Schindler, Auschwitz and the Salt Mine

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Europe » Poland
August 9th 2019
Published: August 13th 2019
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07.08.2019. Our morning started with a leisurely breakfast and then a walk into the Jewish Quarter of Krakow, a short distance from our hotel. We visited the oldest existing Synagogue in Poland which was built in about 1407. It’s the height of the tourist season but everyone shuffles around so we can all see the exhibits. We then wandered through to the Eagle Pharmacy which, when the Nazis created the Jewish ghetto in 1941, its Polish owner Tadeusz Pankiewicz found himself at the very heart of it. Deciding to stay, he and his staff were the only Poles allowed to live and work in the ghetto and over the two years of the ghetto's existence, the pharmacy became an important centre of social life as well as aid in acquiring food and medicine and falsifying documents.

We then visited Schindler’s Museum which tells the gripping history of Krakow during the World War II – the inhabitants who were fed Nazi propaganda, the Jews who were forced to live in a ghetto and the victims of the war terror. The creators managed to perfectly capture many levels of difficulties that people had to deal with at that horrifying time.

The museum is built in a unique way: each room is meticulously arranged to resemble a very specific place – a street, a hairdresser’s salon, a labor camp, a railway station and many, many more (there is 45 of them in total). It is a very interesting mean to keep the visitors on their toes for the entire duration of the tour and makes everything much more interesting. It is a museum that just does not get boring! It is like a history lesson that you can simply walk into.

08.08.2019. Arbeit Macht Frei, Work sets you Free, so says the sign above the gates as we entered Auschwitz. Lucky us, we could walk out again, unlike the millions of people who did not. On arrival at about 10.30, we couldn’t believe the number of people lining up to purchase tickets for the 5.00pm entry! It certainly is a top tourist destination!

Our guide took us through some of the barracks and sites of the ‘camp’ with its high barbed wire fences, soldiers boxes overlooking everything, those railway tracks which we all know about. There was an exhibition where we were asked not to take photos – I lost it at this point – and out of respect for the millions who lost their lives during the atrocities here, I elected not to take any more photos of these particular exhibits but they are something I will never forget.

We then journeyed over to Birkenau where that famous entrance looms large – the entrance where the trains went through and people where shuffled off, if they lived, many did not, and with a flick of a finger their fates were sealed – either to the ‘showers’ or to work. We couldn’t believe the size of this place! Barracks everywhere, even a children’s barracks which had ‘cute’ drawings on the walls to make the children feel safe! One of the shower blocks was still there, though no roof these days and we did walk through one of the gas chambers which still had two furnaces and trolleys – our steps seemed to quicken as we walked through, didn’t want to linger, too terrible.

We were all a bit quiet on the bus back to Krakow but our visit to Auschwitz is one we won’t forget for a long time.

09.09.2019. Today we visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine, an experience which started with us descending 380 steps down to the first level of the mine. (I tried not to grumble, bearing in mind our tour yesterday)! Sodium chloride was formerly produced there from the upwelling brine - and had been since Neolithic times. The salt mine, excavated from the 13th century, produced table salt continuously until 2007, as one of the world's oldest operating salt mines. Its attractions include the shafts and labyrinthine passageways, displays of historic salt-mining technology, an underground lake, four chapels and numerous statues carved by miners out of the rock salt.

It was an interesting place to visit and by the time the tour had ended, we had walked down another 400 steps to the bottom, totalling nearly 800 steps! There was a dodgy lift to take us back to the top though! My knees the next morning? Don’t go there! The cyclist’s knees the next morning? No change!

Tomorrow we head to Budapest and the weather is looking fabulous.

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