It felt weary. It got hammered during World War II, then apparently very badly treated during the communist era, apparently harder than Hungary had been and now it was still suffering the economic hardships
Like Hungary, every second town you go through has a massive communial factory moldering away on its outskirts. Every other town would have the remains of a communial farm. The vast majority of them are abandoned, but every so often you'll find one that has been taken over or repurposed.
Also like Hungary, several towns still had up the loudspeakers which would broadcast the government's messages (I won't say propaganda) You were expected to stand outside every Sunday and listen to them, if you didn't, you'd get a knock at the door and a 'friendly' chance to explain why you missed it.
Then there was Auschwitz. I wasn't sure if I wanted to see it or not. It is pretty confronting, even now, a year later its still big in my mind. It is hard to explain, I am glad I went there, but I'm disappointed that the events to create it ever happened. The museum is well worth the visit, but every room exposes something that gets worse the further in you get. They don't mince words there. They'll tell you flat out how many people were murdered, how they were murdered and then produce the evidence before moving onto the next attrocity. The only thing stopping you from getting overwelmed is the sheer enormity of it. The rooms of suitcases, warehouses of shoes, bales of hair, stacks of zyklon B canisters; it does stay with you.
Auschwitz is the area and held a complex of camps. The one people visit is Auschwitz I, which was formally a Polish military barracks. It had about 70,000 people die there. Block 11 was the block you did not want to go to, it had standing rooms, four foot by four foot, in which prisoners were placed, four at a time overnight after spending the day working. There were airtight suffocation rooms in which prisoners would be placed until they suffocated. In the basement, Russian POWs were the first to be killed with the zyklon gas.
In contrast Auschwitz-Birkenau was an extermination camp. Over a million people were killed there. It was designed as a place to murder people and dispose of their bodies. It hits home to look at the gates and know the life expectancy of the people going through them was measured virtually in hours for the men and days for the women. Auschwitz-Birkenau has the gatehouse people remember from Shindler's List, but aside from a few huts that were rebuilt, the rest of the site is barely a ruin, almost everything was destroyed by the Germans as they abandoned it in a desperate attempt to hide what they had done.
The bus trip out of town was quite somber.
In contrast, the next stop was the monastry at Jasna Gora. This was where I got religioned out. The entire outside of the complex has a massive Stations of the Cross circuit around it with big groups following priests around. I, of course, was going the wrong way and kept running into the groups; all of whom would kneel and start saying something in Polish. I felt quite sheepish standing up, so I too would kneel, mumble, then scoot off as soon as I could once we stood up. It took me a while to get around.
The monastry is a pilgrimage site and was packed with people, for that reason I wasn't mad keen on it. Too many people for my liking, I definately prefer the more secluded and out of the way places.
Images and content © Ryan McConigley, 2011
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Last modified: May 27 2012 02:24:42.