This was it, the ‘main event’ and really the defining moment of the trip, for me anyway. Our visits to both Auschwitz One and Auschwitz Two Birkenau is an experience that was truly haunting; and I’m not going to go into great detail as I’d like to keep this account simple and respectful.
There certainly was some pathetic fallacy (for all you English nerds like me) going on because, despite it being fairly mild the rest of the trip, it rained the whole day. The sky was bleak, the clouds expressionless.
But we were not the ones to complain, as our teacher made clear multiple times. We were at a concentration camp, a place of extreme atrocity. Much worse had happened there. Much worse than soggy shoes.
The first of the two camps, Auschwitz One, is laid out much like a museum. But it’s not at all overbearing in any way, the plaques and objects are all very minimalistic; I could tell a lot of care had gone into the design to avoid taking away the impact of the place.
And damn, there was an impact.
Just walking through the empty halls is haunting. And it’s cold, and you can just feel the wrongness of the place. It’s hard to explain or even describe really, It just feels wrong. A deep sense of uncomfortableness.
There were two particular parts that struck me the most, the first was a corridor full of photographs. They were of the men and women sent to the camp, but the picture was only half of what saddened me. It was the date of death, some only a few days after arriving at the camp – some only a few days before liberation. And that, is harrowing. To think some of these people suffered for years just to die just before a chance of freedom. You can’t imagine it. You just can’t imagine it.
The other, and this got me very emotional, was a room full of shoes – shoes of the dead. The majority of the shoes are just piled up, which is symbolic of the event, but there are a few pairs, just a few, laid out neatly in the front. And I saw one, one tiny pair of boys shoes. They belonged to a young child, they were just so tiny. Just seeing them, there, in a cold building in Auschwitz, is harrowing.
The second camp, Birkenau is left like it was. There are no signs, or displays. Only rows and rows of cold, empty buildings. It’s vastly open and vastly empty, there is no sound, no colour, almost. It is haunting.
The only change that has been noticeably made is the creation of a large memorial towards to south of the camp, commemorating the deaths of the thousands of Jews who died there.
Finally, we were taken to one of the buildings that accommodated for the Jews while they were there. One thousand Jews in a building not much bigger than our school hall (which isn’t very large, considering we’re a small country school). It would be boiling in the summer, freezing in the winter. You’d go to sleep not knowing if the people you were crammed next to would wake up alive. Another horrifying truth, for a horrifying place.
Our other visit that day was a trip to the Galicia Museum where we were given a tour through the gallery, the photos depicting Jewish History in Poland, and how the community stands today. To wrap up our Kraków trip completely we met with a Holocaust survivor, her story goes as follows:
She was only seven months old when the war began, her parents – both being Jews – were instantly persecuted. The Nazis knew how many Jews lived in her area, so when they came to round them up (to take to the Camps/Ghetto) her parents took a doll in the place of her, which was counted as a real person. So she was safe, her parents had given her up to protect her. They later died in Concentration Camps and she was left an Orphan. After time in an Orphanage, she was adopted by a Polish couple, who risked their lives to care for her, a Jewish Girl. They were given the honour of ‘Righteous of the Nations’ later on.
That is, of course, a largely simplified version of her story, it was spoken to us by a translator – as she didn’t speak English. The talk ended with a particularly poignant moment as someone in our group stood up to read one of the survivor’s father’s poems.
We ended the day with a shopping trip to a nearby mall, and dinner of (yet again) soup for starter, a chicken meal and a very sweet apple dessert.
So, then we packed up our things and sadly got ready to leave the next day.
Day Four was not the quick journey home I’d been expecting, let’s just say that. We arrived at the airport at eight, and didn’t leave until five thirty.
Nine hours. In an airport.
One word- delays.
Spending nine hours in an airport is hard. Especially when you’re trying to save your phone’s battery and all your stuff is in your suitcase, which you got rid hours ago. So, we sang (much to the distaste of some of our more… boring classmates) and played cards. We read, and my linguistic friend read a Polish book – and understood it. Then boredom really hit and we made top trumps cards about our teacher.
I was happy to finally leave, but then we had a two hour plane ride, and a two hour bus ride.
So when I got home – I slept.
And had to go to school the next day.
PHOTO OF THE DAY(s): Market Vibes