things were taken from them and put in storage, known as 'The So-Called Canada'. Their suitcases were kept as well and are currently on display at Auschwitz. The worst rooms were the rooms with the shoes -- as they filled nearly and entire room -- and the room with the hair. Prisoners had their heads shaved and the Nazis kept the hair to be made into cheap fabric.
While much of Auschwitz I was similar to much of the Holocaust stuff I had seen previously, one of the biggest differences was the way the Nazis tortured the prisoners. They were kept in pitch black rooms until they suffocated. Four people were held in a 3x3ft cell where they could only stand. (And we noticed that they had to crawl to get in.) People were eventually taken out to the yard and shot, two by two. Auschwitz was known for how much it tortured its prisoners, but the worst was not over
The second half of our tour led us to Auschwitz II, or Birkenau. This is the most famous concentration camp. You've seen the entrance in pictures. It's bleak, desolate, and utterly terrifying. A fog lingers over the camp. It's chilling to be there, knowing this was the worst of the worst. Thousands of people were kept at Birkenau. Thousands of people died at Birkenau. Now, all that's left is ruins. What used to be bunks are now a forest of chimneys. The four crematoriums were demolished and a monument was placed between Crematoriums II and III, warning the human race of the atrocities that happened there and to not let it happen again.
As our tour guide was finishing up our tour, the sun came out from behind the clouds. It was disgustingly poetic.
I will always have a fascination with Concentration Camps, and I'm glad we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Going to a Concentration Camp site is a humbling experience and lets you reflect on the freedoms and the joy we're allowed to have now. For some of our ancestors weren't so lucky.
After returning to Krakow, Gabby and I took a short nap, then went out to the Christmas Market. It was quite quaint. We had delicious pierogis for dinner and I'm vowing to learn to make them. Of course there was shopping involved. I was shopping specifically for my Aunt Theresa. She's 100% Polish, and last April, her family's house caught fire and they lost nearly everything either to flames or dousing water. I figured she'd love some Polish things to help redecorate her house.
Gabby and I went to bed early to make sure we caught our 8:45am flight to Munich. It was a long, emotionally tiring day, but definitely worthwhile.