Krakow – reminders of the dark past

Poland has never been on the top of our ‘bucket list’ of countries, but after hearing rave reviews from friends and fellow travellers, we knew we just had to fit it in somehow. Our first stop was Krakow, probably the most popular destination for tourists but not the capital. Krakow is situated south west of Poland and like the rest of the country, it is known for the World War II sites.

Aushwtiz is the most well-known concentration & extermination camps in the world. They estimate that over 1.1 million people died here spanning over a 5 year period. We came her on a tour on a cold and snowy day, which is quite reflective of how everyone was feeling. There are not enough words to describe the atrocities that occurred here. We wore 6 layers of clothing and were freezing, we could not even imagine how the victims her managed in a thin pajama suit. It seemed impossible, and it was. Our guide told us that the majority of the people who arrived at the camp were killed within the first day, and those that weren’t usually only survived a maximum of 3 months. This is a horrible place to visit, but such an important place.

Moving on, most people have heard of the Schindler story from Steven Spielberg’s award winning movie ‘Schindler’s List.’ For those of you who haven’t watched the movie or heard about it here’s a very brief (and possibly inaccurate)summary of what I know about it. So Oscar Schindler was a wealthy German Nazi who owned a lot of businesses. Initially he hired Jews to work at his factory because he would barely have to pay them. As the war progressed and more and more Jews were being murdered, he realised he had the ability to protect his staff from the same fate. So with a lot of bribing of Nazi officials and lying about how specialised each Jewish staff member was, he managed to save 1,000 Jews from death, which makes up 1/3rd of the Jews that survived in Krakow.

Many cities around Europe have a section known as the ‘Jewish Quarter’. This used to be where a high concentration of Jewish people lived but these days are filled with lots of bars and restaurants. In Krakow, this area is where a lot of executions occurred inside people’s homes and on the streets. There are several landmarks and monuments in the Jewish Quarter that Jewish people from all over the world come as part of their religious pilgrimage. There is a particular square in this quarter with about 70 chairs bolted to the ground, its symbolic of the time when the Jews were given only several minutes to pack all their belongings and many of them decided to bring chairs. An eerie but very powerful memorial.

We were fortunate enough to be in Krakow at the same time our friends Ari and Laura (from Australia) were there. Now they’ve just finished their two year stint in London and doing their last of their travels prior to heading home to get married. So what better way to celebrate than to have a night of sampling 12 vodkas and play an exit game! We did two exit games together and despite the stress, confusion and plenty of hair pulling, we all got addicted and couldn’t wait for more. Definitely do an exit game if you happen to come to Europe. Its roughly AUD$15 per couple and well worth it.

Next stop Warsaw!
Till next time
Ann & Jason xo

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