Friday, March 20, 2015

Weekend Getaways III – Krakow, Poland

By Ryan Kinport

I boarded another train for Poland and settled in for the scenic nine hour ride. I had been looking forward to the trip as I have an interest in war history and Krakow was an important administrative center for the regional Reich. It was also the location of the Płaszów and Auschwitz concentration camps. Fortunately due to its geographic location and lack of high value targets much of the city remained intact after the war. In 1978 the Old Town was placed on the first UNESCO World Heritage list.

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Wawel Castle is a pristine Gothic structure built in the 14th century. During WW2 it was the occupation force’s headquarters. Today it is a well maintained national museum with beautiful accompanying gardens. The craftsmanship was outstanding.

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Old Town is the main draw in the central city. The main square contains a small bazar and is surrounded by cathedrals and other ornate buildings. These are the Saint Peter and Paul 12 Disciples and the Old Town Tower. This is the cleanest and best maintained historical district I have seen. It is obvious a great deal of effort is made to insure these structures survive for future generations.
As beautiful as Krakow is it is inevitable that you will end up visiting Auschwitz- Birkenau. It was a warm spring day when I visited which was at total odds with the spirit of the place. It saw 1.1 million pass through before the Soviet liberation in January of 1945.

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Auschwitz I Outer Road

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Auschwitz I Crematorium

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Auschwitz II Barracks

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Auschwitz II Electrified Fence

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Auschwitz II Crematorium Pond
It was difficult to imagine the numbers massacred, even after seeing the shoe piles, until I saw hundreds of pounds of human ash that still remain 70 years later. It was particularly sad as this was located in the family camp. I have heard survivors speak of their experiences at the camps but it was not concrete to me until witnessing the grounds. It was certainly a sad day but I feel it was an important experience for me.

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