Way back when I broke the news to Abbie that I was leaving her in Canada and moving all the way to Germany, one of her first responses was, “Well, I’m coming to visit and we have to go to Auschwitz!” So, naturally while she was here we made our way to Poland for a quick 24 hour trip to check out Auschwitz.
We flew into Krakow for the day and stayed in an AirBnb for the night that we were there; the place we booked was super affordable and primely located within walking distance to Old Town Krakow. Once we got settled at the AirBnb, our original plan was to grab a tourbus down to Auschwitz. Of course, disaster struck; there was a ton of traffic going to our AirBnb from the airport, the police had cordoned off random roads and our Uber driver just kept driving in the same circles for ages (Seriously bitch, what were you doing?!). Because of all of the aforementioned bullshit, we ended up getting to the AirBnb way later than we were anticipating and then we weren’t able to hop on the tourbus to get to Auschwitz. Once we got ourselves organized at the AirBnb and got over the wasted money we spent on the tourbus, we grabbed a quick lunch, hopped in another Uber and made our way there! From where we were staying in Krakow, the drive took us about an hour/hour and a half. But, the drive itself was really enjoyable because of all the pretty Polish surroundings! I didn’t really have expectations for what I thought Poland would look like, but I ended up being super surprised by how spread out, green and lush everything was. There was definitely no cookie-cutter cul-de-sacs here; every house was so architecturally different and had so much open land. It made for a very beautiful drive! It wasn’t long until we reached Auschwitz, once we got there, our Uber driver (who didn’t speak much English), called his friend who did speak English and had them ask us if we would want him to drive us back. This was an easy yes for us, where the camp is located, there aren’t a lot of options if you end up stranded. So, we agreed and his friend said that he would wait for us in the parking lot and take us back to Krakow once we finished. So, with that settled we were on our way.
As soon as you step on the grounds, there’s this immediate awareness of what you’re about to experience and a heaviness that permeates the air. We opted for doing a self-guided tour versus having a tour guide, and I’m glad that we did that. This is the type of experience that I think is important to take at your own pace and absorb everything on your own time instead of being corralled with thirty strangers and having one person hollering facts at you. That being said, Auschwitz is huge, and I felt a little overwhelmed when we first got in because there is a lot of history to see and you want to make sure that you see everything. So, if you do go visit this and decide to do a self-guided tour like I did, make sure you give yourself adequate time to see everything, walk through the grounds and read all the informational signs. Some people online say that you’ll want a full day just to tour the grounds, but we were only there for a couple of hours in the afternoon and I found that was a perfect amount of time to walk around without feeling rushed, or leaving feeling like I missed out on something. While going around the camp, everywhere you look there is some impactful, awful piece of history that you can observe. But, if I had to pick a top three of the most moving sites at Auschwitz, I would choose: The Living Quarters, Gas Chambers and the Shoes. At the camp, they have a part dedicated to what the prisoners lived in over the years and the evolution of the living spaces. They started out in barren rooms that were covered in hay on the floors. Then they had mattresses/sponge pads that were covering the floor, and in the final years they had three-tiered bunk beds. The beds themselves were so tiny, and they had two to three people sleeping in one bunk at a time. Along the hallway where these rooms were located, the walls were covered in framed photos of the people who had lived in those conditions. Seeing the kind of living arrangements these people were forced into was one thing, but being able to look into their eyes through a photograph and put a name and face to the horror was a whole different ball game. We also entered the Gas Chambers while we were visiting Auschwitz. Those who were assigned to die in the gas chambers would arrive by truck, or by marching. The soldiers would tell them that they were going for the purpose of bathing and disinfection, so they would have to disrobe before entering the chambers and then blindly walk into their death. I can’t describe what it’s like to freely walk into a space like this and then be able to walk back out again into the daylight and the sunshine when there were so many people before me who walked into that very room and they didn’t get to leave. When people arrived at Auschwitz, they were often stripped of their personal belongings. The museum has rooms dedicated to the items that were left behind like clothing, cooking utensils, artificial limbs and shoes. At the camp, they have one particular room where on either side of the hallway, there’s giant glass cases holding thousands of shoes. You wouldn’t think that a pile of shoes would be so impactful, but you’re wrong. It just furthers the notion that once these people arrived at the camp, they were no longer “people”. Everything that made them who they were was taken from them the moment their feet touched the ground there. Like I said earlier, there’s so much history to take in while you’re at Auschwitz, and the things I touched on here are only a fraction of what’s available to see.
After we wrapped on our tour of Auschwitz; we walked outside expecting to get back into our Uber, only to find out that he had left us stranded; thanks dude! Luckily, there were two taxis that were sitting there and were able to get us back to Krakow. The driver that took us was a lovely little Polish man that played traditional Polish music. After returning to Krakow, we stopped off at a corner store to grab some snacks and booze before heading out for the evening to explore a little bit of Old Town. We spent the night getting a delicious dinner with complimentary pickles and pirogies to start — can’t complain!
While my time in Poland was brief, it was probably the most informative, historical 24 hours I’ve ever experienced.