We arrived in Krakow early. Around 7am. We were tired, some not so well rested, but still excited. I mean, we were in Poland. How could you not be excited about it? We were up early enough to see the sunrise from the train. The day started off with breakfast and a walking tour of the city. It was nice to not be on a bus for once in order to get a tour. Bus tours get old quick.
The main place we saw was the Wawel Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church. We also visited St. Mary’s Basilica near the Main Market Square of Krakow. We just saw a few things and mainly got acquainted with city more than anything. It was a nice change of pace.
After that we had a good amount of free time during which we could get lunch and do our own thing. I managed to get my hand on some pierogis and couldn’t have been more happy. They were just like the ones my family gets from our church! It was a nice taste of home in Krakow.
We met back at the hotel later that afternoon to explore the Jewish Quarter. We went to a small museum they have there discussing the history and also to a nearby cemetery filled with hundreds upon hundreds of headstones. Some were broken up and morphed into large monuments. I’m not sure of the history, but I assume it had to do with one group or another coming through to tear up the Jewish quarter and the monuments of headstones being to try and show respect for those that were ruined.
Our dinner that evening was in a traditional Jewish restaurant. I had another form of pierogi, not complaining at all about it. Our live music that night were two different bands. The first had a woman who sang in Yiddish, and her voice was beautiful. Both bands had just three instruments: stand-up bass, fiddle, and an accordion. The music was nice. I enjoyed it.
The next day, our last of the trip, was an incredibly emotional day for everyone I’m sure. We spent the majority of the day in the Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: No matter how many times I studied the Holocaust in history classes and no matter how many times I was told of the conditions there, it never hit me like actually visiting these places. I’m not entirely sure what to say about it.
We went through many of the buildings they had displays set up in and that alone was difficult. We got to blocks 10 and 11 and that was ever more difficult: it was where they’d do experiments on the prisoners, including testing on twins and trying techniques to make women sterile. The smaller gas chambers looked like small factories and would raise no suspicions to someone who was told they’d be going to a work camp.
Birkenau, where the largest gas cambers were located, we unbelievable. They were all torn down and in shambles. The Nazis knew they couldn’t hide the fact that they had killed people in this way, so they instead tried to hide the scale at which they did it. It’s horrifying to think of: that this could happen. That someone could hold so much power and people would believe what this person said because they promised to make things better. Birkenau was just has terrifying with it’s train tracks leading right into the middle of the camp, added because the five minute walk from the regular stop was too long for the prisoners.
I think that’s all I can say on the topic. You can look at the pictures and take what you can from them, but it won’t be the same as actually being there.
It was rocky ending, to have something so upsetting to end our trip with, but that’s just the way it was. We returned to the city, had our dinner, and then headed to the airport. We were back in Berlin that night, with just one more weekend until our actual semester began.