Kraków & Auschwitz

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Our memories are growing increasing fuzzy as we cast our minds back upon our past sojourns. This instalment is from February 2012 when we visited the unique Polish city of Krakow (pronounced Kra-koff as we soon found out!). We were not alone on these ventures – at the time Tim & Shelley had just moved to London and were living with us so they jumped on board. We introduced them to the beauties (and terrors) of Ryanair, armed ourselves with Polish Zloty’s and took flight!

It still never ceases to amaze me how I can be working one day, and that evening be pulling my suitcase over the bumpy cobblestones down the back alley of some european city. That was our story again as we navigated our way from the bus station in the freezing cold to yet another airbnb win. God Bless google maps. Our apartment was in some old communist block with high ceilings and creaky doors. In what was my favourite local greeting (to date), a man who must have been about 70 ushered us inside, complete in a long coat and top hat. Of course he didn’t speak a word of english so he proceeded to show us the ‘features’ of the flat grunting and pointing with much enthusiasm. The next morning he brought us fresh pastries (in his top hat again)… what a legend!

We headed out that night, walking into the centre of Krakow’s old town. I have to say I was pleasantly suprised. Everyone said it was a pretty city, unlike the rest of Poland’s bombed out and rebuilt city centres, however I was not prepared for how charming it would be. It had a soaring church, a spacious square flanked by horse and carriages, the obligatory pigeons and a large marketplace housed in the most exquisite ancient building. Despite the cold we meandered around, finding several local buzzing restaurants and watering holes. I won’t even attempt to describe what we had for dinner because I couldn’t pronounce it and had no idea what it was… but the beer was good, and we discovered we were rich when the whole bill didn’t even top the equivalent of 10 quid. This was our story for the rest of our time in Poland – everything was unbelievably cheap, and I finally got to feel what it was like to be rich and order whatever the hell I wanted off the menu. Good sensation!

The next day we thought we’d try out the free walking tour of the city. We were repremanded about our awful pronounciation of ‘Krakow’ and shown the highlights of the city as well as taught about some of its past. I found it a colourful little piece of the world, rich in culture and history. I particularly liked Warwel Castle, ornate, mismatched and full of personality. I promised the guide I’d recommend his tour – it’s a year late, but there you go I kept my word! Actually it was really good – despite the formidably low temperatures he was entertaining and kept us from bailing for a warm cafe! We changed it up by not only thoroughly combing the old town – but wandering outside the boarders of the city. We were rewarded by finding this splendid little bar called “The Alchemist” which served the most sinful hot chocalates you’ve ever seen. Think of it as what a thickshake is to a milkshake – superior in every way! The bar was everything you could have wanted from a place called “The Alchemist” – creaky, candlelit, secretive, filled with old timber beams and glass jars – complete with potions (aka my hot chocolate).

Most people who visit Krakow will team it up with a visit to the infamous concentration nearby – Auschwitz Birkenau. I won’t go into the history because you likely know it, and if you don’t you have a responsibility to go and get yourself educated about it. The Haulocaust fascinates me, if only because it is such recent history. It is unfathomable to think this evil was able to take place at a time when my Grandparents were alive. That being said, there are atrocities happening all over the world today that are a severe violation of human rights. I suppose it highlights the statement Edmund Burke made, that ‘all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’.

I wanted to visit Auschwitz since I started studying WWII at school. I would check out books on the Holocaust and pour over them, trying to figure out how it was that people stood by and allowed the systematic anayalation of a generation of Jews. I have been able to visit so many historic and important sites since moving to europe, but perhaps none so chilling as this. I was really nervous the whole way there, I have never been filled with such apprehension. People walk around the place like zombies, unable to speak to one another, shaking their heads, some with tears running down their faces… as people are all united in trying to comprehend the unspeakable evil that took place on that very ground. Exhibits of artifacts from the victims were a sober reminder that every life taken was a real life, with a real story and a real future that was brutally stolen from them.

The rattling wind, the piercing cold, vast ruins, dark and empty buildings, and the chilling stories culminated at one point: the gas chambers. Although they were bombed out, covered in snow, and barely recognisable, there was an audible hush amongst all the visitors as we tiptoed past the spot where millions of lives ended. However the main thing I took away from the experience as I looked around, was that evil lies in the heart of man. Although infamous, that very earth and very place where millions were murdered, was not in itself evil. I could have been standing anywhere on planet earth. The evil is what we bring to a place, it’s man and all his failures. It is pride and cowardice and the emptiness we feel deep inside. We can take that anywhere.

Auschwitz is just geography.

The important lesson to take away is to not forget. We must remember so that history does not repeat itself. We owe Auschwitz that much.

Our communist flat
Our communist flat
Markets Rynek Glowny
Markets Rynek Glowny
St Mary's Basilica in the main square
St Mary’s Basilica in the main square
perusing the markets
perusing the markets
Outside the walled city
Outside the walled city
Our infamous tour guide shamelessly promoting himself haha
Our infamous tour guide shamelessly promoting himself haha
My favourite castle in Europe - Warwel
My favourite castle in Europe – Warwel
All streets lead to the church
All streets lead to the church
Dodging the pigeons
Dodging the pigeons
Medieval Market Square
Medieval Market Square
Polish is such an odd language!
Polish is such an odd language!
Juxtaposition
Juxtaposition
Grungy back streets
Grungy back streets
Jewish cemetery
Jewish cemetery
The best hot chocolate ever known to man
The best hot chocolate ever known to man
Love in Alchemy
Love in Alchemy
Main square at night - blazing lights
Main square at night – blazing lights
Entrance to Auschwitz
Entrance to Auschwitz
Glasses from the victims
Glasses from the victims
Reflections and suitcases from the deported jews
Reflections and suitcases from the deported jews
Bunks
Bunks

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Prisoners
Prisoners
Auschwitz II
Auschwitz II
Carts used to transport Jews to be executed
Carts used to transport Jews to be executed
Bombed gas chamber
Bombed gas chamber
Bleak and depressing
Bleak and depressing
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6 thoughts on “Kraków & Auschwitz

  1. Krakow… thats my people… Hope they were good to you. Witanowski’s are Warsaw and Krakow folk… The town we were given when my family was Knighted is just out side of Krakow. Great Pics!

    1. Hey Adam! Thanks for reading, we loved Poland! The people were so warm and friendly and it was a highlight of the trip. Everyone was so pleased that we had taken the time to visit! That’s so cool that your family were given a town! We went to zakopane after krakow so I will do a blog about that soon! L&J

  2. Brillant blog on Krakow & Auschwitz. Having visited all these sites only in September 2012 it is all too real. Despite the seasonal differences , the reality is that Auschwitz is only a place – but the evil that it symbolises is spine chilling to the core. That such evil could be perpetrated against other humans is unimaginable. ………Krakow is an enchanting city – of old world charm and centuries of history- especially the castle- set in contrast with the remnants of the era of communist Poland. Thank you Joel & Lauren. From Marjorie

    1. Hi Marjorie! Yes it is the evil that is symbolised that is so incomprehensible isn’t it. Auschwitz is an enduring reminder of this, and a place of great mourning and significance in the history of man. Glad you enjoyed reading. Lots of love x

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