Friday, April 25, 2014

A visit to Oswiecim

We left Warsaw after breakfast on our way to Krakow. It was an interesting to see how highways can be handled differently in different countrys. Here in Illinois as you drive along there are exit turn offs for major intersections. It was odd to see stop lights and stop signs for the same kinds of intersections.

We saw mostly countryside as we drove along; no large towns visible along the highway. Because the rules say drivers must have breaks along the way that last at least 20-30 minutes we did stop once before our lunch stop. It was a rather unusual stop, I would think, in the Polish countryside but it did provide a smile.

Now who would have expected a windmill at this point in our drive! I thought we had taken a wrong turn while I napped and ended up in the Netherlands. No, all was well and we were still in Poland! On we went after this 'pit stop', had lunch and in the early afternoon we arrived at an important, and difficult, stop on our trip. We arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, sometimes referred to as Auschwitz1- and Auschwitz2. Auschwitz is the German word for Oswiecim, the Polish town where it is located.  

We entered the camp through through the sign, now famous world wide, that says ARBEIT MACH FREI, work makes free. We entered behind a group of young Israelis. I later learned that most young Israelis make this trip before entering their service years. 

 We had an excellent guide and learned much about the horrors that happened at that place.  Auschwitz had been a Polish police training site and that was why so many of the original building were brick and well built. Newer buildings were wood and unheated. Four to six people slept on each of the slabs and

sanitary conditions were very poor. Our guide said that the sanitary conditions were so poor that the guards did not want to enter the buildings, which were separate from the bunk areas, so that provided the only space where prisoners could freely communicate with each other. Birkenau was built a short way from Auschwitz, taking over another small town. This camp became much larger and had not only gas chambers but crematoriums as well. Needless to say this visit left us all with strong emotional feelings and for some memories of their own families and the Holocaust.  There is much more about this and other camps where the Nazis tortured and killed many Jews, Romas, citizens from many nations who did not share their views. One of those sites is Auschwitz Concentration and Extermination Camp if you would want more information. 

It was a thoughtful and tired group that climbed in the bus ready for our ride to Krakow. We were looking forward to seeing the old city and visiting a different kind of museum, a salt mine that is also an art museum -- of sorts.  Part II of Krakow comes next.

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