Krakow, Poland

This was a short break trip made in the Summer of 2009. We flew with Ryanair from Stansted to Krakow and then took a taxi to our hotel on the outskirts of Krakow that we had booked online with Escape2Poland.

Day One Krakow City

Having arrived quite late at night the previous day we had a leisurely start to the day then decided to walk to the Krakow main square for a look around and to have dinner in one of the restaurants that line the main square.

Krakow City Square

Krakow boasts the largest medieval town square in Europe. It dates from the thirteenth century when it was used as a market square. In the centre of the square is a covered area which was originally a cloth trade centre but now houses varies stalls and souvenir stands.

All around the square are restaurants with outdoor seating under umbrellas. The food and beer was good, if a trifle expensive but the surroundings were lovely so we didn’t mind too much.

Krakow Square

 

Day Two Kazimierz District (Jewish Quarter)

Because my knowledge of the history of Krakow was not too good we hired booked a guided tour of the Jewish Quarter, the Ghetto region and also to see Oskar Schindler’s factory. Our guide collected us in a taxi and took us to the centre of Krakow where we walked a short distance to the Jewish Synagogue.

Synagogue, Krakow

Next we visited the Catholic Church that is featured at the beginning of the film Schindler’s List where Oskar Schindler meets Jewish moneylenders.

Catholic Church Krakow

Leaving the church we entered the Jewish district and immediately recognised the area from the film. We were told that the area is largely untouched architecturally and much of the area is still inhabited. We sat in a little cafe opposite a staircase to soak in the atmosphere.

Jewish Quarter, Krakow

After our refreshments we headed to the other side of the river which was where the ghetto was located. The square was where the Ghetto inmates were lined up by the Nazis when they made their ‘selections’.
The oversized chairs represent absence or departure. The pharmacy building has been turned into a small museum and is filled with photographs and letters that date from World War Two.

Ghetto Square Krakow

A short distance from the square is the entrance to Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory. The building has been preserved in its original form and it is possible to pay to go inside.

Oskar Schindler Factory

The site of the Plaszow concentration camp is also not far away and is commemorated by the large granite monument.

Plaszow Monument Krakow

Much of the area this side of the river is sadly neglected (as in the former camp area) and unvisited by the many tourists that visit Krakow. Given that many of the people that come to Krakow visit Auschwitz it would seem that this is due to a lack of knowledge of the area rather than a general disinterest.

 

Day Three Auschwitz-Birkenau

Auschwitz

Auschwitz Entrance Gate

We had booked ourselves on an organised tour for this trip and we were picked up from our hotel by a minibus.
On the way to the camp we were shown the original footage shot by the Russians on discovery of the camp in 1945.

We were allocated to a guide at the entrance to the camp and given headsets to wear so that we could all hear what she was saying without her having to shout.

Barracks Auschwitz

We were shown around most of the camp and given details by our guide who had a good historical knowledge. It was very moving and emotional throughout but the piles of shoes and hair were particularly so.

Fence Auschwitz

We were at the camp for around two hours before being taken to Birkenau but I would have liked more time especially for reflection. If we had had more time I would have returned independently for a second visit.

Auschwitz Oven

Birkenau

We returned to our minibus to be taken to Birkenau. We entered via a back entrance which, we were told, minimised the amount of walking. The Gate of Death entrance to Birkenau stands stark against a clear sky and is as iconic as it always has been.

Birkenau

The trains carrying Holocaust victims from all over Europe entered through the centre arch known as the Gate of Death.

The trains stopped at platforms where those onboard went through the infamous ‘selection’ process. Those who were considered fit enough to work were taken to cold inhospitable barracks.

Barracks Birkenau

Those who were to young, old or sick were taken straight to gas chambers disguised as shower rooms. Their bodies were burnt in crematoria. The picture (below) shows the remains of a crematorium at Birkenau.

Crematoria remains Birkenau

After walking the length of the train track we found our minibus waiting for us in the outside carpark. Hardly anyone spoke on the way back, everyone was lost in thoughts and quiet reflection of this long, emotional day.

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