Krakow Part 1 – Travel and the Unending Evil of the Human Condition (Auschwitz)

Mini holiday to Krakow time! My friend and I had planned to go to Iceland, but failed to get organised and left it until everything was too expensive. This is the second year we have failed to get to Reykjavik for exactly the same reason. With the time already booked off work, a quick flick through Pinterest Travel board provided the inspiration when I alighted on a crazy picture of a chapel in a salt mine with chandeliers. Clearly this was a place that needed a visit.

Rapid planning and booking session later, and we are up and about at 4am for an early flight from Heathrow via Warsaw. The flight with LOT airlines was completely forgettable, mainly because if I get up at 4am you can bet your arse I’ll be asleep again as soon as I sit down, except for one thing… free chocolate wafer bars! Full size as well!

Once in Krakow, as with most European cities, it was just all super easy. 8 PLN (about £1.50) for a train into the city centre, then following a brief wander we found the giant church and main square. Obviously we were straight on the tourist trap restaurants, having not eaten since a (quite shockingly bad) bacon butty from Eat at 5am. Krakow though is not the tourist rip off that other, more popular cities are. The meal was about 80 PLN (£15.00) for two, and we got soup, mixed pierogi (dumplings), chocolate mousse and a large beer. I absolutely love Eastern European food, which is deliciously stodgy, full of carbohydrates and root vegetables. It is so geographically and environmentally appropriate.

Once fed, we found our Airbnb apartment. I’ve got to give a shout out to Aleksandra and her beautiful place Eleven Boutique Apartment – the building itself is how I imagine most mid-20th century blocks  in Poland to be, but the flat was just lovely. Aleksandra let us in, showed us around and her mother dropped off some additional bedding after it emerged I hadn’t been entirely clear about sleeping arrangements. Completely my bad.

After quite a long nap (this trip is entirely un-rock and roll) we went to Trattoria Mamma Mia for lovely pasta and wine. It was so good we ended up going back on Sunday, for lots of gnocchi and a very lush hot chocolate for dessert.

The next day it was trip time, but not really of the fun kind. Of the educational and need to do kind. Auschwitz. I don’t really have much to say on it all to be honest. It was all completely awful, but a few things out awful-ed even the background hideousness.

The first thing was that the family of Rudolph Höss stayed on in the villa literally 20m from Auschwitz I camp after he was recalled to Berlin because they liked the garden. I mean really? Fucking really? People were being shot, tortured and starved to death next door in their thousands, and they stayed living there. The only conclusion to that is that they really believed in it all, because if they didn’t, if they had a shred of doubt, surely that would have eaten away until they had to leave? Because damn, you would have been able to hear, and smell, it ALL.

The second thing that made me want to scream “but why!?!?” was the actual gas chamber, the last remaining that wasn’t blown up as the Nazis retreated (hot tip: if you have to destroy the evidence of your activities, you are the bad guys). You are probably inside for about 20 seconds maximum, but the difference in the faces of people going in vs. people coming out was quite pronounced.

The Birkenau camp (Auschwitz II) is the site of the main extermination programme, and that is where you realise how pathetic any Nazi analogy is in modern arguments. Nobody, past or present, has ever ever undertaken the murder of people with such ruthless efficiency. I never realised that the reason you can’t categorically confirm the fate of most Jews is because they didn’t bother registering them; they got off the train, filthy, tired, distressed, and they were told to leave their goods on the platform. They then walked 500m max to the showers, and once undressed and inside within 15 minutes every single person in the room was dead, with no possibility of survival. I read what Zyklon B does to a person, and I kind of wish I hadn’t. The bastards even dressed up the chambers to look like showers, with curtains and flowers. And used the Sonderkommando (Jewish prisoners who had uses and were replaced every 3 months or so) to remove and cremate the bodies.

Some poor souls were pulled from the group to work or be experimented on (shudder, what is it with a certain type of deranged scientist and twins, leave us alone) but I don’t think I could even do justice to what they went through. It reminded me of an account from a Lieutenant in the British Field Ambulance unit following the liberation of Belsen, and the effect on the rescued women of a delivery of red lipstick, and the attempts to give the survivors back their humanity and individuality. Its pretty destroying, but it is available here if you want to read it.

After all that we needed food, and mainly drink. Big recommendation to Youmiko Sushi; we went for their chef’s choice of 9 courses plus miso soup. My travel buddy lived in Japan for 2 years and rated it the best sushi she had had outside of Japan bar none. And on that slightly happier note, we have reached the end of part 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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