Monday, 17 November 2008

Krakow Part 3...

Thursday arrived and we were up and down for breakfast for 7.30 as the minibus was picking us up at 8.20 a.m. for our visit to Oswiecim better know to the world under its German name of Auschwitz. We had to pick up others on the way but the actual 75 kilometre trip took about an hour and a half.  There were 16 people on our minibus and when we arrived we combined with people from another minibus and waited for our guide. We then collected a pair of earphones and a receiver each so that we could listen to his tour notes as we walked around and made our way to the infamous gate which states ‘Arbeit Macht Frei' - Work brings freedom.

There is nothing I can tell you about Auschwitz and Berkenhau that you can’t find by searching the web, so I am not even going to try, but I will tell you that whatever you read the reality is a million times worse. We all cried many times during the tour. Feelings of despair at the reality of what happened were foremost in our minds, there were many school groups being taken round and I truly believe that the Holocaust should be part of every school curriculum in every country in the world so that what happened is never forgotten.

We visited Auschwitz/Berkenhau not out of any morbid curiosity, but to pay our respects to the millions who lost their lives in those God forsaken places. We were allowed to take photographs outside, which we did and I have put up a slide show at the end of this post so you can get an idea of the size of both Auschwitz and Birkenhau and better understand how the victims of the two camps lived.  It was forbidden to take photographs inside the buildings and to be honest you wouldn't want to out of respect for the people who's belongings were exhibited there.   It was a pity that some of the other ‘tourists’ did not give the respect due, the ones who insisted on taking photographs of the exhibits, such as the room full of human hair taken from the people who had been killed, despite the signs saying no photographs inside and the guides repeatedly telling them to put their cameras away. There was a man with an American accent in our group, who appeared to be with his elderly mother, who had filmed every building we went in and been told numerous times not to film.  He was behind us filming the walk into the gas chamber and crematorium and I was so incensed that 'Mrs Gobby' reared her head and I told him to put his camera away and show some respect.  He did stop filming but deliberately sought me out after the tour and asked me

“Sprechen Sie Deutsch’ to which I replied
“No, I’m English” his retort to this was
“Well you can thank us lady!”

I couldn’t make my mind up whether he was American and taking credit for American forces liberating Auschwitz, which isn’t true, or whether he was German and telling me to thank his nation for the atrocities that were committed there. Either way he was a tosser, which I informed him of as he disappeared into the crowd as he scurried away before MWM and our friends returned from the toilet.

We returned to the minibus to be taken the 10 minute drive to Birkenhau which is even more desolate than Auschwitz. There was quite a wind blowing as we stood in the open area between the two camps (male and female) though the day was warm the wind did blow straight through you. Our guide pointed out that in winter it is often 20 degrees below and to be standing there dressed only in striped pyjamas without the benefit of good health one could barely imagine what it was like.

We could not see the boundaries of Birkenhau it is so huge.   The four crematorium were destroyed by the Nazis before the camp was liberated as were the 'CANADA' buildings.   The 'CANADA' buildings were so called because Canada was known as the land of plenty and these buildings were where all the possessions of the prisoners were stored to be recycled.

It is said that there is no birdsong at Auschwitz and Birkenhau – I can tell you this is true.

If you hover you cursor over the photographs you will see the description.


We left Birkenhau to return to Krakow where we had just enough time to have a drink and a toastie before we had to go to meet our minibus at 15.55 p.m. to take us to the Salt Mines.

Light was fading as we climbed aboard the minibus for The Wieliczka Salt Mine. It is only a 20 minute drive but the traffic was building – it always seem to be rush hour in Krakow no matter what time of the day – so it actually took us thirty minutes to get there.

We were told before we went in that there were 380 steps to climb down but a lift would bring us back up. What they didn’t tell us was those steps just took us down to level one 65 metres below ground, then there were a lot more steps in the two kilometres of tunnel to take us down to level three at 135 metres. There are seven levels to the still working mine but tourists only go down to level three, which is enough believe me because by the time you get down there your legs are like jelly because of all the steps!

The temperature in the mine is a constant is a truly wonderful sight to behold there are numerous chapels all carved out of the salt such as St Anthony’s Chapel created in the 17th Century and at level three there is a 23,000 cubic metre masterpiece the Chapel of St Kinga which was created by three men, taking them 68 years to complete. There are underground lakes in the mine and a theatre and a restaurant on level three also.

The tour of the mine takes about three hours and it was 8.30 p.m. before we got back to the centre of Krakow – just in time to go to our favourite Polish restaurant to sample more of their delicious food, down a few Polish beers and head off back to the hotel to crawl into bed exhausted.

Krakow Part 4 coming soon.


Elaine Denning said...

I can't imagine anything other than the tears falling, Ak. It must have been so moving to see and to feel that horiffic place. As for that American/German/Tosser...words escape me.

Unknown said...

What a remarkable journey! I have just caught up on reading and have read the first 3 parts and I thank you for sharing!

buffalodick said...

People wonder why Israel is so hawkish.. it's because they will never go to those places like sheep to slaughter ever again!

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

don't know if i could have seen it myself. and i agree with the above comment, they will never go there again!

hugs, bee

aims said...

I sat reading this post with my hand over my mouth - eyes wide with horror and sadness.

I was shocked to read that they had a building that related to my country. I still don't understand it and almost feel angry about it. I don't really know.

As for that idiot. Oh Grrrrrrrrrrrr! I'd have loved to have knocked his camcorder to the ground 'by accident'. A**hole!

What I couldn't help noticing were the houses that surrounded the area. I can't imagine living close to that! I just can't.

The salt mine was absolutely beautiful. What a lovely way to bring some beauty back and help wash away some of the previous horror.

Thanks for sharing this with us. It's important to never forget.
Buffalodick says plenty in very few words.

Queenie said...

No matter where you go, there is always a ass hole just asking for it. Proud of you darling....
Great photos....

Dumdad said...

Chilling. But we must not forget and it is good that generation after generation is shown the full atrocity.

storyteller said...

Your post reminds me of how I cried watching Schindler’s List … what a remarkable reminder for each of us. May we never forget. Thanks for sharing!

I stopped in early this morning to let you know you've been 'tagged' ... so drop by Small Reflections (when time permits) for details ;--)
Hugs and blessings,

Dianne said...

what a powerful experience that was! thank you for sharing it.

Akelamalu said...

Only the most cold-hearted could see Auschwitz and Berkenhau and not be moved to tears Laney, even talking about what we saw makes us cry. :(

I'm happy to share our experience with you Nick.

I sincerely hope no race, colour or creed are led to the slaughter again Buff :(

It's not for the fainthearted Bee there were moments when I was sorry I'd gone, but it just wouldn't have been right to walk away. :(

Aims I'm sorry maybe I didn't make it clear - the CANADA building was so called by the inmates of Berkenhau, because they had nothing and the building they called CANADA held everything! Also all the villagers were moved out of Oswiecim (Auschwitz) so there was no-one living there when the atrocities happened. Although outside the exclusion zone (several kilometres around the camp) the people could smell the crematoria.

You know me Queenie, never could keep my mouth shut where a***oles are concerned!

Quite right Dumdad, my sentiments entirely.

Having seen Schindler's List it was a very poignant moment for us sitting outside the actual factory Storyteller. I'll stop by later to take a look at the tag.

CG said...

Good on you Mrs Gobby. And a very moving post!!

Jeff B said...

The only thing I can liken that experience to was being at Arlington Nation Cemetery and seeing row after row of white tombstones. Very different reasons I know, but the tears flowed just the same.

Real Live Lesbian said...

It's amazing how those places just "feel" different. I've not been to Germany, but Normandy Beach felt so heavy with sadness to me.

Thanks for taking us along on your journey.

Akelamalu said...

It was very powerful indeed Dianne, but I have only shared a little of it. :(

I'm afraid I have always been outspoken CG but it had to be said.

I can understand that Jeff. We visited the cemetary at Kanchanaburi, in Thailand, where the victims of the Burma Railway are buried and we cried too.

The desperation and sadness just ooze through all places where many have lost their lives RLL don't you think?

cheshire wife said...

Auschwitz looks as grim as the salt mine looks amazing.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite sure I'd cry like a baby. But that's as it should be, I suppose.

Anndi said...


There are idiots who just have absolutely no concept of decency.

I don't know if I'd be able to walk through, so thank you for sharing with us my dear.

Catch said...

very nice pics Akela....such a sad place, Im sure many cried during the tour. Im proud of ya for standing up to the rude guy who took pics....what a total idiot he was!!!

Mimi Lenox said...

I don't think I could go there and see it for myself. I can't believe the audacity of that man. But good for you!

I read Corrie Ten Boon's books when I was a teenager and it really does change your prospective. Elie Wiesel is also my favorite author...His book, "Night" about his family's experience in the camps changed my perspective yet again. Every child in school should be required to read it.

Thank you for sharing what must have been a terribly difficult day. God rest their souls.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

I'm just catching up to your trip to Poland. Wow.

First of all, thanks for sharing that picture of your trough. My husband would go mad for one of those!

The buildings are really lovely. The architecture really draws me in. Love all the stone, and the swirled facades.

And now your trip to the two camps. Thanks for sharing all these pictures with us, Akelamalu - even through these, I can feel the sadness, the deep despair. The picture of the Israelis entering as visitors reached into my heart and squeezed hard. The lettering over the gate is just chilling. The block where people were shot, so heavy with dread and violence. I would find it impossible not to weep.

Linda said...

I'm not at all sure how well I could handle a visit to these places - probably not very well as I'm sure that the negative energy is simply overwhelming all these years later. What an incredibly sad, sad place and it still just stuns me that people could be so ruthless and cruel to each other. I will never understand how people went along with the sort of atrocities that went on at those two camps. Never.

As for the salt mines, couldn't do that either as I have claustrophobia pretty bad! I'll just be glad to share the experience with you!

Dr.John said...

I wish everyone could see the camps and hear the story. They could learn what hate and prejudice can lead people to do.
Thank you so much for sharing your trip and your time with us.

Lo Kelween said...

i realized that their language is very confusing! I just find it hard to pronoun! I bet you must be an expert in the language! :)

Ron said...

Holy Cow, Akelamalu....

I sat here with chills, as I watched your slide show of the camps. And I think the photos of the train tracks were the ones that affected me the most, because I know that they were the means in which these people were transported there, and I can only imagine what they felt like on that journey.

One day I would like to visit there, such as you did. I know that it wouldn't be an easy thing to see, but just the same...I would experience it.

And being someone such as myself, who shares Reiki...I KNOW that you must have FELT alot in the way of energy.


Thank you so much for sharing this experience with us, dear lady.

It's good to be reminded.

Oh....I loved the slide show of the Chapels.

Truly amazing!

Travis Cody said...

If that person was an American, then please accept my apologies for his behavior. Some people are incapable of feeling any sensitivity.

Thank you for sharing your impressions.

Barb said...

I cannot even begin to comprehend how being inside that horrible place would impact me. It would be indescribable.

Donnetta said...

Good to remind us, "A." Hard to hear/see, but good to remind us. D

MarmiteToasty said...

the School my sons went to/go to..... go to Auschwitz as part of their history course work..... 2 of my sons have been, and it moved them beyond measure.... my Jacob will be going this coming term....

Our school here still teaches about all that went on, we do not follow much of the rest of Britain schools and try to forget...... cos we wont forget.....

My Sam didnt do history GCSE so didnt get to go and experience the Auschwitz tour that definetely changed my other lads to some degree, but he did get to go to France to the war graves there, which he said was also moving, if in a different way.....

Fanks Ake for sharing this with us....


Finding Pam said...

Akelamula, that was so touching and sacred to view and read your post. Did you ever see the movie "Judgement at Nuremburg?' It was so graphic that to this day I remember the details.

It is hard to believe that the president of Iran, Ahmadinejad, does not believe this happened. Hope the world watches him because he is pure evil in the worst form

I can't believe that idiot had no reverence for those that had died such a horrific death. What is wrong with people? Thank you for speaking up to him.

The salt mines were just beautiful.
Thanks again for letting me travel vicariously with you. I enjoyed it.

Akelamalu said...

That just about sums it up Cheshire Wife.

Anyone with a heart couldn't help but cry Citizen, so I'm sure you would have been in tears. :(

You would walk through if you made the visit Anndi to honour the people who had no choice. x

I think you would have spoken up too Catch, it's what our generation do isn't it? x

I've not read those books Mimi but maybe I will now I have a true insight into what actually went on. x

Glad you enjoyed the photos of the architecture and the food Julia. The other photographs give only a glimpse of the true saddnes of the two camps.

Even though I've seen it for myself Linda, like you I still cannot comprehend how human beings did what they did to other human beings - it beggars belief:( The salt mines were huges not claustrophobic at all.

That's how I feel about it Dr. John, it should be compulsory for school children of all nationalities to see it for themselves, then hopefully new generations will have more humanity.

I don't speak Polish Eelwind, luckily I didn't need to as they mostly spoke English.

Ah yes the train tracks were terrible to witness Ron, especially the one running through the gate of Berkenhau. I hope you do get to see it for yourself some day, you can send Reiki to the people who perished there, as I did. So pleased you enjoyed the salt mines.xx

Travis you have no need to apologise, there are people with no sesitivity in all races m'dear, but I thank you for yours. xx

It is Skittles, which is why I haven't really tried. :(

I'm pleased you appreciate the reminder Donnetta, we should never forget should we? x

What a wonderful school your boys go to Marmie! I read somewhere recently that the Holocaust is to be dropped from the National Curriculum - shameful!

There are many people who do not accept that the Holocaust happened Pam or choose to forget. It is for that reason that Auschwitz has been turned into a museum and visits there and Berkenhau are offered. I am very intolerant of irreverence which is why I just had to say something. I'm sure you would have done the same. Glad you enjoyed the salt mines. x

TBM said...

That was an intense day you had emotionally and physically. I've not done my Auschwitz post yet... so intense, it's hard to know what to say. You did wonderfully. And yes, it is so irritating when people don't respect the no photo rule.

Cloudia said...

Discreetly and well done!!!
Cinematic understatement-
I apologize for the boorish American who was no where near the battle - boor!
Aloha from Waikiki, Dear-

Akelamalu said...

I found it very difficult to write about Auschwitz and Berkenahu JAPRA you will know exactly what I mean. x

Thankyou Cloudia. No need for you or anyone else to apologise for someone else's insensitivity, it is theirs and theirs alone m'dear. x

lettuce said...

I'm glad i tracked back far enough to read this - and glad you told that man to stop filming.

it is chilling, and awfully believable, though its so unbelievable. i agree it should be on every school curriculum

thanks for this

Jo Beaufoix said...

It must have been heart breaking and humbling. And what beautiful carvings in that amazing mine. Wow.

Unknown said...

My Uncle was a British POW who was marched from Greece to the Auschwitz complex. It was something he never spoke about for the rest of his life. He wasn't at a death camp, but they were obviously in the vicinity. The only clue to the horrors he experienced were the words he wrote for his own funeral service.


Nuff said

Marshall Family said...

Shame on that awful man taking pics when he shouldn't have been. Good on you for telling him how it is :o) I watched a documentary on Auschwitz the other night funnily enough too. It would be one of those places which would send a chill down your spine :(

Unknown said...

I thank you for invitation to view this serene post. If in fact that "jerk" was an American, I apologize for his ignorance and bad manners.

Unknown said...

I thank you for invitation to view this serene post. If in fact that "jerk" was an American, I apologize for his ignorance and bad manners.

Unknown said...

I thank you for invitation to view this serene post. If in fact that "jerk" was an American, I apologize for his ignorance and bad manners.

Mike Golch said...

Thank you for the link to this post.I enjoyed reading it.

Anonymous said...