Posts tagged zakopane.

Reading about Nazi Germany and their destruction of human life during WWII cannot compare to coming to Auschwitz-Birkeneau and actually experiencing it all in person. I mean, yes, we’ve all learned about what the Nazis did, but it’s a huge slap in the face by reality when walking into the barracks and physically seeing the inhumanity that existed here some 60 odd years ago. I was questioned by friends and family as to why I chose to see this disturbing part of human history - after all, we should be happy and jolly on vacation right? Why see something so..sad? My perspective - yes I like beaches. But beaches don’t help you grow and learn. Not going to see Auschwitz doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It did happen. And it left a huge mark in human history. And it’s our responsibility to learn as much as we can from history to not make the same mistakes again. Listen, learn and grow.

The housing barracks were built for animals, not humans, yet thousands upon thousands of people were kept in these high density camps without proper sewage and sanitation. Six people were jammed into a “stall” and here they lost their health, dignity and life as each person ate and slept in the same place where they excreted their bodily waste. They lost their hair, lost 1/3 of their body weight, lost the soul in their eyes, and lost all hope. One soldier of the Soviet Red Army described survivors on liberation day as follows, “You look into their eyes and you can see the indifference. You can see the human gone. It was void of feelings..happiness..life.” I can’t imagine the pain and suffering that took place behind the barbed wires; I wonder if I was in the same situation, would I have survived or chose the easier route to throw myself into the high-voltage barbed fencing to end my life? Or look forward to the day I get shot or gassed in a chamber? I’m thankful that I live a peaceful and abundant life where I am not faced with these choices.

When prisoners arrived into the
camps, a Nazi doctor decided on the spot whether they lived or died. Over 75% of arrivals were killed, mainly women, children, the elderly and handicapped because they couldn’t work so were considered “useless”. We visited the gas chambers where 700-2000 people were literally jammed into the concrete shack where they were unclothed to be “disinfected”. The Nazis told them that after disinfection, they would get their clothes and belongings back. In reality it was totally different. These people were naked, and gassed by a poison called Cyclone B which was dropped from a hole in the ceiling in crystal form and vaporized. It took each and every life in less than 25 minutes.

700-2000 innocent lives in 25 minutes.

The bodies were then cremated and the burning corpse fumes spread to nearby towns within a 50km radius.

The ones who survived did not get it any easier. They lived in thinly walled, poorly built accommodations that reached -20 degrees in the winter and 40 degrees in the summer. Again, there was insufficient space and without proper lavatories, people were forced to relieve themselves right then and there. Needless to say diseases including typhoid and chronic diarrhea spread quickly coupled with insect infestations. I don’t want to go into more detail. It makes me sick just thinking about it.

This tour of Auschwitz was more than I expected. I knew the experience would be sombre but didn’t expect it would be this strong. A piece of information that particularly hit home: when prisoners arrived, their belongings were stored in special warehouses. The storage warehouses were nicknamed “Canada” because Canada was known as the “land of plenty” similar to how the warehouses held “plenty” of the prisoners’ valuables. This really spoke to me - we Canadians are so lucky to live in this time and place yet so many do not appreciate the things we have. We complain about first world problems and crave useless things. The prisoners of Nazi concentration camps only desired the right to live with basic human dignity. As Canadians and children of the developed nations, we need to appreciate how lucky we already are. Although the mass exterminations of WWII have ended for over 60 years, it is still important for people to remember. Yes, THAT specific tragedy is over. But what about the wars today? Pakistan? Syria? These mass killings and injustices still exist in 2012. Other than jumping on bandwagons like KONY2012 and “liking” the newest Facebook trend, what are most people doing to make the world a better place?

I woke up today and Duncan arrived shortly from Toronto. We made our way to the Krakow bus stop with our backpacks and the bag felt heavier and heavier with each step. The gloomy grey weather wasn’t ideal and the sky teased us with a short glimpse of sunshine on the 2 hour ride there but it soon disappeared again behind the thick clouds as soon as we reached Zakopane. Zakopane is Poland’s major tourist attraction for winter sports and summer getaways, similar to that of Whistler in Canada. The small ski town is located at the foot of the Tatra Mountains and displayed many similarities to the ski towns in North America (ie. Blue Mountain, Aspen). People were cheerful and on vacation. The one thing I noticed was that the locals like to stare at us, which is understandable. After all we were foreigners. But I found it interesting that they poke each other and whisper when we walk by and think they are being discreet. I had fun just staring back at them and they shyly look away. Some wave and a wave is returned. Two kids bowed to me. I bowed back, which was possibly one of the first bows I’ve ever given. Congratulations to those two kids for taking my bow virginity. We asked our hostel receptionist later and learned that Polish children were brought up to act this way to people like this. She then pointed to her eyes and squinted. I laughed. It’s normal to be racist here.

Although it was cloudy, we made our way by tram up to Mt. Gubalowka. It had a spectacular view of the mountains and offered some interesting sights on the way up and down. The downward trip was by ski lift and we saw some really nice houses. They had triangular roofs and possessed an assortment of colors. The ski lift portion took 10 minutes or so and the fresh mountain air was so invigorating! My last three big trips had mountains, including this one (ie. Rocky Mountains in Colorado; Andean Mountains in Peru and Bolivia). I hope this trend continues.

Food today was meh. I ate more Polish food (ie. sausage) and some gelato. There’s gelato everywhere in Poland. Quite good in fact. I had the alcohol flavored one.