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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Auschwitz - The Remains Of Pain

My dearest friends,

**The opinions in this post are my own 100%. Nobody told me what I should or should not write. I have always written from my heart! Discover Cracow invited me on this tour free of charge. In exchange, as a lovely lass, I am offering them my feedback as a happy customer. I must admit this is a new experience for me but I loved it and I would do it again anytime!**

No longer than a week ago I first spoke with Discover Cracow about a possible collaboration with them. At first, it sounded to me very much like a dream, considering that they are rated quite highly. They have 3 locations where you can ask more info about the tours and about Krakow in general. My fav location is the one in the City Center - Main Market Square, on Jana street, right in the corner. It's hard to miss ;) 
The dream became reality, when on Friday 19th, the lovely lady from Discover Cracow sent to me the vouchers for 2 trips: Auschwitz and Birkenau for the 20th and Wieliczka for the 21st of September. It was a 2 person voucher so I asked Marek to come. He replied affirmative just for Wieliczka - The Salt Mine - so I took a good friend instead. She loves history - jewish history, to be more precise - and she never was there, even though she lives in Poland for more than 2 years. She was enthusiaistic and I was happy for her, to be able to give her such a present. 
For me it was not my first time, but my second in Auschwitz. Aproximately 3 years ago, when I visited Poland for 10 days - before moving here - I went to Auschwitz for the first time. At that time I did not knew that I would stay here and marry this awesome Polish guy :) But back to our story of the day. Today I will tell you how the trip to Auschwitz went!

The tour started earlier than 8:20 am. I always go early to meeting spots when it comes to exhibitions/guided tours. We were supposed to be picked up at 8:20 am from Jana street number 2 - where one of the offices is located, right in the City Center/Main Market Square. It's easy to spot, as the office is right in the corner - done in white and blue, the colors of the brand.
Human ashes / The stairways to the exhibition begin to curve and erode due to the large number of visitors
The office usually opens up at 8 am on Saturdays so I could go and double check where we should wait. It was just there, in front of the office. Exactly on time the bus was there and me and my dear friend hopped in. The tour guide from the company was lovely. She always had a smile on her face, had very good English language skills and - to the help of the people in the bus, to the help of tourists whom speak not Polish - she even changed her name.
Gas Chamber Model / Zyklon B
When she introduced herself to us and we shook hands, she introduced herself as Sophie (to me that is a very romantic name, mainly because it is French and French language is so soothing...). Later on that day, out of curiosity, I asked her for her real name and I guessed it! It was Zosia :) One of the daughters of Marek's bigger sister is named Zosia. For me Zosia is a very friendly name.
Anyway, as I said, we got into the bus and Sophie introduced herself and the driver and made sure we would all know the number of the bus. We received stickers with the Discover Cracow logo + the 2 customer service lines - one in Polish and one in English language.
4 people would stand up in one of those cells until they would be no more...
The drive to Auschwitz, from the City Center, according to the traffic, takes from 45 minutes to one hour and a bit. Almost 3 years ago I went on the same tour so I can tell you straightforward the pluses and the minuses of the trip. I loved that during the way there, after Sophie introduced herself and the driver, she put on a video about the liberation from Auschwitz.
The Wall Of Death with stones brought by the Jewish visitors
It was about the footage filmed by the Red Army. There was an interview of a Russian filmmaker - to my shame, I do not remember his name, but he was the first who filmed in Auschwitz. The movie lasted for around 40-45 minutes and managed to put us in the mood for what was coming up next. In it there was footage I have never seen before and I must admit that one needs to be strong-hearted to watch it.
When arriving in Auschwitz I - also known as Oswiecim - we had 15 min mini-break for toilet and snacks. If you wish to go to the bathroom, be prepared with money in advance. The entrance at the public toilet costs 1 zloty per person. But fear not! Right on ground level there is an ATM machine so you can extract the minimum of 50 zloty and then do your thing ;)
The Only Remaining Crematorium Standing Can Be Found At Auschwitz I
If you wish to leave your bigger luggage you can pay 2 zloty per safety box. We left all our belongings in the minivan and it was ok. Our group consisted of 19 people - different ages and countries. I did not remember that you are not allowed to have big bags/backpacks inside Auschwitz so I came with a bigger bag where I fit camera + lens + water bottle + umbrella (I had a feeling it would rain, and it did!) + wallet. It was as big as an A4 so it was considered large. I left it inside the car :( Thank God Ioana had a shopping bag and we fitted everything in there!
The tour consisted of 2 parts: Auschwitz I, also known as Oswiecim, and Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau. The first part lasted around 1 hour and 45 minutes as there was a lot of exhibitions to see indoor. Birkenau was faster - with only one hour tour - but also, at least for me, much more powerful. In Auschwitz I you see red brick houses in 4-5 lines. When you get to Auschwitz II you begin to grasp the magnitude of the acts that were carried then. You see an open field, as long as your eyes can reach, filled with barracks.
 Then you hear from the tour guide that very barrack had several hundred people inside. You hear that the wooden barracks were actually at first constructed as stables for up to 50 horses. They replaced cattle with people... You hear from the guide how 19 barracks were specially created for the new commers, you hear that they were taught there to obey and learned their own tatooed number in German language... You hear that at least 75% of the people entering Birkenau would never make it, they would never leave the camp, they would have been sent dirrectly to one of the 4 crematories... then you start asking yourself why/how would someone be so evil-hearted as to wish to kill a nation?!
 It is quite hard to write ones opinion on this kind of tour. What can you say about it? You could not say that you liked it or you found it interesting as I think it would defeat its purpose. It would not be appropriate to say such a thing. I can say for me that it was an experience that leaves you wondering and wanting to understand more. It makes you search for more answers or just ask even more questions. I would recommend everyone to go there at least once in their lifetime. We should never forget what happened, else it will happen again.
The Memorial At The End Of The Tracks...
Women's Sector
I would like to thank Discover Cracow for giving me the opportunity of seeing this place again. Time does not change or erase its memory. It enhances it. I loved hor for Birkenau there is a new parking platform built for the buses that come visit. Three years ago, each bus stopped in front of the Death Gates - as they were called during and after World War 2 - and then they had to go away - God knows where - and come back after an hour and pick people back after the tour.
Three years ago I visited just the mens sector but now, with the help of Discover Cracow I also saw the inside of the red brick barracks in the women's sector. We also were lucky, as our tour guide inside Auschwitz brought us even up to the tower, on top of the Death Gates. Make sure your tour guide does the same! The view is breath-taking and you get to capture the fullness of Auschwitz II - Birkenau. You can see the whole camp and in the far distance, if your eyes are good, you can even see crematorium 2 and 3 ruins. No crematorium remains standing at Auschwitz II - they were all demolished/blown up when the Germans heard the Red Army coming.
Through the courtesy of Ioana, we have a panorama taken from the tower
I finish this post with the hope that one day all of my readers will visit this place. Make sure you get a guided tour so you can make the most of it. You can ask them questions and they will know for sure what to show you and when. Trust them and you will have nothing to lose. Just make sure you put this place on your bucket list. It is totally worth it. If you do not wish to do it to enrichen yourself, then do this for history! Do this to honor the people that died there.

** Sponsored post but written from the heart, without any external influences**

Yours truly,
A LadyBug That Loves History