Trip Start Jun 30, 2005
17Trip End Jul 22, 2005
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Budapest, Hungary to Krakow, Poland
We left the Hotel Stadion at 8a.m. Nearly four hours later, we crossed the Slovakian border and stopped for lunch at a town by the name of Banska Bystrica. The Slovakian town was celebrating its 750th birthday. It lies at the very heart of Slovakia's mountain ranges and is an old German mining town. Rather than eating lunch, I decided to make the most of my time in the town and observed several important sites.
After virtually an entire day on the road, we had finally arrived in Krakow at 7p.m. We were quite famished and enjoyed our dinner at the hotel. Afterwards, we had some time to get ready and made our way through the streets of Krakow. We walked around the town's center several times and ended up at a local club. A few of us befriended a soccer team from Spain who was celebrating a recent championship victory.
Sun July 10 2005
This morning, our local guide hopped onto the bus and initiated our tour on yet another gloomy day. We visited several synagogues...the first we viewed was built in the 11th century and the second in the 16th century. The neighborhood we walked through once housed thousands of Jewish people. During the Nazi's invasion of Poland, they were taken out of their homes and marched to an uncertain and too often fatal destination. It was such an eerie feeling. There was still evidence of an entire Jewish community that once existed in Krakow. Many Jewish buildings have been restored and several memorials commemorating the endless lives lost were erected throughout the city. Not too far away, we also visited Oskar Schindler's factory. Outside of the factory was a plaque dedicated to Mr. Schinlder for the 1,100 Jewish lives he saved during the Holocaust.
Our following stop was a castle and St. Mary's Church where the late Pope John Paul II used to conduct mass during his term as archbishop. During our free time, Delauire and I tried our best to find an exhibit with a gallery of pictures of the Pope but were unable to. The rain was simply ravishing the streets of Krakow. We couldn't cover much ground with a rain of that magnitude.
On this jammed packed day, we also made it to the Wieliczka Salt Mines. At the end of the evening, we were dropped off back into town for dinner and then we walked back and called it a night since we were exhausted and had a tremendous day ahead of us
Mon July 11 2005
Krakow to Warsaw
For a majority of the tour, we were exposed to WW2 history at each respective location. Many aspects of the war that I had never even considered were discussed. Walking through each city's streets was mind blowing. Even though over sixty years have come and gone since the second World War, being in the exact location where it all took place makes history come alive. Nothing however, could have prepared us for the impact of visiting the Auschwitz- Birkenau Concentration Camp.
When we first arrived at Auschwitz, we viewed a film that accounted for the historical events that led up to the Holocaust. The graphic images were significantly disturbing. Towards the end of the film, reference was made to the gates at the entrance of Auschwitz that read, "Al mach freit" (work shall bring you freedom). This phrase was of course, a terrible lie. No one who entered the gates of Auschwitz would ever be free. Even for those who lived, their souls would go on to endure the scars of the most atrocious genocide in the history of humanity. As we exited the theater, our first view was of the gates of Auschwitz. Very few of us were able to contain our tears.
For the remainder of the day, we walked through the buildings where unimaginable crimes were committed against humanity. There were numerous exhibits that contained actual artifacts from the people that were dragged to the concentration camps. Shoes, glasses, and brushes were just some of the artifacts that were displayed in vast quantities. There were also countless pictures of the victims, many of them young children. It was unimaginable to think of what was going through these people's heads as they were photographed.
Perhaps the most profoundly unsettling experience was walking through the gas chambers. So many references have been made to these death sites but it was such an unreal feeling to have actually stood there. It really happened.
After being at the main camp, we went to Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II. It was the site of the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands, and the killings of over one million people, mainly Jews. Upon arrival, it was determined whether or not you would suffer an immediate death or suffer for an undetermined amount of time.
The gas chambers of Birkenau were blown up by the Germans in November 1944 in an attempt to hide their crimes from the advancing Soviet troops. On January 17, 1945 Nazi personnel started to evacuate the facility; most of the prisoners were marched West. Those too weak or sick to walk were left behind; about 7,500 prisoners were liberated by the 322nd Infantry unit of the Red Army on January 27, 1945.