Saturday we visited the concentration camp Auschwitz. This is such an important part of history and a place that every single one of us should visit if possible. It makes you shiver to your very core and certainly does not leave your soul untouched. It is hard to take in the vastness of suffering that happened here. A visit here feels even more important considering the times and changes we are living in right now.
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
The weather was gloomy this day with grey skies and light rain. It just felt fitting considering being at this place. I would not have wanted sun and blue skies, that would have felt wrong. We have all read about all of this in our history classes and heard about the horrific stories that happened here but actually being here and walking in the very same footsteps of all of those that lost their lives at this place made a huge impact on me. It all became so real in a different way.
Auschwitz was just another concentration camp at the time of World War II. There were hundreds of camps just like this one all over Europe. What makes Auschwitz stand out today is the fact that it is quite intact. It is one of the few concentration camps that was not destroyed totally after the Germans realized they had lost the war. The gas chamber and the burning ovens are still intact here and can be seen. In most other places the concentration camps were destructed and as many documents as possible were also destroyed.
These are the brick houses were the prisoners lived. Each house was called a block and had a number. Each block could house up to a thousand people! There were massive problems with over crowding. People could not be killed fast enough, which is such a horrible fact.
Words that never should be forgotten.
We had an amazing guide. He must have told the same stories a million times over and over again but he still told us like it was the very first time he shared this important message of history with us. Auschwitz is also something that can be visited all year around. Coming here in winter when the snow is on the ground and all is quiet around and there are much less visitors will give you a whole different feeling he said. That I can imagine. What we were able to see during our 3 hours here was only a small fraction of what is here to see. Longer visits are available of course. However, I myself could not imagine spending days or a full week here in order to see it all. It would just be too hard, to depressing, too difficult.
The Auschwitz camp soon became too over crowded so then the new camp Birkenau was constructed a few kilometers away. The advantage here was the vast empty field areas that could be used and the direct access of the railway. Thousands of people were unloaded here each day. Their fate was decided in seconds by a single commanding officer. No one really knows how many lives were lost here as most people were never registered, never got a space or a striped set of clothes. Most of them were directly transported into the gas chambers. Only those who were strong enough were selected to work in the camp and they often only lasted a few months up to a year. As soon as you were too weak, too sick or worked too slow you were discarded so that someone new and stronger could take your place. In order to have a chance of survival you needed to be lucky enough to get placed in doors doing some kind of work and you also needed to be able to get hold of extra food. Regular prisoner would quickly get weekend by hard work, starvation and disease.
One of remarkable things was that each camp only required a minimum of German soldiers and officers in comparison to the number of prisoners. This was possible because the Germans were very careful never to cause or create panic of any kind. The only good in this world of terrible cruelty was that the vast majority the people that died here never knew what was about to happen until the very end when the gas was already spreading around them. They were all told and believed to the bitter end that they were going to be transported somewhere else. They were allowed to bring belongings and suitcases. The mothers were never separated from their babies and toddlers in order not to create unnecessary panic.
These were the chemical gas pellets that were dropped into the gas chambers that then reacted with air. The ones standing close enough to were the pellets were dropped died in an instant. Most people would die within a maximum of 20 minutes.
The faces, the fates of history lining the many walls.
There were some parts and places where photography was not allowed due to respect of the victims. There was a room full of hair. Piles of hair covering an entire room. The hair was shaved off and used in German factories to make fabric and blankets.
The contrast between the beauty of the summer fields with all the wild flowers growing here and the barbed wire symbolizing the cruelty of it all. The contrast between good and evil is so present here. How can pretty flowers grown in a place like this? That is a thought that crossed my mind as I walked around here.
We had a long and intense day Saturday. Our next trip was to the Salt Mines. We drove back with the group to Krakow, a drive of about 1.5 hours. Some people were getting back to the city and their hotels and others like us were continuing a long to The Wieliczka Salt Mine.
These crystal chandeliers made of salt were very cool and impressive.
The Salt mine was a remarkable place. Everything around you is made of salt. If you would lick the floor or walls it would all taste salty. Vast rooms like this one were created with altars, art, statues all carved in the salt stone.
Even if the Salt mine was impressive in many ways I found the tour a little too long and I would rather have spent more time at Auschwitz or have taken time to walk around the Jewish quarters of Krakow or visited Schindlers factory.
I was impressed by all that Krakow had to offer and the charm of the city itself. I can highly recommend a visit here. I feel inspired to discover more of eastern Europe after being here. I realize I have my own travel and destination pattern and it was so refreshing to try something totally new and different. My friend stayed on an extra day in order to visit Warsaw, however she came back and said she was not that impressed. It was more of a regular big city. Krakow is one of the cultural jewels of Poland. It was the capital of Poland up until 1569.