Last week we were in Krakow, Poland and I honestly had no idea what to expect before we got there. I got food poisoning the 2nd evening we were there, so we didn’t do as much exploring as I had hopped, but I do have some thoughts on what we did see.
Krakow itself is a beautiful little downtown. There is a main square with lots of restaurants with outdoor patio seating areas complete with space heaters. Every restaurant we ate at (except for one) had incredible food! There are beautiful horse-drawn carriages that will take you on rides around the square and up to see the castle a few blocks away rain or shine. There is an underground museum (of which only takes cash and is closed on Thursdays). There are beautiful churches spotting the skyline of the square and into the old town areas. The roads are lined with cobblestone and the buildings are decorated with different colors of old brick, making you feel like you have gone back into time. It’s truly a lovely city.
The one “touristy” thing we did end up doing was to go see Auschwitz. We weren’t real sure what to expect, and we weren’t real sure how the kids would respond–but we knew it was something we wanted to do as a family. It is not something we wanted to protect our kids from, as it is a very real and terrible part of our history. So terrible that I don’t think it’s talked about enough. I was glad to be able to have our kiddos walk through the hallways where the Jews were tortured; the dormitories where the Jews were held before they were exterminated;the gas chambers where the millions of Jews were exterminated. We saw the wall where the executions took place. The executions where the people who took pity on the Jews and helped them hide were killed. This was where whole families were told to stand and one at a time (children first so the parents could watch) were shot. Dead. Because they tried to save someone. As soon as Auschwitz was liberated, survivors of Auschwitz decided they wanted to take that wall and commemorate it, turning it into a memorial. What they did was a beautiful way to say thank you to the families that gave their all to try to help.
The gas chambers–as we walked through those gas chambers I couldn’t help but notice the scratch marks all over the walls. You could picture people who had been led into that room, naked, thinking they were going to get a shower, holding their children. Then, realizing they were being poisoned to death became scared and desperately tried to scratch their way out of there. Apparently, their screams were so loud, the Nazis had to rev up their big trucks as loud as they could to try and mask the screaming so it wouldn’t draw unwanted attention to the evils that they were doing. At Auschwitz any mom and child under 13 were deemed unfit to work, so they were led to the gas chambers before being logged into their system. All I could think of was, “all of my four children and I would have been sent here too.”
We hear of the 1.1 million Jews that were exterminated in Auschwitz, but we are not told that those are only the Jews that were in their system already. Once Jews arrived on trains, they were immediately categorized. Moms, children under 13, the elderly and sick were all sent immediately to the gassing chambers. They were undocumented. This is where historians are unsure as to exactly how many Jews were exterminated. There is no record. No names. No idea as to how many people were immediately gassed once they arrived–this is where some estimations end up exceeding 6 million.
As we drove away, I looked at the trees that spotted Auschwitz. I wondered, “if these trees could talk, what stories would they tell?” I do still wonder that. If those trees had mouths and they could talk, would they be able to remember the names of those men, women, and children that were slaughtered? Would they be able to share the details of how they looked and their last words? Would they remember? I think they would.