Today was our only full day in Krakow, and we did what we came here to do, something that was on all our bucket lists: tour Auschwitz. We booked a tour through our hostel (Panda Hostel, everything is covered in pandas) which was a blessing we didn’t anticipate. A bus picked us up this morning, right outside our hostel. We picked up other tourists along the way – some loud, funny Italians among them. They loved us, and we loved them since they were just as loud as us.
There’s no way to describe everything we saw today, so I’ll give you just an overview. It felt disrespectful to take pictures of a place where so many people were murdered, so I only have a few.
First, we toured Auschwitz I. This camp was a lot smaller than I anticipated. All of the buildings were close together and most of the barracks were multilevel. Our tour guide explained that this camp wasn’t originally built by the Germans, it was taken over by them. There’s only one barrack that’s still in its original state, Block 11. All of the others have been renovated to make exhibits; for example, they had an entire wall filled with human hair, 2 tons in total. There were also exhibits explaining the trauma that children and women went through; it’s incredible that any of them survived. It was horrific to see pictures of women subjected to medical experiments, the rooms they slept in, the streets they were murdered in. At this camp, we were able to briefly walk through a crematorium. It was unbelievable. No words can do this experience justice. It was really difficult to look around inside of the crematorium, to imagine the reality of what happened in that very room.
From Auschwitz I, we rode a bus across the street to Auschwitz-Birkenau. This second camp was built after German leaders decided that Auschwitz I was too small and more people needed to be exterminated. Birkenau had much, much worse conditions. They barely had a sewage system, the barracks were horrific, and there was a lot more land. This camp was mostly in ruins because the Germans burned all of the wooden buildings just before the liberation. This camp is the one you probably picture when thinking about crematoriums; 2 smoke stacks on either side of the main road, but the crematoriums are now in ruins as well. This tour was especially enlightening because our guide highlighted how thoroughly the Jews were tricked. They all truly thought they were going to begin a new life. Some other new information to me was that many German businesses knew what went on in the concentration camps and used it to their advantage. Medical companies using the results from experiments, buying the hair of prisoners to make goods, etc. Everything was so systematic, and Hitler had a plan for everything. The entire day had a very intense, eery atmosphere.
It took about an hour and a half to get back to the hostel, and the drive showed us some of the prettier parts of Poland. I woke up from a nap to the sun setting, a great reminder that God’s mercies are new every day. I have seen so much evil in the world the last 2 months, but I’ve seen so much more of God’s goodness.
Our group really enjoyed Poland. We thought that it had a very different, very unique personality in comparison to the other countries we’ve visited. Because it was such a big effort to travel here and we have such limited time, we’ve made the most of seeing Krakow. Hilarious, memorable moment keep happening and I couldn’t be more thankful. Poland, you will always have a special place in my heart.