THE KRAKOW SERIES PT2
Like most people who visit Krakow, I had the entire weekend planned around our visit to Auschwitz.
NOTHING HIT HOME MORE THAN STANDING INSIDE THE GAS CHAMBERS
As you might expect I had our transfer arranged first thing in the morning. Auschwitz is notorious for being busy so I wanted to take every possible opportunity to avoid the crowds.
It was important that we avoided the crowds as I never wanted to feel like I was a tourist. I wanted a certain atmosphere for my family. For them to imagine themselves walking through the gates for the first time and have the space and peace to think about the people who done it for real. Rather than jostling for a photo and listening to 10 guides all speak at once.
We also planned to have our trip at this time of year so we could experience the severe weather conditions that had to be endured. However, I didn’t expect how cold it actually turned out to be.
The atmosphere was exactly how I wanted, cold, dark and eerie. The gates read “Arbeit macht frei” which translates to “work sets you free,” one of many lies the prisoners were told.
Like any trip, I had done a lot of research and tried to learn as much as possible. I felt I knew a fair bit but after listening to the guide for only a few minutes it soon dawned on me how little I actually knew! A guide is completely necessary here, there is just no substitute for the knowledge they can share.
We moved onto the gas chambers and crematorium where we were able to stand in the very spot many died in. You join various other tours at the same time and with only 20 people in the chamber you get an idea of how cramped it could be with several hundred. After the doors were locked the guards then opened the hatches from above and emptied their buckets of pellets. These reacted with the moisture and created the gas, giving people between 10 – 15 minutes to live.
At this point it was silent, a far cry from what it would have been like but you realised everyone was just in complete shock at what people actually went through. Many times we’ve read about them or heard about them but to actually be walking through the gas chambers where so many people died really hit home. There was so many people forced into the gas chambers that the crematorium could not keep up. Other prisoners were forced to fill the ovens of the bodies of their prison mates, two and sometimes three at a time.
- 600,000 Jews were deported here in 1944
- 1.1million in total
- 900,000 were killed here
The numbers are just incomprehensible. Auschwitz was made up of 40 concentration camps with Auschwitz 1 & 2 as the made camps and dozens of sub camps beyond. Out of the 1.3 million people who were sent here, 1.1million died, 90% of who were Jews and gassed on arrival.
As the Germans pushed on with their war efforts, they required more and more space for their prisoners. To keep up with the trainloads of new prisoners everyday they decided it took too long to build them out of brick and mortar and instead decided to build wooden sheds, something not too dissimilar to chicken sheds. Up to 500 people were crammed into one of these, leading to even more widespread disease with little shelter from the extreme conditions outside.
These wooden barracks took up the majority of Auschwitz 2 and it was where the prisoners first arrived. It was also here that the doctors would decide if they were to live or die. Of course the prisoners still wasn’t to know. They were promised they were being taken to meet with their families again but for many it was the last time they would see them. It was an important place.
The site is 350 acres, but walking around it’s hard to grasp the true size of the camp as most of the huts have been burnt down. Take a walk up to the tower and get a better perspective.
After being dragged through an emotional rollercoaster we stopped of at the Salt Mines for a tour. No matter what your expectations are of this place you are guaranteed to be shocked!
The mines are a result of 700 years of work creating 245km of tunnels at a maximum depth of 327m. To put the sheer size of it into perspective, after our 1 hour tour we had only covered 2% of the area. I wouldn’t want to take a wrong turn!
JEWISH QUARTER, KAZIMIERZ
Our last morning was spent walking around Kazimerz, the Jewish Quarter of Krakow. It’s worth going across the river to the Zabłocie district to visit Oskar Schindler’s factory. It now hosts two museums, Contemporary Art Museum and a branch of Krakow’s Historical Museum.
- PEOPLE – 8/10
- BACKPACKING – 7.5/10
- SAFETY – 7.5/10
- WEATHER – 5/10 – very cold but dry
- THINGS TO DO – 7.5/10
- FOOD – 7.5/10
- VALUE – 8/10
- HIGHLIGHT – Auschwitz
- VISIT AGAIN – Yes
- RATING – 8/10
It’s sometimes hard to put things into words and this experience was a perfect example. If you do plan to visit I would recommend you to watch Schindler’s List and you can be sure the experience will send shivers up your spine during the tour. The world we now live in could have been very different, I’ll always be thankful for that.
Home for a bit before a few trips and then The Southern Africa Series in September. There I visit two of my favourite countries in South Africa and Botswana as well as 7 others. Click to read.
SAFE TRAVELS, DS x
This is part 2 of the 2 part Krakow Series, click for more.
- Have you visited Auschwitz?
- What was your experience like?
- Would you recommend anything else?
Let me know in the comments below . . .