As we drove out of Poland today we stopped at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Words can’t really express what it was like to stand where so many others stood in horrible conditions. To walk through the barracks they lived in. To see the conditions, breathe the air, and hear the stories of those who had gone before.
Auschwitz is an eerie place, but being there today in the cold, still, foggy conditions made the realities of its use during WWII so much more confronting. As I stood there rugged up with thermals, 3 jumpers, scarf, gloves and thermal woollen socks in my sturdy shoes, still shivering, I couldn’t help but think of those forced to work in similar weather conditions with nothing more than prison pyjamas and bare feet. As we walked though a remaining barrack at Birkenau that had housed hundreds of women in cramped and uncomfortable bunks, it made our race each morning for a good seat on the tour bus seems ridiculous, when all 50 of us would have been housed in just over 6 bunks. And as I looked at what little remained I was reminded that we as humans know when we are doing something wrong… we cover our tracks, we blow things up so they can’t be identified, burn things down and remove the evidence… we know… they knew.
I think the thing I have been finding most confronting particularly about WWII is lies the Jewish people were told constantly and despite the fact that so many never returned, so many still came with hope. Hope that they were in fact going to a better place, hope that work would set them free, hope that they would live, despite what they had heard and could see. They came under the lies of resettlement, bringing their best belongings. They were told they would live in rooms complete with twin chimneys – stoves for heat and cooking, stoves that were never used. The were told they could stay with their children as they were washed, only to have their dignity stolen as they stripped down and then held the hands of their loved ones as they died together. Only to have their belongings sorted, donated or sold. Only to be exploited even in death.
It’s hard to believe that it isn’t just some horrible story. That this actually happened… and that despite it’s warning not to let it happen again that mass killings and genocide seem to continue with uncomfortable frequency.
There was a quote in the doorway that said:
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
And I think we forget too often… I hope that I never forget the things that I have seen today… that I never gloss over a past this horrific. But more than anything I really do hope it stops repeating.
Working my through all these places has made me realise how little I actually know about anything… and that the little I did know is so tainted with Hollywood… most of it is incorrect… enter Poland just to confirm this…
So here are some Polish fun facts that I now know are true because I lived it… or I read it while in Poland… so that makes it legit.
- Polish Dumplings are a thing… they are called pierogi and they look a lot like Asian dumplings… but they have their own Polish flair… I can’t tell you which came first, but I can tell you both are delicious.
- The Warwel Castle in Krakow is said to be built on the lair of Krak the dragon… so it’s may not be confirmed fact… but I did learn it at the foot of the castle so I think it counts… it also carries it’s own fact and legend… FACT: there is a statue of Krak the dragon outside the castle… LEGEND: it apparently shoots fire every 15mins or so… I saw some fire from a distance… but despite waiting right up close… I never saw it again…
- Oskar Schindler was a complex guy… he saved a lot of people… but I am not sure if that was always his plan… I am sure glad he did, but I not convinced he is the clear cut war hero I thought he was before I checked out the museum they made in his old factory.
- There is a church… in the Jewish quarter that has a fairly sizable prison cell on the front of the building where adulterers were held… so everyone could see… and so they could have some time out.
- There is a dagger hidden in the main market square… the dagger is said to be the weapon used by one of the two brothers who built the towers of St Mary’s Basilica to kill the other brother because he was jealous that the tower his brother built was better than his… Oh and in the tower there is a trumpeter that plays the ‘Krakow Anthem’ but only up to a certain point… It is stopped abruptly because legend has it the trumpeter was shot in the throat when sounding the alarm way back in 1241… They re-enact it one the hour every hour…