Last stop in Poland. An amazing adventure.
01.04.2013 - 04.04.2013
View Semester Break, pt. 3 on kmclean's travel map.
We made it to Kraków in the evening. We checked-in, had some supper, then got some rest to make sure we were ready to explore the city the next day. On our first day in the city we did walking tours of the old city and then the Jewish district, and ended at Schindler’s factory, which has been converted into a museum about the Nazi occupation in Kraków.
We skipped the day trip to Auschwitz this time around and just spent our time in the city. Between having seen so many memorials everywhere in Europe to concentration camps, former torture prisons, and massacred humans, and living in Germany, we just decided it would be too much for right now. We’ve visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial site and also seen the horrors of a later regime in the former Stasi prison in East Berlin. We also saw the house of terror in Budapest where the former Hungarian fascist party headquarters were, as well as the communist party headquarters during the communist times. Seeing the actual place on this earth where actual, innocent people were literally tortured to death turns out to be a lot heavier than I was expecting. Our trip to Dachau was moving, and I think it’s so important and great that these places are now being run as memorial sites, but it can just get to be too much. I can’t imagine the strength of the survivors of this kind of hell that helps them share their stories and revisit the very sites where they spent the most terrible years any human could ever imagine living.
In Freiburg, like many other German cities, they have the golden stones in the sidewalk in front of houses where Jews used to live and were evicted from. There are five of these stones in front of the house next to our building, and we walk over countless others every day on our way to school. On the main university campus there is also a memorial to the old synagogue which was destroyed during the November pogroms in 1938, and there’s a bronze jacket hanging over the bridge we walk across every day commemorating the place where the Jews were rounded up and deported to Gurs. Many of these people faced their final fate at Auschwitz. There just seems something so wrong about walking in front of the house where someone used to live every day as a regular citizen, and then the next day going to visit the actual place where they were systematically murdered.
Anyway, I think these memorial sites are extremely important and I will definitely be back someday to visit the Auschwitz memorial, but knowing we have to go back and live in Germany, this time around the timing and circumstances just aren’t right.
We did take a walking tour of the old town and then of the Jewish districts and former ghetto. Both were really great -- the tour guides in Poland are excellent. The old city is beautiful; they converted the land where the old city wall used to be into a garden that loops around the entire old part. It's really nice.
One of the largest Jewish communities in Europe before the war was in Kraków with over 60,000 members and today there are about 150 left. The community is as alive as ever, but so small compared to before the war. The Jewish district is still really cool and has a lot going on, with tons of bars, pubs, concert halls, and music festivals hosted there. After our tour we went to Schindler’s factory which has been converted into a museum on the occupation of Kraków.
Over our next couple of days in the city we spent some time at museums, cafés, and cafeterias, basically just bumming around and enjoying our little taste of winter for the year. Next up is Berlin, which I can’t wait to see. We were there with the group of Canadians in Freiburg this year in October, but it’s just such a massive city with so much going on we’ve been set on going back ever since.