Friday: 15 May 2009
So I arrived in Poland safe and sound; I still don’t know how I made it to Krakow. I cannot say it compared to the train ride from Litochoro to Athens on the overnight week-end route. As I wait for the train in the Bratislava station I met a young girl, Rachel, from Nebraska and she is studying in Prague. She was very kind and asked me my opinion about what I think her next step in life should be…unknowing what she wants to continue studying; she has thought about taking some time off to stay in a religious retreat in Scotland. I told her that she should follow her heart and do it if that is what she felt was right but to maybe stay for the summer and not necessarily a full year. Upon the trains arrival we headed in opposite directions but I yelled to her my name so I hope she finds me on Facebook so I can find out what her she is doing with her life. It was difficult to find my train car since nobody knew exactly which one was Krakow; they unhook and re-connect each car to other trains along the way and if on the wrong train…Moscow here I come!
As I attempted to board the guy checking tickets on the platform said I would have to pay an additional 30 Euros to get a sleeper which he said I had to do; after already paying 45 Euros for my train ticket to begin with. I told him I did not have it and that I did not want a sleeper so I sat in the entrance way to the train next to the bathrooms. I was not going to pay even more to ride this train and I stood by my decision. I then had to switch at the second stop and climbed on a train that was being connected to another car. I got to see the worker give instructions to the conductor in Polish and as I was watching an Austrian guy peered in from the other car waving and smiling while taking pictures of me. He asked me over to his car and I questioned if they were heading in the same direction as I was. They said sure why not and so I came over there and met a team of Austrian Ultimate paintball who were on their way to Warsaw for a tournament. Funny, entertaining, beer drinking, banana throwing; getting yelled at by the ticket girl about smoking in the bathrooms and Mama Mia theme song playing on the iPod. Patrick, Christian, Stefan and Min-u Seo were a few of the guys from Austria that were so kind to keep me company.
Min-u gave me a seat in his sleeper to give me a chance to relax and have a seat. I then said my good-byes as I ran from one train to the next. I then got situated in a seat where I sat with three other guys and fell asleep rather quickly given that it was 3am. Next stop…Krakow!
Saturday: 16 May 2009
I was so exhausted at 6am when I arrive that I just sat and collected myself before eating at Mc Donald’s when it opened at 7am. OJ, coffee, breakfast sandwich and hash browns for 9 PLK=$3. Nice…I love Eastern Europe already. At around 9am I continued to the bus station where I cleaned up and caught the 10am bus to Auschwitz to visit the concentration camps for the day; a two hour trip we traveled through the countryside and it was interesting to se the post-iron curtain architectural landscape; vast acres of land and bundles of dark brown hay bundled at the top and actually somewhat thin.
Then we arrived! I did not know what to expect and for a moment there I hesitated to proceed knowing that many people suffered in this camp and the thought of possibly members of my family being held in these walls or the families of those close to me was slightly disturbing. The Iron entrance gate read “Arbeit Macht Frei”…translation “work makes one free.”
It was through this gate that the prisoners walked each morning on their way to work in the factories, marching to the beat of music played by the camp orchestra. Barbed wire fences, lined up brick buildings with numbers indicating which block it is; 15, 24, 19…each holds a story or pain and suffering that the people who where held here endured. Each block which once held Jews, Poles, Roma, political prisoners of war, and traitors of the Nazis in the 1940s now housed their belongings; luggage, toothbrushes, shoes and hair. Pictures of prisoners with shaved heads male or female line the walls; documents and models on how this camp was run and vivid accounts of medical procedures where twins were treated as lab rats. Atrocities were committed here in this camp during World War II to innocent individuals who were caught in the middle of war.
The slight drizzle of rain seemed appropriate as this is a site that is dreary in itself and it is sad to think that many innocent people lost their lives in these camps. I also toured Birkenau or better known at Auschwitz II which was the location where these people exited the trains and lined up on the platform where they awaited to see if they were to be placed in the camp or sent to the incinerators. Walking that stretch of gravel road stirred weary emotions and thoughts of what each persons last thoughts were as they walked to their death; walked to what is now rubble left behind from the Germans attempt of destroying the evidence of these gas chambers, incinerators and mass genocide. Numerous thoughts raced through my mind as I thought about the children, women, elderly, ill walking all this way; leaving their belongings on the platform and not knowing what is next. There were instances where the gas did not kill everyone and as they unloaded the bodies from the building and found those gasping for air; the Nazi guards shot them.
There was one case where a guard found his uncle among those walking to the showers and the uncle looked at his nephew and asked “what is going on?” The guard knew he could not do anything about the situation so he diverted his attention by asking if he was hungry and gave him some bread. He told him to stand near the ‘showers’ to stay warm; knowing that it would make his death quicker and less painful.
There were over a million men, women and children killed at Auschwitz it is sad to see the pictures of those killed hanging from the walls; many with colored eyes and light hair. Many who just born a certain nationality and punished for it. I then headed back to Krakow to visit the old town for a couple hours before leaving for L’viv.