I will not be able to adequately share how much our trip to Poland impacted me. I went into the weekend knowing it would be intense on many levels — of course, touring Auschwitz, but the entire experience of visiting Kraków blew me away.
Kraków is not only the second largest city in Poland, but also a gorgeous one. The city was first settled in the 7th century and is located along the Vistula River in the southern part of the country. It has a deep, rich history that shines from the city’s culture, endless beautiful streets, interesting architecture, and friendly people.
Bryan and I traveled to Kraków with two couples, several of our closest Amsterdam friends, Jamie and Mike, and Jacqueline and Alex. It was a quick weekend trip, and so we arrived into Kraków on Friday evening after work. Our group stayed in a neighborhood called the Kazimierz, or the Jewish neighborhood, near Old Town. I loved staying in Kazimierz because it was walking distance to restaurants, but also on the quieter side.
Jamie picked a fantastic local restaurant for dinner, Kuchnia u Doroty, and we ordered all the Polish pierogis we could get our hands on. After dinner, we grabbed a drink at a little bar right in the city center.
The next morning, we woke up early to drive the 1 hour and 15 minutes to Auschwitz. Auschwitz is usually the first place that comes to mind when you think of the Holocaust, as it is the largest and most well-known of the German Nazi concentration camps. More than 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives there.
When we arrived at Auschwitz, I was astounded at how massive it was, and how desolate it felt. It was grey and flat as far as my eyes could see. There were 3 different camps during the Holocaust all next to each other that made up the complex.
The tour of Auschwitz was even harder than I thought it would be. I fought back tears or cried the whole time. The tour guide took us through: the prisoner barracks, buildings of the guards converted into a museum, buildings where executions happened, and past all of the belongings of the people (human hair, shoes, kitchen wear, jewelry) collected as soon as they arrived at Auschwitz.
I did not take many pictures during the tour, but here are a few:
When we moved on to Auschwitz 2, we saw the original train tracks where people arrived in by train load.
At the end of the tour, our guide paused and said, “do you have a family?…do you have a home?… do you have freedom…remember these Jewish people — who were living normal lives — were taken to this place and all of their basic day-to-day rights were stripped from them.” She continued, “People come into this place and think, how could people let this happen? Open your eyes to see that this happened and it continues to happen in our world. Something as terrible as this Holocaust could happen again.”
Then she said, “I have lived in Poland my whole life, and it was not until the Iron curtain fell, that I have been completely free. So, cherish your freedom. We are the ones who get to chose not to be bi-standers.”
Our group was silent the entire walk back to the car replaying her words in our head. It took us a while to feel like chatting again — we knew we had gone through something very powerful.
I finished reading Brené Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness, and in it she writes a chapter about the importance of collective joy or pain, and experiencing things together.
“All of these examples of collective joy and pain are sacred experiences. They are so deeply human that they cut through our differences and tap into our hardwired nature. These experiences tell us what is true and possible about the human spirit.”
I could not agree with her more. It was important we were there together to be able to talk about what kind of emotions, whether it be pain or anger, that welled up inside of us during and after the tour. We came back that evening emotionally exhausted, but our conversations about injustice did not stop, and could have gone on for days.
While the others were sleeping in on Sunday morning, Jacqueline and I woke up early for a walking tour of the old town. The tour started from Rynek Główny square, the largest square in Europe!
Notice the beautiful St. Mary’s cathedral in the background. We loved seeing the trumpeter playing from the top. Here are some more photos we captured during the walking tour:
The other four finally woke up and walked around too!
All and all, our trip to Poland was powerful and incredible. I loved Karków and would enjoy going back to spend more time in the city. I also grateful we went with this amazing group.
Until next time!