It's been a very long time since a story and photos have been posted here. Life does come before blogging, but there comes a time I just have to sit down and regroup my thoughts, put them on 'paper,' and process what I've seen and felt.
I must be honest, my travel blogs are all created selfishly...so I can look back and remember where I've been and what I had to say about that particular place at that particular time.
Hans and I have just returned from a marathon trip. Again. As I type with these jet lagged fingers, I'm trying to remember where we've been and where all this started...briefly it went like this: We drove to Denver, flew to Reyjkavik, Iceland, spent a couple of days/nights there, flew to Frankfurt, Germany, rode a shuttle to Landstuhl and spent a few days trying to get our days and nights straight. Then, SEVEN of us piled into a Volvo (visualize sardines) and went to: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Austria . . . back to Germany. Hans and I then rode a shuttle to Frankfurt, flew to Iceland, flew to Denver, and drove to Grand Junction.
Of all the places we saw, I'm starting with Auschwitz. It was shattering. When I look at the 500 photos I took of that place, I'm numb all over again. You might notice, this is Part I. There is no way I can put Auschwitz together into one post. It's just too emotionally draining.
So, we'll start with how the day began, and I'll add some 'travel advice' just in case anyone out there is planning a trip to Eastern Europe. Most hotels in and around Krakow offer tours to Auschwitz. You load into a bus and travel just over an hour to the concentration camp. We didn't do that. At first, I was bummed that we hadn't made reservations for the tour from our hotel (Hotel Amber), but after all was said and done, it turned out for the best. If you don't go with a tour, the only time you're allowed in is from 8:00 - 10:00 a.m. That meant we were up early and on the road by 6:30 a.m.
That also meant the masses of people weren't there yet ! You will notice in some of the photos below, we were the only ones there for much of the time. We used the book, "Rick Steves Eastern Europe" as our tour guide.
Leaving the entry building through the exit, the first thing in view was that notorious gate.
This is a replica of the original gate, as it was stolen in 2009, and found two days later cut into three pieces. Those pieces are now in the museum's possession.
The "B" was welded on upside down by belligerent inmates. Once there, new prisoners were told the truth. Work would not get them out of the camp. The only way out was as ashes that drifted out of the crematorium chimneys.
As we walked through that gate, the day hit me square in the face. It was cold, gray, rainy-snowy, and windy. I was glad I had on a warm hat, gloves, several layers including a waterproof-hooded coat, warm socks, and boots. I was still just a bit chilled . . . until I realized I had come to a place where many of the prisoners had been stripped of all their clothing and had cold water thrown on them in sub-freezing temperatures. I decided I wasn't just a bit chilled at all.
If a Polish prisoner escaped, the family members were arrested and sent to Auschwitz. They were made to stand under a sign announcing the reason for their arrest and that they would remain in the camp until the fugitive was found, so that other prisoners would be aware of this policy.
When Hitler began implementing his "Final Solution," (his plan to annihilate the Jews of Europe in 1941), it became clear that Auschwitz lacked the capacity to kill its victims in large enough numbers. So, the Nazis built Birkenau two miles away. The original plan was for this camp to hold 200,000 people, but at its peak, it held 'only' about 100,000. They were still adding onto it when the camp was liberated in 1945.
By this time, at least 1.1 million people had been murdered in Auschwitz - approximately 960,000 of them were Jewish.
Auschwitz - (OWSH-vits)
Birkenau - (BEER-keh-now)