Krakow, Hostel Abel

We visited Auschwitz – Birkenau today. Auschwitz is just outside or on the edge of the town of Oswiecim about 33 miles east of Krakow. Birkenau is just over a mile to the north west of Auschwitz.

What a night. Very little sleep. It was so noisy out in the street, then the thunderstorm came and how! There was lightening followed by thunder and the most torrential rain. I had to shut the window though we were cooking, as the rain started to come in. It gave one very heavy shower in the morning, before breakfast.

We set our alarms for 6.30 and got up then and had an early breakfast. Met a nice Finnish girl. Then we headed for the bus station, Krakow Glowny.

It threatened rain but it kept away. We got our tickets and had a good run out to Oswiecim.

We got to Auschwitz with time a bit tight for our guided tour which was to start at 11.00. Then things went pear shaped. We were herded into the entrance and then found we couldn’t take our bags with us. We had to take them over to a wee sort of shed where we had to pay 3 zl for each of our bags to be stored. We were given a pathetically thin blue plastic bag to carry what we needed. When I went to see about our pre-booked guided tour I found that the one I had bought online was Slovakian! Only I could manage that.

The museum would not exchange us onto an English tour. We had to buy extra tickets for an English guided tour at 11.45. We had to do that otherwise the day would be wasted. 70 zl is about £14 which is a bargain compared with home. 

We were told to go and watch a film but when we went, the place was booked for a conference. We then went to find toilets at Bock 18. That was a job. Then we just sat under a tree and waited near the entrance for our new English tour..

I don’t mean to be trite but this gave some feeling of losing control of your life.

We did get on our tour. The guide was just superb. It was incredibly interesting and incredibly upsetting. Seeing photos of wee ones about to go to the gas chambers was harrowing. Seeing the mountains of human hair and cloth spun from it. The prosthetic limbs. The glasses. The shoes. How can man be so evil? The tour of Auschwitz took two hours.

Auschwitz was a German Nazi concentration camp which existed in the years 1940–1945. Its first prisoners were Poles. Initially the inmates also included a small group of Jews and some Germans; the latter generally performed supervisory roles in the camp. In subsequent years prisoners of other nationalities were also sent there. From 1942 the vast majority of those sent to Auschwitz were Jews and they also accounted for the largest number of its victims. Other very large groups of inmates and victims included the Poles, the Roma and Soviet prisoners of war.

It would be best to go to the museums lesson page to find out more.

I didn’t get a great picture of the main gate and its inscription “Arbeit macht frei” – “Work brings freedom”.

These are used cans of  Zyklon B.  This was an insecticide fairly widely used in places such as sealed off warehouses and laundries. In early 1942, Zyklon B emerged as the preferred killing tool of Nazi Germany for use in extermination camps during the Holocaust. Around a million people were killed using this method, mostly at Auschwitz. It is awful to think of the people killed by each of these cans. I think this was the most profoundly moving display for myself, maybe being a chemist.

Shoes, upon shoes, upon shoes. Each belonged to someone.

Washing facilities.

Bunk accommodation.

The “Wall of Death” where prisoners were taken to be shot.

Collective gallows where mass hangings were carried out.

The commandants box.

This is how near the commandant and his officers were to the main camp. It is quite incredible.

The gas chambers and crematorium.

We had a 10 minute break where we managed to drink some water and grab an ice lolly. Then we got a shuttle bus to Birkenau. In some ways it was more distressing. Just the sheer statistics.  The scale of the camp is just horrendous.  Our guide told us it was not complete. There was to have been another enormous block built.

The Germans destroyed the gas chambers and crematoria before the allies came. There were four complexes.

The conditions in here were unthinkable.

We were there for an hour and then got the shuttled bus back.I am getting old. A Canadian girl on the shuttle bus offered me her seat! Very polite, though. Needless to say I never took it. We got our bags back and had our lunch very late. There was a bus just about to leave for Krakow which we got on. It was really full and we nearly had to stand but got the last two seats at the very back.

We got into Krakow and walked, absolutely exhausted, back to the hostel.

We had a rest. Then we went to a wee Polish restaurant or Milk Bar called ‘Od zmierchu do switu’ (From dusk to dawn), and had Polish dumplings. They were ghastly even though the young man serving was so nice. I can still feel them lying in my belly now! I had meat ones, Anne was persuaded and had cheese ones. She wrapped most of them up and put them in a bag which she dumped later.

We took a wander up and down Josefa and are recovering. Very tired. The weather is cooler and it stayed dry all the time at Auschwitz and Birkenau even though the bus came through some rain.

A solemn day which I don’t think I’d repeat. I am glad I went though.