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Published: June 17th 2007
Auschwitz II - Birkenau
Beginning around May 1944, trains that were 40 to 50 cars long would carry thousands of Jews through this gate to be murdered in one of the four gas chambers at Birkenau. The prisoners came to know this passageway as the "Gate of Death". The train tracks seen here were laid specifically for entrance into the concentration camp, and the tracks ended only a few yards away from two of the gas chambers.
Our day started off with a city tour of Krakow. We went first to Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter (and also the location where some scenes of 'Schindler's List' were filmed). There is a memorial in the center of the street commemorating the lives of the 65,000 Jews from Krakow who lost their lives during the Holocaust. To my surprise, there are currently only 150 registered Jews still living in the city. I guess it was too hard for many of the survivors to stay after the horrors that occured there and many relocated to other areas to start new lives, which is completely understandable. There are several Jewish synagogues still remaining in the quarter but only one is currently in use.
After Kazimierz we headed to Wawel Hill to tour the Royal Castle. This was the residents of the rulers of Poland between the 14th and 17th centuries. After the capital was moved to Warsaw, the castle fell into disrepair but has since been restored and all the inside furnishings are original.
After touring the castle we walked through Krakow back toward the main square, where our tour ended. It was 12:30pm and our tour to Auschwitz was
Kazimierz was the Jewish Quarter of Krakow between the 14th century and WWII. During the war, the Jews in Kazimierz (and all of Krakow) were sent to live in a ghetto in Podgorze; many were later killed at the ghetto or at nearby death camps.
leaving at 2:40pm, so we decided to eat while we'd have a chance. We went to North Fish, a seafood restaurant located on one end of the square. I had grilled salmon with potatoes which tasted much better than I was expecting. They have some sort of a dill sauce here that is quite tasty, although I'm not exactly sure what's in it (and am probably the better for not knowing since I tend to be psychologically altered when learning the ingredients to things).
After lunch we headed over to the Wawel Chocolate shop so I could stock up on candies to bring home (as if my suitcase isn't already heavy enough!), and then we headed over to wait for the tour bus to take us to Auschwitz.
It's hard to put the experience of seeing Aushwitz into words. It was almost surreal wandering the grounds of what was once a military barracks but what later became the place where 1.5 million innocent people lost their lives. The area has also been so immaculately preserved that it feels like it could have been yesterday that the atrocities that occured there actually happened, and you can certainly feel a
Stephen Spielberg filmed part of the movie "Schindler's List" here in Kazimierz. The building and area in this photo were used for the scene in the film where the Jews were lining up to be registered.
somber presence in the air. It was a beautiful sunny day when we walked the grounds and I can't imagine for one second what it would have been like there in the winter, which is when many people whose pictures I looked at had arrived. There are walls of photographs, taken like mugshots, with the dates people arrived and the dates in which they were murdered. Many lasted there between one and six months, depending on how fit they were to work. After awhile people were no longer registered, photos were no longer taken, and numbers were no longer imprinted onto their arms. The records of those lives live only in the memories of the families left behind who knew they had perished there.
The hardest things to see at Auschwitz were the collections of artifacts discovered after the camp was liberated. Piles of shoes, suitcases, shaving brushes, and spectacles are on display in some of the barracks. In one room, an entire wall of human hair is piled from floor to ceiling. This was by far the hardest thing to look at, not just because it was something physical from the victims, but also because it was collected
Ariel, a Jewish restaurant located in Kazimierz, became a favorite spot for Steven Spielberg while filming "Schindler's List".
just from the last group who came into the camp. Everything belonging to the groups who had come before them had been sold or sent off to Germany.
(You can't take pictures inside any of the barracks...however, I did find a link that has photos of some of the displays. They are not easy to look at, but I wanted to remember what I saw there). This is the link to Auschwitz Exhibits
After Auschwitz 1 we went to Auschwitz 2- Birkenau, the site of 300 barracks and the biggest of the Nazi death factories. The train tracks that carried the prisoners to the camp are still intact, as is the guard tower and the 'Gate of Death' through which the train entered. Although many of the barracks were destroyed, several remain intact or have been reconstructed so that visitors can witness the poor conditions of those who were forced to live there. Although not quite as emotional an experience as Auschwitz 1, the overall somber feeling will carry with you not only as you walk through, but probably for long after as well. I know that I willl never forget what I saw and felt in these sacred
This monument, located in Kazimierz, is a memorial to the 65,000 Jews of Krakow who were killed during WWII. Today, there are only 150 registered Jews living in Krakow.
places, and as hard as they might be to see, I think it is important to remember what happened there.
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