We are in Kraków! We arrived on Sunday by train and went straight to the apartment to meet my family! For those of you who have wondered ‘Why Poland?’ It’s because my dad has always wanted to go, and whilst me and Chris were in NZ we missed his 60th birthday so this is a little family trip to end the holiday and celebrate his birthday. So anyway we met the family at the apartment and had lots of hugs it was amazing to see them, we are here with my mum, dad, brother Josh and his girlfriend Amy. We cracked the gin open straight away and spent a few hours chatting and catching up it was so great to see them all.
That night we went to an Italian which was in Lonely Planet, the family have so far gone along with my Lonely Planet obsession which is nice of them to humour me. The Italian was lovely and I had an amazing chicken and almond pizza washed down with some wine, it was a lovely first day.
The next day we were up early for our trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau, which we were all a bit apprehensive about. We were picked up on a mini bus and we watch an hour video all about the holocaust and the horrors that went on there. It was so harrowing and the whole bus was silent for the journey, apprehensive about what we might see or feel when we got to Auschwitz. As we entered the first camp there was a huge sign that read ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ which means ‘work brings freedom’ and I just couldn’t help but feel how untrue that statement was as we walked underneath the sign.
Auschwitz camp was established in 1940 on the outskirts of a town called Oswiecim chosen for its location due to good rail links and already existing buildings. I still cannot get my head around the fact that over a million people were killed here of 27 different nationalities. There are 13 of the 30 surviving original prison blocks present as some of the camp was destroyed when the Nazis were fleeing.
We were taken into many of the brick prison blocks which have been converted into museums, with horrible images on the walls and exhibits behind glass. It shows the gas pellets that were used to gas the victims in the gas chambers. In one room there was a huge pile of human hair and shoes which really shocked me. It was the hair from 40,000 woman and it just made you think that even the amount of hair there was nothing compared to what there would be at the time. We were told that the Nazis actually made money from killing selling people’s belongings, hair, teeth, clothes anything they could.
We were then shown a replica of where people would have slept, either on the floor of six to a three tier bunk bed. There were often fights as people were fighting to get the to bunk so that the very ill people who had diarrhoea due to starvation wouldn’t poo on them in the night, it really is harrowing.
Next was the camp prison in a cellar, it was hard to believe they needed a prion as the whole place was enough of a prison, with electric fences and barbed wire around the entire camp. In the prison we were shown the different types of punishment cells, such as the starvation cell and standing cell. The standing cell was a bricked cell with a tiny door at the bottom in which you had to crawl into and then stand all night there would be five or six people in there at a time.
The reasons for punishment seem so unjustified and it appears that they just wanted any reason to be as cruel as possible. If you helped a fellow weak prisoner – you got punished, if you gave someone you food – you got punished, if someone ran away they would punish ten other prisoners for that persons actions. There was a killing wall where people were regularly shot and it was horrible to stand on the same ground where all these people have brutally lost there lives.
The bit that I wasn’t looking forward to was the gas chamber, the only way to describe it was a concrete underground bunker. When the prisoners arrived after being stuffed in a train for three days they were told they were being taken to shower. They were split into men and woman with children and then selected on whether they were fit to work. If they weren’t fit to work they were taken off separately naked for a ‘shower’, led into the gas chamber and killed. Hardly any children survived as they were all killed. The thing that upset me were the nail marks down the walls from people clawing to get out. They were then burned by other prisoners, which must have been horrendous.
Next we were taken to Auschwitz II or Birkenau as it is more well known as which is the camp where actually most of the killing was done. This is more to show the scale of the camp and reflect, hardly any barracks are open as they are falling down. The Nazis did everything as cheap as possible in order to make as much money as they could.
There was just barbed wire and barracks and the ruins of gas chambers it was so horrible to see how big the camp is and the horrors that went on there, I must say it was a quiet journey back to our apartment.
After a debrief and in-depth conversation about what we had seen we went out for a lovely Mexican meal and then headed to the main Old Town Square for a drink. There was a jazz band playing and the funniest drunk man dancing for everyone it was such a laugh. After a few cocktails we went home to bed.
The next day was a free day with no trips booked so we went to hire segways as Josh really wanted to give them a try. We were given a lesson and I must say I was terrible at first as you always feel like you are going to fall off, and it all about balance. We had hired them for an hour but the guide for some reason wouldn’t let us go off on our own and insisted on coming with us (must have seen trouble coming). We had so much fun whizzing around on them, it was a bit scary going up curbs on them as you had to lean forward with full power to get them to go up, and because we were scared me and Amy always ended up stopping at the curb and then not being able to get up!
The one lady who did surprise everyone (in more ways than one) was my mum, she was so good at segwaying, riding around taking videos and handing our mints. Then the disaster happened at one very narrow bit she hit a parked car and fell off really hurting her shoulder. Then when she got back on the Segway she felt faint and then briefly fainted in the street and at one point we thought we might have to call an ambulance. I must say we are joking with her about it now, but it was pretty scary at the time and we are really glad she’s ok!
So after a steak lunch and a wanderthat afternoon the parents went back as my mum wasn’t feeling very well.
Me, Chris, Josh and Amy hired three wheel bikes with motors, they were just like mobility scooters it was hilarious. They were so rubbish but we had such a funny afternoon. We had to go back early though as two lost battery and the other had a popped tyre!
We finished the night with a few cocktails then back to the apartment as we were up early the next day for our salt mines tour!