To date Krakow was all about having a good time so to bring myself back to earth today was going to be Auschwitz day. Opting to catch the local bus instead of the expensive tour option (local bus is a breeze and super cheap) we hopped aboard and relaxed while checking out some of the Polish countryside.
Arriving at Auschwitz there is no wandering around on your own, you need to be on a tour to venture onto the site. Seriously thought, for a site like this would you really want to walk about on your own??
What was to follow is pretty much the most depressing day of my travels and will most likely struggle to be superseded. Beginning at the entrance gate we were lead through building after building. Each with its walls of photos documenting the plight of so many lost souls. Their arrival date and departure date printed across the bottom of each photo, I struggled to find someone that survived more than 4 months in this hell.
Passing through a series of cell blocks, some no bigger than myself where people would be forced to stand until they gave up on life. Thinking the story couldn’t get much worse we passed The Death Wall. Just a wall between too blocks of buildings. The buildings with their windows covered up would never have masked the terror that would have unfolded here.
This all lead to a battering of blows to both my stomach and psyche. For I was now to walk through what was once a smaller version of the gas chamber’s used in the genocide of approximately 6 million Jews. Words can not do justice to how I felt standing inside the decrepit building. How many people lost their life here? How could people actually do this? Could this ever happen again?
They must have just huddled here in the darkness together. Did they look at each other before the gas came? Did they even know what was going to happen? What did they say? Prayers? Cries for mercy? I could only imagine someone standing there, wondering how and why this horror was being inflicted upon them.
The final kicker before the tour of Auschwitz was to end, walking past rooms that contained such a small fraction of peoples belongings. Suitcase’s all labeled with care so they wouldn’t be lost, once packed with their owners most precious possessions. Shoes; I’ve never seen so many shoes all in one place, all with their owners long gone. Then you move onto the next sealed off glass room to find hair… peoples hair. Not wanting to waste anything the Nazi’s shaved the peoples heads and used the hair to make rugs among other things. Who ever thought that was right??
Concluding the Auschwitz tour we packed onto a bus for the short journey to Birkenau. The train tracks here run right through the entrance gate making me feel more like I was entering into something you would only expect to see at a cattle yard. Rows of buildings fill the area to the right of the rail line, the temporary home for so many lost lives. I don’t even think cattle would have been treated to such poor housing conditions.
And then before me, right down the end of that long rail line was the destroyed gas chambers that took so many a life. All you can do is stop and stare off into the distance, pay your respects at the monument erected to remember the fallen and pick yourself up to head home.