Our transit to Krakow was long and included one of the most serious. parts of our trip, our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. We drove nearly 5 hours with 1 snack break, and another snack in the town of Auschwitz before our scheduled visit to the concentration camp. We started our tour at Auschwitz 1, there were 3 camps in the area. Auschwitz 1 was first for political prisoners then was converted to handle Jews and political prisoners. It is the camp with the famous gate with “Work will make you free” over it. Birkenau was the extermination camp referred to as Auschwitz 2. Auschwitz Mirkenau was a labor camp and the 3rd camp in the system.
The first camp is the most intact and many of the buildings have been set up to house various exhibits on what the victims faced. We saw exhibits on all the shoes collected, human hair, suitcases and empty cans of zyclone B, the gas used in the chambers. We all learned that tattooed numbers were not used at first, pictures were. So the walls of the hallway of one building had what one could say looked like mugshots of the Jews sent to the camp. The camp used various methods to punish and kill Jews and homosexuals, most of the gypsies were sent to Auschwitz 2 for immediate extermination. St. Maximillian Kobe died in one of the starvation camps. Today there is a candle John Paul I blessed and placed in the cell where he died.
Birkenau was the larger of the two camps and was focused on the extermination of the Jews. It is a sprawling complex with majority of the buildings destroyed or unsafe. It has a powerful monument in the middle and towards the rear of the camp complex. It sits between gas chamber 2 and 3, there were 5 chambers. We learned about Canada where all the goods were collcted, sorted and put in warehouses. We saw what living conditions would have looked like for the Jews, their barracks and a latrine building. We discussed uprisings and the importance of a job like working in the latrines. The train tracks down the middle were a reminder of the processing of the Jews. Healthy men and young men on one side, healthy women on the other side. The elderly, sickly, pregnant women and children were sent straight to the gas chambers.Needless to say the visit effected the travelers and there was much discussion on what we had seen. Each person was effected differently by the visit.
We continued on another hour and a half to Kravow. Stopping for dinner near the airport outside the city. Our restaurant was quite interesting in design, it looked like an alpine ski lodge. While non of the staff wore lederhosin, polka music played and all the furniture was made of wood. The chicken was tender and delicious, with some potatoes. With such an early departure we were all ready for our hotel. After a brief explanation to the hotel and patience by our tour director Martina we were able to smooth out some rooming issues and everyone settled in for the night ready to explore Krakow in the morning.