The clip-clops seemed to clatter over the cobbles up till around 11pm, but it had been a long day and I only received this vital piece of information at breakfast from Sue. I had started a lovely relationship with my Polish pillow and was oblivious to the nags outside.
Breakfast was a hearty affair of cheeses, meats, sausages, eggs and breads. Yogurt and cereals were also on offer but I stayed away from such Devil’s fayre. Appetite satisfied, we made our way through an icicle shower to the lobby of the Radisson Blu hotel where we read the English newspapers until our coach to Auschwitz arrived.
The journey lasted just under an hour and we watched a very informative video of the ideology behind, and the operation of the camp. A good preparation for what we were to experience.
On arrival we split into two smaller groups and were issued with headphones and receivers linked to our guide for the day. We followed our leader through the various huts and buildings in the camp, stopping frequently for information. The site was very busy, it is always very busy, irrespective of the time of year or weather conditions. Hearteningly, many of the visitors were young, many as groups of large school parties. All failed to display any exuberance of youth and many seemed particularly touched by what they were discovering.
Much of what you see, has been preserved sympathetically and doesn’t over-egg the monstrosity of what took place, it doesn’t need it. The absolute evil of the concept and operation of the place is profound. The accommodation blocks, the torture cells, the electrified barbwire, the execution wall, the garrets and the gas chambers are not for description or even photographs, they should be experienced, ‘in the flesh’ and contemplated. Sombre descriptions of both horrific acts and of unbelievable heroism and self-sacrifice play with your emotions and will hopefully serve as a warning to our fellow young visitors for the future.
We spent 3.5 hours in the relatively complete Auschwitz Camp 1. After a short break for breath, we boarded the bus and travelled the short distance to Auschwitz Camp 2, other wise known as Birkenau. There are 4 camps in all, with Birkenau being the largest. It is massive. That is the one fact that I had difficulty with. It was mass destruction of fellow humans on an industrial scale. Seventy percent of the 1.5 million people (that is a guess and is probably more, a lot more) passing through its gates were murdered in gas chambers within hours and their ashes scattered into pond within twenty-four. The rest were worked to death.
Again, as in camp 1, we wandered through the complex, though the majority of the huts were wooden and to cover their crimes the Nazis had destroyed much of what was there. We stood awhile at the central memorial, before passing by the destroyed changing room, gas chambers and ovens. It was very sobering, as was passing through the Death Huts where the women who had been worked to exhaustion and could do no more, waited without food or water until their time came to be killed.
It was a bitterly cold day and I think it was a good time to visit this place. On our return journey to Krakow I considered what would have happened to our little island or indeed the rest of the world if this German ideology had not been defeated. I shudder to think!
Back at the hotel we had several cups of warming coffee and caught up with the news on BBC24 before finding a restaurant for our evening meal.
After much perusing of the many options available, we eventually settled for a small restaurant on a side street off the Market Square, purely because the banter from the ‘usher-in’ was convincing. It was a good choice. Sue’s pork chop and Polish vegetable nonsense and my pork ribs and Polish vegetable nonsense were very tasty, and very ………….. ah that’s the word ……….. Polish. For the first time ever we chose the same dessert, marshmallow and chocolate, with citrus crisps and parsley ice-cream, I think we have been watching too much Master Chef together!
Tonight was significant because there was a super-moon. Charlotte had posted a photo of it several hours earlier on Facebook from Bali and it was nice to post our photo of its Polish version as we ate our meal.