When we were booking our trip to Krakow, I knew I wanted to visit Auschwitz. Being a former history teacher, this was monumental to me. Although, having 2&4 year old boys in tow would make the planning tricky.
While walking around Krakow, you can find loads of tour groups organizing day trips. I found one that worked with our family's schedule and signed up. The next day, hubby took our boys to History Land (very cool for kids!), and I piled onto a tour bus for a 1.5 hr journey to the concentration camp. I thought I knew what was in store for me, but I had no idea.
Upon arrival, the first thing you see is the world-renowned gate.
The phrase 'arbeit macht frei' (pronounced: ar bait - makt - frai) means "work sets one free." It was created to encourage the prisoners to work harder in hopes of being set free. However, it was soon evident to all workers freedom was not an option.
If looks were ever deceiving... these stately looking, abandoned, Polish army barracks became the short-lived home of Holocaust prisoners in 1940.
I went with the intention to document and take lots of pictures. Although once inside the gate, an eerie feeling enveloped my entire presence. Many in my group were taking photos, but I felt incredibly sorrowful.
We witnessed abhorrent conditions-
Where children were ripped from their mothers and had unspeakable things performed. Photographs and artifacts remain at the museum to view inside the actual rooms.
Walked past the (firing wall) and baby stepped our way through the tiny halls of torture where prisoners were sent for the tiniest infractions. Solitary confinement and rooms reserved purely for weeks of starvation until death.
We are talking Poland, where they have extreme winters and were given paper thin clothing. These conditions gave the prisoners (who weren't immediately exterminated upon arrival) hope of a three month lifespan.
The look in his hope-filled eyes...I just can't.
Rooms filled with thousands of shoes, suitcases, prosthetics, pounds of hair from shaved heads, gold teeth...and hundreds of empty (gas) cans. We toured rooms where doctors performed despicable medical experiments, mostly on children and twins.
Lastly, we walked through the gas chambers, viewed the ovens, and paid our respects where mountains of ashes had been strewn.
The horrid pictures and saved artifacts were enough to churn an iron-clad stomach. But the soul-wrenching feeling from being physically present in the camp was enough to freshen a lifetime perspective.
Deeply intense, but somewhere I feel every human being should visit. You will never have a bad day in your life ever ever again.
If you are interested and tour groups are not your thing, click here to book directly: http://auschwitz.org/en/
We concluded our tour with 30 minutes of free time. There is a stand inside the main building, containing a small gift shop - selling snacks, pastries, coffees, and a few bottled beverages. Everyone took a minute to pull ourselves back together before boarding the bus. A short 20-minute ride brought us to Birkenau - created as a killing camp and not so much for concentrating the prisoners on work tasks.
*Click here to read about Birkenau*
Five Tips to Prepare for Auschwitz:
1.) Pack a bottle of water and snacks -- You will be there for a few hours and will find yourself stopping to take in the moments.
2.) Wear comfortable/sturdy shoes -- The tour has a good amount of walking and is mostly outside. During inclement weather, you could walk through thick mud and slush like I did during November.
3.) Take a journal and pen -- You may not be the writing type, but might find yourself needing an outlet to sift your thoughts.
4.) Have a camera ready -- There will be shocking images and sights you come upon where you will want a photograph in remembrance. Although, don't be surprised if a change of heart causes you to shove the electronic device deeper into your pocket.
5.) Prepare your heart -- Like I said previously...I thought I knew what was in store for me, but I had no idea. To help steady your emotions: read a few articles, scan a couple photos on the Internet, have an idea of what will be in front of you prior to walking through the gate.
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