On our 2nd and final day in Krakow, we went to visit the World War II Concentration Camps situated at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Situated less than two hour drive from Krakow, it is imperative for any modern day voyager to treat the visit to these locations as a pilgrimage.
This is not to ascend on a spiritual journey to achieve vicinity to God rather just to experience for yourself how low human beings could have descended into, how a cold-blooded, cruel and systematic cleansing was unleashed against millions of Jews by the Nazis – all in the name of religion and nationalism, all for the sake of whose God is greater and better and all for deciding who should live in this world and who should not. One of the worst man-made genocides which occurred less than 80 years ago, completely devoid of any Godly presence, which showed how humans were shamelessly capable of putting the Devil into ignominy.
Having finished our eventful 1st day in Krakow, the following day we started very early around 6.30 in the morning to reach Auschwitz at a time before it gets crowded by teeming tourists. Due to the visit of the Pope, no private tours or tourists were allowed so we had to be part of a group. The tour bus was showing documentaries on the World War II on the way and on Holocaust in general. The moment we hit the road, we were taken into a different kind of journey – not only to reach the actual destination but also to travel back to that dreadful episode of history.
The morning dews were preparing to evaporate when we arrived at Auschwitz. Like the rays of the morning sun was waking the leaves up, we felt as if we arrived to wake up our conscience. Gently wiping away the pulverulent layer on the conscience; the infamous entrance with the motto “Arbeit macht frei” was seen contrasting against the rising sun. The phrase stands for “work sets you free” – the German call to action for entrants to the labour camps. We stopped and stared for a long time at the writing, wondering what set the prisoners free in the end? Was it work or was it an ineffable episode of torture leading to an eventual and inevitable demise? We felt as if we were brought in that early morning to walk under that cursed entrance where destiny was awaiting inside for our final call.
Not surprising that the firing squad was just next to the entrance, as if to make it very clear upfront the range of life and longevity in this camp. Surrounded by barbwire, the empty range resonated cries of pain and gunshots – only to be heard by those who had ears to hear when the ‘h’ is silenced.
The entrance to the blocks was prohibited due to Pope’s upcoming visit and we had to follow a prescribed itinerary by the volunteers in uniform. Having to follow a set path, having a set things to see, having to read the descriptions of the incidents engraved in English, Polish and Hebrew on the information displays – all created a make believe sensation of being in a genuine pilgrimage of another kind. In this camp, Jews were the sinners, Nazis played God and God was in the audience. May be He was watching, but His hands were tied and voice was silenced so he could neither clap nor whistle to see His champions raging the Holy War against the Jews.
Where hope was the last to die… #photooftheday #auschwitzbirkenau #auschwitzconcentrationcamp #nazi #secondworldwar #travelblogger #travelblog #travelphotography #traveldiaries #traveltheworld #wanderlust #worldtraveler #worlderlust #photooftheday #passionpassport #holocaust #sadness #history #humanbrutality #brutality #germany #poland #humanity #instadaily #instagood
There were many blocks where Jews were kept. If not killed in the firing range, many died simply of starvation, exhaustion or infectious diseases, while many more were burnt alive in the gas chambers in another corner of the camp. Of these, we came across the notorious block 11 – also known as the Death Block. Through the closed gates, we could only see the wall against which endless shower of bullets must have rained and last breathes were sighed.
The two-storey blocks were built very much in symmetry and in a set design. The doors and windows were closed and we still felt as if someone was looking at us from inside. May be trying to draw our attention or simply staring lifelessly. Obviously a veil of silence prevailed over the visitors outside. The sights around, the scriptures on the stones, the history in the backdrop made the mood rather sombre and the heart feel rather heavy.
There in one side of the camp we could see the big display of Father Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish priest and prisoner in this death camp who volunteered to die in place of another stranger. His piercing look asked so many questions about sacrifice and selflessness that we, like many others, shied away from by simply overlooking it as if it never happened, as if we never saw it, as if not responding to his look will make him to be silenced.
Part of Auschwitz concentration camp fence. For five long years the name Auschwitz aroused fear among the populations of the Nazi-occupied territories. It was established in 1940 for the Polish political prisoners. Originally it was to be an instrument of terror and extermination of Poles. As time passed, the Nazis began to deport to the camp people from all over Europe, mainly Jews, citizens of various countries-Soviet prisoners-of-war, Gypsies, Czechs, Yogoslavs, Frenchmen, Austrians and others were also among the prisoners of Auschwitz. #OnetimefashionistagoestoPoland #Humanbrutality #History #Secondworldwar #Auschwitz #instagood #instadaily #passionpassport #traveldiaries #travelblog #poland #jews #nazis #German #traveltheworld #traveldiaries #travelblogger #travelphotography #fence #wanderlust #worlderlust #worldtraveler #photooftheday #love #concentrationcamp #humanity #brutal
In the opposite side of the camp was a place where the Nazis hanged the Jews and next to it was the notorious gas chamber where they were burnt to death. The design of death was so meticulously drafted, with so many options available to make the process of killing full of variety – may be to ensure the Nazis never run short of excitement in their sole objective – Death of the Jews. The exit was right next to the gas chamber, when we stepped out of the premises, we felt as if our body was left behind and the soul has stepped out – badly charred, bruised and bereaved.
Does the Devil come in two? That is how it felt when we took a 5 minute drive to the nearby Birkenau Death Camp. Serving the same objective as Auschwitz, Birkenau appeared from a distance to be a vast open land surrounded by barbwire and equidistantly positioned elevated check-posts.
We were informed before entrance that the entire walk around the premise will take around an hour and it was advisable to carry a bottle of water. Incase of a sun stroke or an emotional choke – it may be handy. We started walking along the railway track inside the compound. Unlike Auschwitz, majority of the infrastructure in Birkenau were either destroyed by the Nazis themselves before they sensed imminent defeat or it was simply turned into ruins. The railway track that enters through the main gate finally ended and we could see an empty carriage standing. Wonder how one might have felt when the final journey by train led them to this final destination on this planet. The worst was knowing in all consciousness that being subject to heinous and systematic cruelty before death was just a matter of time.
The Rail of death, the road of life ends here. The tracks which used to carry in truckloads of Jews and Poles for their eventual gruesome fate at the hands of the German forces in Birkenau concentration camp between 1939-1945. Here is where human brutality got defined! #onetimefashionistagoestopoland #photooftheday #holocaust #londonblogger #love #travelphotography #travelblogger #traveldiaries #traveltheworld #travelblog #wanderlust #worlderlust #worldtraveler #passionpassport #history #brutality #humanity #Poland #jews #poles #instatravelling #instadaily #instagood
The check-posts supporting the wired fences kept standing as if to prove the notion that the class that unleashed the savageness against the community which was cornered, was hoisted to an elevated status either by design or by desire of God Almighty. Divine preaching mixed with human desire and avarice always turned out to be the worst recipe for exponential atrocity – Birkenau and Auschwitz were just one of the many evidences of this trend.
The barbwires stood firm bearing the testimony of so many innocent hands that tried to topple and tear through them. So many pokes and piercings might have resisted the attempt to be free again. We even spotted some dried out leaves hanging in one of the fences – surely not from the World War II but reminiscent of the fact that pretty much everything which was confined might have attempted to break free to escape from this unimaginable tragedy.
Jews were brought in scores – men, women, elderly, children, pregnant women. They were made to be cleansed to ‘purify’ since the Nazis claimed that all Jews were inherently dirty. They were made to wear similar clothes, hair and nails chopped off and send to mainland Germany for research or industrial purposed. Even after death – organs were separated and transported back to Germany. The Nazis even took away their belongings – even shoes, piled them together and sent back to Germany.
Opposite the ‘cleaning blocks’ one could see the sea of purple flowers that grew on the ruins. Wonder if these were the souls of the departed, gently swaying by the passing wind as if waving hands to the shell-shocked visitors. A time when you feel that flowers were not for merry making or for mourning – instead they themselves were the entrapped victims in that cursed compound.
We have visited 40 plus countries in the world and no place so void, so much barren and vastly open like Birkenau could ever transform us as much. No artistic monuments, no cobbled streets, no quaint café, no high-rise to take selfies from, no landmark or a mountain or valley – just a vast specimen of barbed hell on earth, sponsored by the human agents of Devil or God – who cares? Atleast they didn’t.
Then there was the sudden calm of green in a forest portion on the other end. The place where Jews were made to wait while they were assigned to prison blocks. Not to miss the stones left near a small pond where ashes of tens and thousands of Jews was dumped after they were burnt. The leaving of stones on graves is a Jewish tradition that signifies permanence of memories of the deceased. How gentle the water stood in that pond, with slight ripples as if trying to smile in pain overburdened with the ash of may be an entire community.
Near the gas chamber which was demolished by dynamite by the Nazis, we could see memorial candles burning. The writings in Hebrew, the plight of the Jews described, the donations from Israel, even the Israeli-made memorial candles on site indicated to the feeling and the memory the Jews in Israel and around the world may continue to hold now and will do so forever. Some reflection will unravel to the macro-thinker a thing or two about the politics of the world, the tensions between the religions and ethnicities. When you will start to measure victory and revenge not with gain but with memories and fear of pain, it will enter into an incessant epidemic of mistrust and malice – till the end of time.
We walked out of the compound with a feeling never felt before. The architects of death made sure that the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau leave an everlasting mark in everyone’s mind. We looked back at the empty compound, at the check-posts and at the sky above. We kept on wondering and wandering, pondering and floundering in an array of thoughts thinking how exactly and why exactly humans could carry out something as cold-bloodedly cruel as the Holocaust? If animals could speak, may be they could have been able to answer with sheer disgust, regret and horror. Atleast they are not labelled as Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Atheists. A dog is a dog is a dog is no god.