I am a Shark!

Trip Start Sep 17, 2006
Trip End Dec 23, 2006

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Flag of Poland  ,
Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ok, so this week was in interesting one. For those of you who do not know, I went to Poland over the weekend. Also, my Thanksgiving sucked. I had chicken in a blue cheese sauce with french fries and a beer in the restaurant down the street from our dorms. I then boarded a night train to Poland. Night trains suck for anyone who does not know this. We reserved "couchettes" which translates to cots stuck to the wall packed in on top of each other three people high. The ride is not smooth and being a short person, I got stuck on the top of the pile because it is the shortest bunk. I got about two hours of sleep that night.

We arrived in Krakow at the lovely hour of 6 am. The sun hadn't even begun to rise. It was really cool though. Most of Europe it seems is unseasonably warm, but damp, leading to ... FOG! So as the sun rose, there was fog drifting through the streets, mingling with the statues in old courtyards, etc. It really was neat. We arrived at our hostel, and because they are soooo cool, let us check in at 6:30 and drop off our things. Back out we went in search of breakfast. We found a small bakery and got some pastry and back on our way we were.

The group was with was a large one, there were 13 of us. There was me, Meghan, Jessica, Kerry, Nav, Hannah, Amelie, Tracy, Darcie, Zsolt, Sean, J.P., and Tyler. We started in Old Town Sqaure (Stare Miasto) and worked our way around there. We walked and walked and walked some more, and at some point the groups split leaving me, Meghan, Jessica, Zsolt, Tyler, and Sean to our own devices. We walked the long way (down to the river) and took pictures of the Polish Royal Castle from every possible angle. We took pictures of cute parks, and of each other in the cute parks, and generally had a relaxing time. We met with the others back at the hostel to go to the Jewish district (aka the Ghetto) and walked there for a while. That was interesting, and we stumbled on a Jewish museum in an old synagog and Kerry, Darcie, Meghan, and I decided we wanted to learn some stuff, so in we went. The others (those ignorant wretches) went on their own way, and we promised to meet at the hostel at 3:45. We went through the museum, saw some things, learned some stuff, and then went to procure our lunch. In the Jewish Quarter, there was a restaurant that advertised that they were a "Jewish Style Restaurant." I was all ready to go in a test this Jewish fare, but the others weren't interested so we went next door where we had soup and it was fabulous. We walked back to our hostel and met up with the rest of our group for a trip into the one, the only, the FAMOUS Wieliczka Salt Mines!

They were really cool actually. And we walked and walked and walked more. By the time we were out of the mines, it was about 7pm. Meg and I were the only ones who didn't punk out and take a nap at some point in the day. This where I explain the title of this weeks entry... are you ready? If a shark stops moving it dies. Meg and I were sharks because if we stopped moving, we would crash, hard and fast. So we just didn't stop. We drank more coffee. Ok, so after the mine, we went to dinner at a restaurant that served traditional Polish food. It was amazing. They like sauerkraut almost as much as I do in Poland. Soooooo tasty. After dinner, everyone was exhausted, but I decided to go out with the boys and drink in a Polish Pub. It was in this cool dingy, basement thing, and it was smokey and dim, and the served real Polish beer (its not as good as Czech, but still good). We only went in for one beer. Which turned into two. Then three. Before we realized it, we were on our fourth beer and it was 1 am, we were going to Auschwitz Concentration Camp in the morning. Who doesn't want a hangover for that? Well, me for one. I don't think that Auschwitz is a place that needs to be more miserable than it already is....

We made it home and in bed, and just as I was falling to sleep it seemed, it was time to get up. We had to meet our bus to go to prison camp! We arrived at Auschwitz and they had a video to show us. I think they show it so that people are shocked into silence before they enter the camp. It worked. We toured Auschwitz I first. That was the work camp part of the compound. There were brick barracks there so that people didn't freeze to death there, and they were given more food than the other camps, but they were still living a death factory, and many of them were criminals (either for real, or imagined by the Nazis) so there was also a prison within the prison. Inside the prison, there were these chambers in the basement, used to torture people and kill them. There were 3 basic types; one for starving people to death, one for suffocating people, and one for... its hard to explain. Its a room about the size of a small closet, and they would make four people stand in there for sometimes up to 14 days straight. It is so small that no one can sit, and they don't feed you, you just stand there all night. In the day, they let you out so that you can do your forced slave labor, and if you are too exhausted, they take you too the firing wall and execute you. That is unless they feel like letting you hang in the yard from your arms which are tied at your wrists behind your back. Gruesome stuff...

After that, we toured the crematoria in Auschwitz I, they took us inside and we looked up in the pitch black and saw the holes in the ceiling where the Zyklon B gas was dropped in on people who thought they were getting a shower after a rough journey. How did they not know they weren't getting a shower you might be asking? Well, when they stepped off their trains where they had been locked up for days and even weeks with almost no fresh water and little food, the Nazi's told them to write their names on their luggage, that would make it easier to find when they finished their shower. Then they led then to the "showers" where the people were told to strip naked. The Nazis told all tier unwitting victims to memorize the number of the hanger their things were on and to neatly bundle their things so that the scramble after the shower was more organized. Really, this was just to make it easier for the clean-up crew in about 10 minutes. Also, this ensured that German people would get matched shoes from their now dead Jewish neighbors. People were so delirious after the time spent first in the ghettos and then in deportation that they really believed that they were being given a fresh start. They didn't suspect anything was wrong until the guards began to shout to them to move into the showers. They looked confusedly about as both men and women, still naked, poured into the huge concrete tomb. And then the lights went out in the gas chambers. After that, all those sweaty naked people saw the tin cans drop from the holes in the ceiling, and they knew what was coming. Panic ensued and the gas was released. People scrambled to the top of the piles of humans. On the bottom were the weakest; babies, toddlers, other children, crippled people and old people. Then there were the women, and on top of them were the strongest of the men. There was a fight for the fresh air remaining at the top of the chamber, and no one was thinking, "What happens if I survive?" they were just clambering for one last gulp of life giving oxygen. After the chambers, they took us to the crematoria, were the burned they bodies of their victims. As we were leaving, a man pushed past me to... answer his cell phone! Very appropriate in my opinion.

After Auschwitz I, they took us to Auschwitz II, Birkenau. Birkenau was the death camp. At Birkenau, there were 4 massive incinerators for disposing of bodies, and could in fact burn up to 8000 bodies a day, beating the pants off the measly 80 bodies a day at Auschwitz I. Even the Nazis themselves knew this was wrong, because when they left, they destroyed the crematoria hoping that they would look only like a pile of rubble instead of an instrument of genocide. There were several camps at Birkenau, there was one for gypsies, one for Poles, one for Czechs, one for Hugarians, and the majority for the Jews. They were also dived by sex, men and women separate. At this part of the camp, people only survived about 3 months at best due to starvation, disease, rats, and bugs, not to mention heat, cold, or exhaustion.

It was the most incredible experience of my life. I have never seen anything like this place. I hope that I never do again. It was shocking and disgusting and... there just aren't words that will accurately express how I felt being there, and seeing it. I can only say that I was there for four hours, and I was ready to leave. I can't imagine being there for any longer than that. I saw huge piles of human hair. I saw children's suitcases that were never claimed. I saw endless amounts of shoes. I saw the pots that women intended to cook in and the polish men intended to use on their shoes. There were all kinds of things there, and in mass quantities that had been pillaged from the suitcases of the people sent to the gas chambers. As we were going into that room, our guide said "Remember as you walk through, every braid of hair, every shoe, everything in there represents one person the Nazis murdered." Unbelieveable! I know that it happened, but when you see all those things, all of those people's possessions, their worldly goods, you can't imagine that they are all dead. Your brain won't let you really absorb that. At least mine doesn't...

After Auschwitz, no one spoke for like an hour or more, and then it was just to agree on a place for dinner. After dinner, we finalized our gift shopping, and headed to the pub. Our logic was that it will be easier to sleep on the night train if we are passed out. This requires getting drunk. Drunk felt good after Auschwitz. If alcohol kills germs, can it wipe those images out of my mind? No, but you can certainly try. And try we did. The boys stopped somewhere before we boarded and bought a bottle of vodka which we drank on the train and played "Never Have I Ever." Its sort of like truth or dare, but there is no dare, and when someone says a truth that also applies to you, you take a drink. Good times. Followed by blessed sleep. I slept much better on the way home, but still not great. We got back to Prague at like 7 am, so Meg and I (who were still sharks) dropped off our things and went to Bohemia Bagel for breakfast before we had to meet our teacher for a field trip through the renaissance art museum here in lovely Praha. It was really interesting, but we were thoroughly exhausted mentally and physically, so after that we went home and crashed.

Monday, I went to dinner with John, Meghan, and Jennifer. I got my test grade back in Comparative Governments of Central and Eastern Europe (100%!!!) and then Meg and I watched every episode so far in this season's Gilmore Girls. We were up until 2 am. The next morning, I was sick, so I stayed in bed until 4 pm, and then I got ready for the Nation to Nation party. This week it was at my favorite club... Face to Face! Yes, it sucks, yes its hard to find, and no, I still have no idea where it is or exactly which route I took to get there. I have been there like 5 times now! Its just pathetic really. Anyway, I didn't get lost and I had lots of fun dancing and playing with my friends. I was home in be by 3 am, and I went to my only class today. Hurray! I was productive! I will reward myself handsomely with a beer at Juve in a little bit. Tune in next week everybody... for I am going to Berlin!
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