Arrival in Poland
18.08.2006 31 °C
I left Cesky Krumlov on Wednesday, and narrowly escaped sharing the bus journey with an irritating American school teacher who I had foolishly agreed to travel with the previous night. He insisted he could show me how to use the metro (underground) train when I got back to Prague. But any fool could have figured it out, so I was just fine and dandy thank you. I left Prague on Thursday morning and got the train to Krakow, changing at Katowice.
In my train compartment was a friendly and talkative young Canadian guy who is going to teach English in Krakow, and a lovely Polish Grandma. So we shared the usual conversation of 20 year old boys, something like "what music do you like?" and "Aren't Eastern European women hot?". He wouldn't believe the Arctic Monkeys aren't from Iceland, bless him.
That evening in Krakow, I spoke to the guys in my room who were from Melbourne, and we arranged to get up early the next day to go to Auschwitz, or Oswiecim (with accents) to use its proper Polish name. It was a pretty grim experience, and attempting to describe it is probably a bit useless. I should really just say, go there and see it with your own eyes.
The original Auschwitz I, with the famous gates claiming "Arbeit Macht Frei" is much smaller, as this was more for political prisoners and so on, but a couple of kilometres away is Birkinau, or Auschwitz II, which was built for the purpose of the "final solution". This was the most shocking, if only because of its scale. Barbed wire fences with lookout towers stretch along its perimter as far as the eyes can see. There were over 300 prison barracks, large huts crammed with rows of three tier bunks. But another horrendous fact, is that despite the numbers of prison huts, at the hheight of the atrocity, only the 30% of peoplewho arrived on the trains which pulled in would be deemed fit for work and sent to these huts. The majority were simply sent for their "shower". There were four vast gas chambers. The museum in Auschwitz I has just a sample of the piles of belongings that were found by the Russian troops who liberated the camp in January 1945. Womens hair, mountains of shoes, glasses, false legs, childrens clothes, and suitcases with their owners names and addresses scrawled on them from different cities in different countries, Amsterdam, Prague, Warsaw, and all over.
It was one of those things you have to see, to even start to try and get your head round it. I seriously recommend the visit though.
After, it was time to relax a bit and start explore the beautiful town of Krakow.