Oswiecim

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1 day 16 hrs AET
I’m sitting on a train heading back to Krakow. I’m going to open this blog with a quote from a film
“Everyone forgets that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own”
I was pleasantly surprised by the clunky old train that was the same type running in Poland when I was small, even the smell was the same :-) but they were old then.
In the south of Poland is a small town called Oswiecim (osh-fyen-chim). Its quite a nice town in its own way it’s got a huge station building that echos it’s important past as a massive rail interchange. When the Nazis occupied Poland they also saw the importance of the railway there and so this town was renamed to the German translation: Auschwitz.
The name synonymous with one of humanities most horrific acts. At Oswiecim station we met Ellie and Bianca who were on an Interail jaunt around Europe. We all walked along to the site of the original Auschwitz prison camp OKA Auschwitz 1. This was an army barracks converted for the purpose of a concentration camp. Political prisoners, Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals and anyone who had physical or mental impairments were amongst the early inmates. As you take your first look at the barbed wire and the infamous sign over the gates Arbeit Mact Frei (Work makes/sets you free) you feel that knowledge strike you that it’s real, this happened. I have to impress this on you that this is very real, it really did happen but you truly feel it when you see it. Amongst some of the more novel methods the Nazis had for torture and killing were to march them off to work then March them round the camp where they had to sing “hooray we’re back” then they were shot. These people were broken quickly, upon arrival they had their possessions removed, then were shaved all over then showered with freezing or scalding water then they had their picture taken. The camp commandant gave them a speech: “a rabbi with not live longer that 2 weeks, a priest, 3 weeks and the rest of you will probably be dead in a few months. There is no escape, the only way out is up the crematorium chimney”
With this in mind the Nazis began research into “the problem of the final Jewish solution”. Shooting? No… A waste of bullets. Injection? No… Too slow. So they came upon the idea of poison gas. Cyclone B, a rat poison which turn to gas when activated by body heat and shuts down the oxygen transfer system of the body was perfect. So they began gassing prisoners. The first gas chamber was able to do 700 people at a time, it showed the Nazis the way forward.
It is right now I want to remember a prisoner of Auschwitz 1: In block 6 there are photos all over the walls, hundreds of terrified eyes starring at you all except for Jan Krasinski, a watchmaker born 16/05/1915… He survived 14 months and in his picture, he was smiling and his eyes glittered with a humour that seemed to say “you can’t break me”.
There are rooms in the other blocks with displays of items plundered from the dead of both Auschwitz camps. Suitcases, spectacles, pots and pans, shoes (80,000 of them!). But possibly most horrific of all is the hair.
2000kg of female hair (never taken from men), taken from approximately 40,000 corpses. Since it would take the Nazis about 20 mins to kill 2000 people in a gas chamber in Auschwitz 2, 6 gas chambers all doing between 1400 and 2000 people it took about 1hour 20mins to kill enough people to generate that much hair. They would send it to companies to make cloth!!!!
I’m going to mention Auschwitz (2) – Birkenau. Situated on a spur from the railway 3km from Auschwitz 1 the Nazis built their killing masterpiece. As you have read it was damned efficient in its task. Almost every picture taken shows the selection process on the area between the lines. Twizzles and our friends took one look and then walked back to the main gated archway. I sat at the crossroads (the point of selection) and wrote:

I feel alone here
Here people met their end
Not by the actions of their past
But by the life they were born into
I see before me the path they had to take
To the left as I face the gates
This is where they believed they would live
This is where they would die.
I hear the horn of a train
People here must have heard the whistle of a steam train
People must have heard the sounds of a world
That one man decided they could no longer be a part of
I am lucky, I can walk back out of the gate.

As I walked away a thought occurred to me that gave meaning to a phrase from a story/game I enjoy. If Auschwitz-Birkenau could talk and it could speak to Hitler and Himmler and all the rest of them it would say “I am a monument to all your sins”.

Auschwitz is a monument, everyone should visit it once, but I promise that you won’t want to again.

It’s time to find a beer and a meal (it’s taken that long to write this) but I’m including a picture of what I could could see when I wrote those words above.

Much Love
And after today all I want to say is: be excellent to each other

Zombie and Twizzles
Xxxxx

To blog or not to blog? That is the question

So in “Getting there” I posed the question “Would it be disrespectful to post from inside Auschwitz?” 

In this blog Twizzles and I are hoping to pass on the feelings and emotions we experience when we visit the various places on our adventure. To start off we will visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, then the salt mines at Wieliczka. After we move on to Chernobyl and the abandoned city of Prypiat. Finally, we’ll visit my uncle in the north who was inside the shipyards in Gdansk when the workers barricaded themselves in and demanded a Trade Union (I’m not going in to that now).

Now, stevetaphouse made a great comment “I think you should aim to take everything in while you’re there and then blog later. If there’s too much to say in one blog, write 2/3shorter ones but above all write it from your heart and remember the experience.”

I think Steve is right, if I try blogging from within the camp then perhaps I might loose sight of what’s around me, or perhaps I might just write “shocking” over and over again.

I’m going to take my notebook into the camp with me. Now don’t anyone expect me to draw something; I’m dreadful at drawing (more’s the pity). What I hope to do, is to perhaps sit somewhere that was significant – the selection ramp sticks firmly in my mind and write how I’m feeling and what I can see. When I post in the evening when we return to Krakow and I’ll quote word for word what I write in my notes.

The more I think about this the more and more trepidation I’m feeling. I’m actually getting a bit scared about going Auschwitz. To see a place where humanity demonstrated how evil it can truly be; every time I try to comprehend how I might feel, I just draw blanks and see some of the photos of the women and children who were mere minutes from the gas chambers. 

As I have said before, it deserves the time and respect, and so it shall have it.

I promise not to be so depressing on my next post.

Until then, Much Love

~Zombie

Getting there

Ok so its the middle of January, we are leaving in the middle of August; Twizzles has already made a list of what to take in the cases. Speaking of, we picked up a Radley Case for £50!! how cool is that? 

Got some advice from Mama Zombie, she gave me some useful info for Krakow and Warsaw. But we were on the phone talking over directions on a map, we had two different maps and the Lonely Planet pocket map clearly didn’t have the same level of detail as hers because she was listing every street name not shown on my map. Fortunately she’s going to lend me that map so we won’t get lost. 

The Lonely Planet guide also has a small section about Auschwitz-Birkenau. Not sure how I feel about visiting this place. Of course it deserves our time and needs to be witnessed but even the few pictures (or even the street map of Oswiecim (which is the polish name for the town)) seem almost scary. I have an odd fascination with things that scare me but I have no idea how seeing this place of mechanised horror will affect me. I would like to post from the camp to try to articulate how I’m feeling in the moment, as it were. Would this be disrespectful? I’m not sure to be honest but I want this journal to include true feelings of the places we visit and I get the feeling that somewhere like that will generate feelings which should be logged and not allowed to be diluted by time.

I’d appreciate any posts with opinions on this. If we agree I shouldn’t (or its simply not possible) I promise to write my feelings down in my notebook and post them upon our return to Krakow.

Enough of such a depressing subject. Everything is booked now, the only thing outstanding is the long haul train travel within Poland, we’ll pick that up a little closer to the time.

The reality of this trip is starting to settle in, I have wanted to visit Auschwitz and Chernobyl for so long and this year I’m finally going to get to do it. As long as I’m planning to go places I might hit up out Chernobyl tour provider for a trip to somewhere totally batshit crazy… North Korea. 

On that note I’ll bid you goodnight

~Zombie