Monday, July 28, 2008

About Poland

Andy’s brother Lukas and his girlfriend, Katka, took last week off. So we decided to plan a trip. Being the history and war buffs that we all are (more history than war for me, but whatever), we began discussing visiting a concentration camp, either Auschwitz or Dachau. Auschwitz was bigger, but is in Poland, which is a little further of a drive. Dachau was closer, located right outside of Munich, Germany, and Katka used to live in Munich and speaks German. So, Dachau won. But, since we were planning so late, and because there was some big exhibition going on in Munich last week, we were unable to book a hotel and so settled upon visiting Auschwitz and staying the night in Krakow.

We left very early – 4am – last Wednesday. We left early to avoid the highway traffic, which apparently gets very bad because everyone in Europe drives to the beaches in Croatia in the summer. Who knew? So, we left early and arrived at Auschwitz at about 10am.

Quick tips for anyone who travels to Auschwitz: 1. if you park in the parking lot on the left side do NOT buy a guide from the girl walking around trying to sell them. It’s useless; luckily we realized this before actually purchasing the guide. 2. If you DO park in the left parking lot, wait until you are in the museum before you use the bathroom, or go before you get to Auschwitz. We had to pay a dollar each to use the toilets in that parking lot! 3. Do not walk to Birchenau. Take the bus, but beware the only leave about every 20 minutes or so, or just drive your car. There is plenty of parking there even though they indicate otherwise. We walked, and its 3 km and not a very pleasant walk. Plus there’s a ridiculous amount of snails (slimak, as they are called in Czech) on the sidewalk and it gets very tiring stepping over them… unless you prefer to step on them, which is just gross.

I don’t think I really need to get into what being at Auschwitz is like… it is, of course, very upsetting. Though I will say that Auschwitz was not nearly as terrifying or frightening as I would have thought. A few years ago we visited Terezin, in the Czech Republic, which was an internment camp for Jews and the like who were often held here for years before getting shipped off to Auschwitz right before the end of the war, to be killed. Terezin was often used as a model camp that was toured by the Red Cross during the war, as an example of the Nazis preserving Jewish life… many writers and artists were imprisoned here and were given a good amount of creative freedom, in that plays were produced, a newspaper was put out, etc. The Red Cross was impressed by this lovely display of Jewish life, and allowed Terezin to continue its operations. Of course, people were still killed here (usually hanged, if I remember correctly) and the conditions were less that stellar, when the Red Cross was not visiting, of course.

Auschwitz made me think of Terezin, physically at least. The camp was much smaller than I’d pictured, and the brick buildings surrounded by the trees…it was almost pleasant looking. It was not frightening looking, or creepy…until you start walking around (we did our own tour, not an organized group tour) and seeing things like where bodies were hanged to scare everyone else, and the death block, which holds various cells including a very small space which was a standing cell, where up to 4 people had to stand, only stand, after working all day, and where there was hardly any ventilation or air, and would usually pass out or die. And of course, the wall where people were shot.

We walked to the crematorium. We went in…though at first I didn’t think I would. But then I decided, this is what it's about, I guess. Seeing this stuff, learning from it. When you walk in, there is a sign that asks people to remain silent in honor of the people who were burned here. Of course, some people were not quiet. And someone brought a child in, about 6 years old or so, and I just don’t agree with that at all. Regardless, it was haunting and sad.

Being in a concentration camp, a place where so many people have died and suffered and lost all hope, I really didn’t want to be a hater. Andy and I tried to not get annoyed with people, like the ones who talked loudly in the crematorium, or the parents of the small child who is being exposed to things he can’t possible understand, yet may remember forever and somehow scar him. We tried to be lovng and appreciative of all humans and their differences, and all that. But the one guy who we deemed UNACCEPTABLE was the guy in the strawberry hat. Because, to wear a strawberry hat to a concentration camp… to wear something so ridiculous, so silly… well, it’s just completely disrespectful. And we couldn’t leave there without taking this guy’s picture. God knows I am not the fashion police by any means, but I felt that there was a level of toned-down-ness and respect that should be displayed when visiting a concentration camp. It’s just the right thing to do.

After Auschwitz, we went to Birchenau, which, in physical terms, is a much more upsetting place. It seems the Nazis were definitely not trying to hide anything, or sugar coat anything, when they built this camp. This was much more frightening to visit.
(Side note: Last year we visited a Communist prison camp, where Andy’s grandfather was imprisoned for being a capitalist. That camp looked very similar to Birchenau, though on a smaller level. Although not gassed, prisoners were still tortured, starved and shot there.)

Needless to say, it was an emotional day. We left at about 2pm, and headed toward Krakow. Because this blog is slightly sad I think I will write a new one about Krakow. This is the end of the concentration camp blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment