The Adventures of Rafal and Jacqueline Rudzinski
Baby Rudzinski’s First International Adventure
June 22, 2017
Day 10: We had another early morning as we had to catch a 7:45 train. We ate a meringue cake popular in Poland for breakfast with tea before walking about 15 minutes to the train station. We took a train to Krakow and managed to get on the wrong train (well, it still went to Auschwitz, but was a little slower).
Once in the city of Oświęcim, we walked towards the camps. The city itself was small and quaint in areas, lots of graffiti in others. Reminded us of US suburbs.
We arrived and had booked our tour in Polish because the website didn’t have any English tours available, of course there were more tours available in English though when we got there, but we would have to pay again.
I was a little bummed, I didn’t understand a word our guide said, but she basically expanded on what the signs in front of each exhibit said. Rafał was able to translate the more unique comments made or stories she was telling.
The entrance to the camp:
The first building we went into went over the groups of people who were brought here. Below shows the estimated numbers of each group, and the statue contains the ashes of some of those who lost their life here.
It was interesting to see the many documents saved: below were some of the slips for reasons people were imprisoned:
We moved on to the building where personal effects were kept for display. They were able to estimate how many people were at these camps based on the belongings confiscated by the prisoners at the time of their arrival, like pairs of shoes, eyeglasses, or combs.
The prisoners didn’t know what to expect before getting there, so you can see a lot of the personal effects they brought were to continue living, like dishes, pots/pans, cups, etc:
They were able to also see people from different regions were taken prisoners by the variety of languages on other personal effects/food brought, etc:
Once prisoners walked through the gates, they were stripped of all their belongings, and the torturing began. They had their photographs taken up to spring of 1943, when soon they did not have enough film (?) to keep up with the number of prisoners, so they began tattooing the arriving Jews. The Germans and occasionally other nationalities taken prisoner were occasionally photographed. They were also given a symbol depending on the reason why they were imprisoned.
Many women died of starvation, the next stop in this building showed the changes women and children went through; many women and children lost half their body weight in a matter of weeks. Did not take any photos, but the sculpture at the end of the room was an accurate representation of the images on the walls.
We made our way to Block 11 (where tourture and punishment took place) where people were forced into the chambers seen below, sometimes left to starve, others for as long as their punishment fit their crime. They did still need to report to work the next day, but often would go without food, beds/blankets. Block 11 is also where the first attempts at Zyklon B for mass extermination was used.
The Polish priest on a visit left a candle in the block where Father Maximilian Kolbe sacrificed his life to save another man … and that survivor went on to living into his 90s.
Just before leaving block 11, there were rooms where prisoners were forced to strip naked, before making their way to the “death wall,” where prisoners were executed or hung.
More images from around the camp before we made our way to Auschwitz-Birkenau
We took a short bus ride to Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was a hub gassing and crematorium center. Prisoners were told to shower, so they were stripped naked, before walking into the gas chambers. Once in there, it took up to 20 minutes for the gas to kill them, before they were robbed of any other personal effects, and sent to be cremated. One crematorium could incinerate 20,000 people a day.
The Gate of Death, taken from inside the gate doors, looking out:
Below is the entrance to crematorium IV and V:
There was a ceremony going on while we were visiting, but I’m not sure what for (because we were still with our Polish tour group and the guide I believe probably said something about it when Rafał and I were not within earshot)
Smokestacks and rubble remain on the grounds:
One of the sleeping quarters for the women, elderly and children.
There really aren’t any words to describe the feelings and emotions you experience while touring. As mentioned in my Facebook post, it’s hard to see all these things, and for many families and survivors, something they want so badly to forget, but at the same time, it’s something that must be remembered, for the millions of victims honor and memory. A harrowing reminder of the evil that can exist in mankind. A tragedy that should never be repeated. Sadly, the current state of our world flashed in my mind multiple times during the tour. A sad, but must-see trip for anyone who visits Poland.
And with that, we made our way back to Auschwitz I.
We did not finish the tour with enough time to make it back to the train station to get back to Krakow, to catch our main train back to Warsaw, fortunately, the cab driver we spoke to informed us we wouldn’t make the right train to get on the Krakow train anyway, so he drove us to Krakow. It cost a pretty penny, but we made it back in time to get on our prepaid train back home (it was the last train to Warsaw, or we’d be finding a place to sleep the night). We didn’t eat or drink all day, so we got a pre-dinner meal before boarding our train.
Our tickets included dinner so we had dinner dinner on the train.
We walked back home, and was able to see the Palace of Culture and Science illuminated on our walk home.
We fly out to Gdansk in the morning and drive to nearby Gdynia, which is on the Baltic Sea. Until then!