Somewhere which I’ve wanted to visit for a long time.
The stories my parents told me of the second world war, filled me with both fear and wonder at mankind. The way in which we can be full of heart for helping others, or if choosing, wanting complete domination and control over them.
Vin and me had decided that we didn’t want to do a group tour. We’d read up about them and the thought of spending a large amount of time, sitting in a mini bus picking others up-put us off. We’d decided to hire a car for our 4 day stay, pretty much for the purpose of visiting Auschwitz and Auschwitz- Berkenau. This gave us the freedom to do what we wanted – although we noticed that all services seemed very good and well organised.
We didn’t find the museums website particularly helpful, on trying to find out if we could be a walk in visitor. The response on the facebook page unclear. So on our second day in Kraków, we left the city at 6:30 am, to give ourselves time to arrive at the ticket office, when it opened for 7:30. Before the masses arrived, which we figured would be about 10 am.
On arrival there was a short queue in front of us and when the ticket office opened, we were asked to present our passport. I didn’t have this but I did have my PADI Open Water Diver card, which had my photo on it, so they could see who I was. This was deemed as ok.
Entry is free, so tickets issued, we made our way to the entrance. We bought an english map at the small bookstore just inside, which helped us to identify the places in the camp but the sign posts directed us to where we needed and could go.
I had been told stories of the birds not singing inside the camp, due to the atrocities which went on here. As we entered, I heard the first sound of bird song and was reminded that even in horror – life moves on and nature takes its place again. It would be the emotions and feelings of so many scared and ravaged people being put in one place, with such horrible treatment and pure terror going on, which would create the change in the vibe.
Respect was the word that came to mind, as we moved from one building to the next.
I’m not going to go into much detail about the facility-it is a place each person needs to visit and I did feel emotional when looking in the eyes of those whose lives were taken from them by the Nazi’s. It was an interesting and educational experience I will never forget and one which led us onto our next place Auschwitz – Berkenau.
The museum provides a free bus shuttle from one camp to the other but if it is a warm day, you can walk from one site to the next – just as the Jewish did and imagine their fear and worry at what was going to happen next to them.
As we are born in freer times, we had the luxury of choosing not to do this, as the weather worsened slightly and the day drew on. It took us around 2 hours to wander round Auschwitz and absorb what we were seeing and reading. Berkenau, was a completely different facility. Massive in fact. Although I didn’t feel as connected to the people in Berkenau as I did in Auschwitz. I think this was just due to the sheer size of the place.
As the weather became bleaker and the rain came, we could only imagine what this huge place could feel like in the dark and cold of winter – when the prisoners were forced to sleep outside due to overcrowding. In a way it was unimaginable but as I walked and became tired, it helped me to connect with those interned and what it must have been like for them. I was experiencing a tiny bit of discomfort and at any time I could leave.
Just horrific to think of the experiments on the children which went on here also. I could hear the screams in my head and could imagine as a mother, what it must have been like for the parents when their children were taken away.
The next day, we visited Oskar Schindler’s factory in the Podgórze district. This was easy to find and from where stayed in Kraków, only a 30 min walk away across the footbridge over the river. Again i’m not going to talk deeply about the museum. It mainly focussed on the plight of the people and the wartime, as opposed to Oskar Schindler and what went on in his factory . The mental oppression I felt here was huge and unexpected – it took only a short time to walk round and I was very glad to get back out in the sunshine and away from that heaviness that sat on my head. Again it left me considering what it must have been like to be persecuted to such a degree and be herded into smaller and smaller spaces and then annihilated. It beggars belief and as an adult I fully appreciate the understanding in Remembrance Sunday. Our Poppy Day, in this country. Lest We Forget.
We must never forget what we as a race of people are capable of, to keep future generations safe. We need to look at the persecutions which are going on in our world today and work hard to fight against those who would choose to oppress the masses, just to maintain their own sense of personal power and control.
The global consciousness of peace is something we can all connect with, if we open our minds to the opportunity. I know I have and choose to love – no matter how difficult that may be at times when working with clients or with those I’m in relationship with. It’s choosing to look at people through the heart and decide a consistent and honest way to interact, rather than through the head, without the intention to control or dictate. It can be very difficult being a human being.
The last place we wanted to visit in the surrounding area were the Salt Mines of Wieliczka.
This was a more light hearted place to visit. Vince, many years ago had seen photographs of an underground palace and ever since had wanted to visit. So on the thursday morning, we were up early once again and standing outside, waiting to be introduced to our guide for the english tour. All tours run regularly throughout the day and the park is beautiful, the place lovely to explore. So go early in the morning, book your tickets for the time of your visit and then relax and enjoy your location.
There are different routes you can do within the mine. We followed the Tourist Route.
‘Magnificent chambers chiseled out in rock salt. Amazing underground saline lakes, majestic timber constructions and unique statues sculpted in salt. Almost 3 kilometres of meandering corridors, 800 steps to climb of which 350 have to be descended to reach the depth of 135 meters underground.’ Wieliczka Salt Mines
All carved out of salt.
The Salt Mines which are on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage list, were brought to life by our Guide Nicholas. As he shared historical stories from the mine shafts, told over many hundreds of years. One thing I really would have loved to do here, would have been to don a miners hat and garb and enjoy an active expedition, far away from the tourist route and with a miner. Oh well, there’s always another day! Poland was a complete surprise to me and the visit over four days, was enough, considering the historical and emotional factor of all we were seeing and what we needed to absorb. Auschwitz is definitively a place to visit and anyone’s kids who have the opportunity to experience the educational tour, I’d say, ‘Parents, grab it with both hands.’ Such an important place. So important to see and embrace.