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Old 15 Jan 20, 01:21 PM  
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smithlane
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Birthday Break to Krakow - 24th Nov 2019 - Auschwitz

Day 2

Just a small side note before I begin. Today we are off to Auschwitz which may be an uncomfortable read for some. I will highlight the time we are there in Italics so you know what bit to skip but we were there all day so it is the majority of the post.

We woke up to the alarm at 8 after a good night sleep.
Got up and ready then left the room at 9 heading for Starbucks yet again. We didn’t have long until we had to meet the tour bus so this was quick and easy.







We both had the ham and cheese croissants again and both also had the cinnamon rolls. Jim a large cappuccino and for me a small hot chocolate and a small Berry Hibiscus Refresher.
Jim also got me the 3 Starbucks mugs as another part of my birthday present. I love them! Breakfast was very good once again, you know what you’re getting in Starbucks.



Once done I quickly popped the mugs back into our room then we found a small supermarket to pick up some snacks and drinks for today. It was a 1 hour 15 minute drive to and from Auschwitz plus we weren’t sure what facilities they had there to eat. I picked up some Pringles, some Lays, pistachio nuts plus some bottles of water.





We now walked to the Radisson Blu hotel to meet our tour group.
It was a bit bedlam with tonnes of people waiting for various tours. Eventually we got our name ticked off the list then waited. There were about 5 different coaches with various people being directed onto them but not us! Eventually a lady came over calling my name, we should have been in a different queue but no one told us . It was all very disorganised. She lead us onto a small mini bus where everyone else was already seated. Found 2 single seats left.
Our driver introduced himself and explained it would take 1hr 15 to get to Auschwitz. We would have about 1 hour 40 in the first camp then after a short break be driven over to Birkenhau which is the second camp. We would then be there for about an hour.
On the drive over 2 tv screens came down and showed us a short film all about the Nazi regime and the opening and then running of Auschwitz.



Fairly bleak scenery






We arrived at about 11.20 but then had to wait around until 11.40 to be let in. There seemed to be a lot of chaos about with different guides getting us all into groups according to our language. There were 120 people speaking 4 languages so it took a bit of time. Bit annoying but not a lot we could do. It did give us time to use the restrooms and get a bottle of water.



We went through airport style security for obvious reasons then regrouped the other side. We were each given a headset that would enable us to hear our guide, this didn't always work very well though







Auschwitz-Birkenhau was the largest of the Nazi concentration and death camps.
The SS initially opened Auschwitz due to the growing number of political prisoners arrested by German police, prisons became overcrowded. Set up in mid 1940’s in the town of Oswiecim, Nazis incorporated into the third reich and later changed its name to Auschwitz. Most of the buildings already existed as it was a former Polish Army barracks.
Every prisoner was tattooed with a number on entry. The tattoos started from 31, the first 30 were prisoners from Sachenhausen (just north of Berlin). They were given the job as Block Elders, to ruthlessly supervise the prisoners and were given the power to exert force and fear into them in any way they liked.

We first walked up to Block 7.
In here illustrated the living conditions for the prisoners in various phases of the existence of the camp.












The first prisoners were made to sleep on beds of straw, later ‘upgraded’ to mattresses filled with hay that needed stacking up in the corner every morning.





There were rows and rows of photos of the men and women killed here. What struck me was how much older they looked to how old they actually were.





Each block was supervised by a block elder, they had much better living quarters.



We were then taken pass Block 10.
This was a cell block where women and men were used as experimental subjects for German doctors.
One of the main perpetrators, Dr Carl Clauberg focused on sterilisation by injection of thousands of women.





We then got to go into Block 11.





It was commonly known as a prison inside of a prison, where punishments took place for those prisoners suspected of sabotage or escape attempts.
Standing cells where up to 4 people in a block 1 metre square were made to stand for the whole night before going to work the next morning. This punishment could range from days to even weeks.
There were cells where prisoners were just left to just starve themselves to death.
The first experimental gassing took place here in September 1941, when Lagerführer Karl Fritzsch, at the instruction of Rudolf Höss, killed a group of Soviet prisoners of war by throwing Zyklon B crystals into their basement cell.
We couldn't take any photos of the basement in this Block.



There were 4 blocks of hospitals, 19, 20, 21 & 28.
These weren’t hospitals to treat the ill or injured, merely a cover up for the atrocities that went on inside them.
SS physicians found the most efficient way of killing prisoners was injecting Phenol directly into their hearts. A room in Block 20 became the place for these killings of usually the sick, elderly or disabled





Now onto Block 4 - Extermination.
Inside this block was filled with photocopies of camp records, photographs taken when the camp was in operation, models and mock-ups of the extermination facilities, and original exhibits including canisters of the Zyklon B which was used for mass killings in the gas chambers. It showed the reasons why prisoners of various ethnicities were imprisoned in the camp, and the deportation and mass killing of the European Jews.














The relocation of thousands of Jews who had no idea what was waiting for them. These were even tickets bought from a family from Thessaloniki Greece, just proves no one knew of their fate at Auschwitz.









Next was Block 5 - Physical evidence of crime.



In this block contains the thousands of possessions left from those murdered - glasses, pots & pans, hairbrushes, prayer shawls, suitcases and shoes. Anything of value like gold teeth were taken and sold. The worst part for me was seeing the children’s clothes and shoes and realising just how young some were when seeing their date of birth on their suitcases





















We now walked over to Crematorium 1





Initially intended not for mass murder but for prisoners who had been executed or had otherwise died in the camps, the crematorium was in operation from August 1940 until July 1943, by which time the crematoria at Auschwitz II Birkenhau had taken over. By May 1942 three ovens had been installed in crematorium I, which together could burn 340 bodies in 24 hours
After the first mass killing through gas in Block 11, a second group of 600 Soviet prisoners of war and around 250 sick Polish prisoners were gassed in here on 3–5 September. The morgue was later converted to a gas chamber and able to hold at least 700–800 people. Zyklon B was dropped into the room through slits in the ceiling.







We finished at 1.45 and were given until 2pm for a break. We were both feeling fairly numb after what we had just seen and read.

I went to investigate what food they had on offer in the cafe. I bought 2 slices of pepperoni pizza and a Twix each, we ate these at the side of the bus.

It was then a short journey to Birkenhau, we arrived by 2.10pm.
This camp is vast, nothing can prepare you for the bleakness of the place. It did remind me of Sachenhausen in that respect.







Birkenhau was the largest of the more than 40 camps and sub camps that made up the Auschwitz complex. It started out as a camp for 125,000 prisoners of war in 1941, by 1942 it served as the centre for the extermination of a Jews.

We had a short wait until the other coaches arrived so I went into the small book shop to have a look around and to get out of the cold. It was bitter outside.
At about 2.30 we were back in our previous groups and walked up alongside the railway tracks right to the end.












This was to be the end of the journey for the majority of the Jews that arrived.
Upon disembarking from the freight cars, Jewish families were instructed to leave their belongings on the platform.
Next came the selection process overseen by doctors from the SS. Males over 14 and deemed fit for labour were ordered to one side, as were some women.
However most women, children and the elderly went the other way and therefore to their deaths. An estimated 1.1 million.

We were now shown the memorial to all those killed. There were plaques in every language that was spoken at the camp.








We walked over to where gas chamber 2 was. It’s only the remains left as they were bombed after the war ended. You could still make out the separate sections that made up the chamber.







We now walked all the way back to where the barracks are.
The first we looked in was the toilet black. Rows and rows of concrete toilets. These had to be cleaned out daily





The next was the living quarters. Up to 6-7 prisoners slept on one level of bed only sharing one blanket. These barracks were originally stables, you can see clearly that they were. Only a small coal heater for the whole building, barely any ventilation and small windows so no light. One January it got as cold as -23 degrees.







This was the end of the tour now. We thanked our guide profusely. Even though we couldn’t hear him clearly at times he had been extremely informative. It was about 3.20 and were given until 3.40 to get back to the busses.
I went back into the bookshop where I bought 2 guide books so I could read up more about the camps.

After a smooth journey back to Krakow we got dropped off near the main square so made the short walk back to the hotel to drop our bits off and freshen up for dinner.
I was determined to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe so as it was earlier than normal I was hoping we’d get a table.



It was still a 30-40 minute wait so we took a pager and went to get a drink at the bar in the meantime. I ordered a Bahama Mama and Jim a local beer.
This went down a treat, I even ordered another!







It took the full 40 minutes for the pager to go off. Got taken upstairs to our table. Could see why they’re always so busy as there aren’t that many tables at all.
I order the same thing every time I eat here, we share a portion of chicken nachos then I have the chicken fajitas. I also ordered a Coke Zero. Jim went with a bacon cheeseburger and fries and a Coke Zero.
Food didn’t take long which was good as we were quite peckish but now!
It all went down a treat, certainly not fine dining but you generally know what you’re getting in here.



We both went with an ice cream sundae for dessert, mine without walnuts.
This wasn’t that great, really cheap tasting vanilla ice cream and not a lot of chocolate sauce. We ended up leaving half of it.
Got the bill which was only 270zl, much cheaper than last night.
We waddled out of there and headed straight back to the hotel. Even though it was only 8.30 we were too stuffed and tired to stay out any longer. We both felt emotionally drained!



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Old 15 Jan 20, 10:04 PM  
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It’s an incredibly moving day at Auschwitz isn’t it The little shoes, ladies heels and children’s sandals- I could just imagine the children choosing their favourite pair to put in their little bags. That pile of shoes and the red ones stood out.
The Christmas tree story is the one I can’t get out of my head.
I would have liked to have spent more time there but I’m not sure if it is somewhere I would return to. We found it difficult to hear the guide too, my friend is deaf and her husband is in his 70’s and found it difficult to keep up. I do wish we had walked around on our own for a little while.

Thanks for sharing your photos. We lost most of ours when we had our camera stolen.

Edited at 10:06 PM.
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Old 16 Jan 20, 08:59 PM  
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What a day. I will have to visit one day but I haven't plucked up the courage just yet. My grandmother (my Mum's mum) was a polish Jew. Thank you for writing it up in the detail you did, I found it very moving. I'm not surprised you just ate and then went to bed in the evening.
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Old 17 Jan 20, 01:45 PM  
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My dad was a Polish jew, he lost family there, I've been to Belsen and Dachau and they were awful but apparently Auschwitz was the worse of them all. Heart breaking what went on,
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Old 19 Jan 20, 12:58 AM  
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smithlane
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Originally Posted by Smilesonfaces View Post
It’s an incredibly moving day at Auschwitz isn’t it The little shoes, ladies heels and children’s sandals- I could just imagine the children choosing their favourite pair to put in their little bags. That pile of shoes and the red ones stood out.
The Christmas tree story is the one I can’t get out of my head.
I would have liked to have spent more time there but I’m not sure if it is somewhere I would return to. We found it difficult to hear the guide too, my friend is deaf and her husband is in his 70’s and found it difficult to keep up. I do wish we had walked around on our own for a little while.

Thanks for sharing your photos. We lost most of ours when we had our camera stolen.
I feel exactly the same, I would have liked more time to read the exhibits but I really don't think it's somewhere I could return to.
Such a shame you lost your photos, feel free to use mine if it helps
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Old 19 Jan 20, 01:02 AM  
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Originally Posted by Goldia View Post
What a day. I will have to visit one day but I haven't plucked up the courage just yet. My grandmother (my Mum's mum) was a polish Jew. Thank you for writing it up in the detail you did, I found it very moving. I'm not surprised you just ate and then went to bed in the evening.
I can imagine it must be incredibly hard having family that was potentially affected. If you can I would recommend going but would completely understand anyone not feeling like they could.
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Old 19 Jan 20, 01:11 AM  
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Originally Posted by mickeyspal View Post
My dad was a Polish jew, he lost family there, I've been to Belsen and Dachau and they were awful but apparently Auschwitz was the worse of them all. Heart breaking what went on,
As much as I had read about Auschwitz or even Sachsenhausen before I visited them both, nothing could prepare me for what I read and saw with my own eyes. To think these barbaric events happened less than 100 years ago. Just heart breaking
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