Thursday, 21 March 2013

Day 5 - 9th March 2013, Oświęcim/Auschwitz

Today was to be the most sombre and serious day of the trip, as we had decided to go to Auschwitz. Many people wrongly call the town where the museum is located Auschwitz also, and although this may have been correct when the country was under German occupation, it is no longer - the town itself is called Oświęcim (pronounced Osh-vyen-cheem), while the term 'Auschwitz' refers solely to the 'museum' and it's surroundings.

The train to Oświęcim/Auschwitz from Kraków station
We took the train from Kraków Główny (the main station) at precisely 10:14, on one of the cheap regional trains that runs to Oświęcim fairly frequently - these trains are the most uncomfortable, and cheapest in Poland, but for a journey of 64km (40 miles) costing only around £3, you can't complain too much. The journey time was fairly long for the distance covered, but gave us time to read up on the camp a bit more before our arrival.

A sense of colour in a former world of grey
Upon arrival in Oświęcim, we had to walk 2km to the museum through housing estates, and we passed a typical apartment block from Communist times, with the pleasant addition that they had painted it in bright colours to make it more interesting and, presumably, pleasanter for the residents. There was hardly a soul in sight on the way there, which meant that our arrival at the museum to find it bursting with life, lots of tour buses and hundreds of tourists came as even more of a shock.

Entrance to the camp as seen by the victims
In any case, we entered the museum (entry is free) and bought a simple guide with map to show us the way around and with explanations of what was in each of the buildings. It was surprisingly time-consuming going round and we missed off some of the buildings as there tended to be some repetition about what had happened to the people of each nation, and one can only take so much. The most sinister areas were the area in-between buildings 10 and 11 with the so-called 'Death wall' where members of the camp had been lined up and shot, with the windows of building 10 boarded up to prevent other 'residents' viewing what happened. Building 11 was where certain prisoners and officials from various sectors of society were locked up for various non-crimes, not merely in blacked out cells but also in very small and windowless bricked-up cells where prisoners were only able to stand, with little room to move or even breathe.

Just a few of the thousands of pictures of unfortunate victims that line
the walls of the buildings at Auschwitz - none of them survived.
Following this we moved on to the other buildings. the most notorious of which was the gas chamber, very sinister and silent and was by far the worst. It did not take long to visit and one could almost imagine what had gone on here, especially after the business of the other buildings made way for the quietness here. At the end of the trip I bought a small and simple booklet with colour photos of the camp - I had made plenty of my own, but none could compare with the quality of the official images, even if they reflected a truer picture. The day we visited was very dull and this did add to the atmosphere, without the colour enhancement and pleasant weather of the official pictures - although this is useful to show people who want to see the place in a positive light, of sorts.

The wall of death where so many lost their lives

After this we had only a little time to make our train to Kraków. We were to meet some of my friends on the main square at 7pm and only just had time to do some shopping before the time came. We spent some time talking over the days events and the rest of our trip and had a few drinks. My friend introduced me to an extremely tasty honey-flavoured beer that was wonderfully smooth and I would definitely drink this again - is there a pattern emerging here, with the honey? I'd like to think so! In any case, we ended the night in a shisha bar with very oriental decoration. We did not smoke anything, but it was enough just to take in the atmosphere and enjoy a final drink. After this we retired to our room, exhausted by the days events and bracing ourselves for a long 9 hour overland journey to my favourite city Zielona Góra the following day - this would most definitely be the highlight of my trip.

The gas chamber as it looks now

Link to day 6:

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