Thursday, May 15, 2008

Day 2: Auschwitz

What day of the week is this? They all seem to run together.
Krakow is crazy town. Everything is topsy turvy. Birds fly upside down and it rains up. Well actually it hasn't rained yet, thank God.
So I got up at 7:30 this morning and watched American Idol and made my way to the train station. Things leave on time here. So the train took about an hour and a half, during which time I listened to some of the conversation this guy in front of me was having with a girl from Australia. You know how you do something cool? Well there's always someone who does something cooler. This lady had been traveling for 3 years straight, blah, blah. Show off. I would miss my cat anyway. So this guy is telling her how she has to go to Ontario, how they have the best canoing in the world and camping there is amazing.
So I get off the train and feel like I'm going to faint. Not good, so I sat down to eat something, all I found was ice cream but any port in a storm. So when I felt well enough I got up and had heard there was buses available to Auschwitz for like one dollar. Well if there were they weren't marked. There was like 10 different buses and no one spoke English. So I walked.
This all started about 10 years ago when I bought a book from, I think the first time I bought anything over the internet called "A Traveler's Guide to World War II Sites" and since then I've had the dream to go to Auschwitz. The book said it was the biggest and best so it was amazing today to finally realize a life goal.
So I started to walk and had heard there are loads of signs and you can't get lost. Not so. I started following tour buses which I think was pretty smart of me, and made a wrong turn and ended up in Birkenau.

This was the second camp. Auschwitz used to be a Polish army site and was then changed into a camp but it couldn't accommodate the over 1 million people that eventually passed through so they build a second way 3 km away. Oh, yes, the walk. People said it was 15 minutes. In Toronto 15 minutes is 3 blocks. In Poland 15 minutes is 7 miles. That was fun.
So I found someone who speaks English, found out I was at the wrong place and had about 45 minutes to kill until the bus came to take me to the right place. This time I got smart as whenever you ask someone where to get the bus here they point out the window. Which is not helpful. So this time I asked what colour the bus was which made all the difference in the world as I was able to find a red bus with a cream stripe.
So I eventually found my way to Auschwitz.

It was so big. I could believe the scope of the place, especially Birkenau. The place where the people got sorted when they got off the train to where they took the showers was like 2 or 3 miles. The actual showers were right beside the gas chambers so you didn't know which one you were getting. I would be the first one to be shot. "HOW FAR???"

This is walking into the main camp in Auschwitz, just beyond the "Work Makes Freedom" sign and the two layers of electrified barbed wire and guards towers.

This is the crematorium in Auschwitz, the only one not destroyed by the Nazis. They stopped using in to gas and kill people when the bigger, more efficient buildings were built so they didn't need this one anymore and I guess forgot about it when it came time to destroy the evidence.

This is the Auschwitz cat. I have no idea why a cat was there but he was very skinny so I picked him up and played with him until he ran away.

This is a jar of ashes that they found and reserved from the crematorium. This is also the first time I got yelled at for taking a picture so I stopped for a while and bought postcards.

This is a registration document for people entering the camp.

This is a postcard received for someone at the camp. The people were given fake addresses to give to their friends when they were sent here and none of the mail got through.

This is a bunch of pots and pans. The people were told they were going to begin a new life in another part of Eastern Europe so they brought pots with them to cook, along with all their other possessions they could carry.
There were whole rooms of human hair, I mean rooms like 40 feet by 300 feet full of hair. Another the same size full of shoes. The Russians who liberated the camp found over 40,000 pairs of shoes. Rooms of brushes and rooms of suitcases and rooms of children's clothes with broken dolls mixed in. They called the storeroom "Canada" as it was a place with a lot of resources.

This was where the people would be sorted when they got off the train. This is the view from the guards tower.

This is the toilet room which SUCKED for these people. There was a sign on the wall saying something like "Quiet and polite please" or something in German that is not there now.

This is the barracks.

This is a marker by the pond. The gas chamber was nearby and after the people were burned their ashes were dumped in this pond. The pond was like the size of my parents house. Small for all those ashes.

This was one of the gas chambers that was blown up with dynamite by the Germans before they left.

This is another gas chamber, you can see the path people walk into the building on. It was compartmentalized for such a small buildings, like a factory, where you walk in, get naked, get gassed, and then are burned and taken out the other side. I was surprised during the tour I took the guide kept saying things like "This is proof of the atrocities. This is proof. This is proof." Are their really still people who deny the holocaust?

This is the washing room where people shower and then get their clothes laundered. I took this picture as there was almost no German anywhere on either site. There is the "work makes freedom" sign, "Halt" by the guardposts and this washing room sign. That's it. Why did they keep the camp but take down all the German?

This is a very small selection of suitcases taken from prisoners.

This last picture is me in front of Birkenau. I found a way to get people to take my picture, pay them. This picture was taken by my taxi driver. I had about 10 minutes to get back to the train station and the next train left over 2 hours later and the camp was closing so I hopped in the cab and said step on it. Big mistake. I'm lucky I'm still breathing.
This cabbie is going 100 km an hour and decides to tell me the story of his life in the 5 minutes ride. He starts in about where he grew up in very broken English
I got distracted and spent 2 hours talking to Colin from Winnipeg and Peter from Poland about our ways of life.
Anyway so this taxi driver talks about where he grew up and then takes out a map and shows me where he grew up and this map is covering the windshield at this point. Then he takes out the photo album and starts showing me his family and I'm thinking I'm going to die.
Anyway, it's 1 am so I have to go to sleep.
Tomorrow night I take the train to Prague and this girl here was telling me how she got robbed on that train last night and how all the locals say "Don't fall asleep on the train to Prague." Yipee.

No comments: