Travel Diaries: Krakow, Poland- Exploring Auschwitz & Delving into History

Krakow, Poland was a place me and my partner had been wanting to visit for a very long time, mainly for the fact it is steeped in history and we find Nazi history extremely interesting. However, it is also famed for its alcohol and it’s nightlife, and has become a prime tourist spot for youngsters and adults alike.

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We planned our trip to Krakow over the Easter bank holiday weekend (31st March – 2nd April). By doing it this way, we got 4 days there without having to book a single days holiday off of work (winner). I would recommend to anyone thinking of visiting Krakow though, don’t go over the Easter weekend if you are thinking of visiting the museums and attractions, majority of the ones in the city are shut up for bank holiday, so are a lot of the supermarkets and restaurants, so unless you have been organised and got food in, you could end up in a bit of a hungry situation if visiting on this weekend.

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Old Town Square- Krakow

Also, be warned that even though we went very end of March, beginning of April, it was still Freezing! We were wrapped up in coats the entire time, especially considering a lot of the tourist sightseeing opportunities are outdoors. I think on the Sunday when we were exploring the city itself it was -2/-3 degrees, and for someone like my boyfriend who HATES the cold, I had to practically drag him around to see the city in the freezing temperatures.
So make sure to pack warm.

Wieliszka Salt Mines & Auschwitz 1/Auschwitz Birkenau

This trip was extremely jam-packed and tiring but so so interesting. We had pre-booked a full daytime tour of the Weilizcka Salt Mines and Auschwitz 1 & Auschwitz Birkenau on the Saturday. The private transfer picked us up at 6:35 in the morning, and we didn’t get dropped back at the apartment until 10:30pm that night. We were absolutely shattered on the coach on the way back, but the whole day-trip was so worth it.

You can book the same tour here for your visit to Krakow

First, we visited the Salt Mines. This was something that I wasn’t that hyped up about, but they completely took me by surprise. When you get into the site, a tour guide takes you down 38 flights of stairs… narrow, steep stairs.

The tour lasted about 2 hours, covering only 3 levels of the mines. It consists of 9 levels overall, with the lowest 4 levels being completely submerged underwater. The result of a flash flood about 40 years ago.

The most interesting point of the tour was definitely the chapel and the underground lakes. I couldn’t comprehend the thought that even 327m underground, there was a fully working chapel with electricity, and there were underground lakes dotted all around the mines.

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Underground Chapel within one of the Mine Chambers
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Underground Lake 

To finish the tour, you get put into this tiny mine shaft lift (honestly like something out of an old fashioned film, it’s really strange) that rattles its way back up to ground level. I didn’t enjoy this ride at all, I felt quite uncomfortable and unsafe, but at least I didn’t have to climb back up the 38 flights of stairs.

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Sam trying to be funny in the salt mines

After we had finished at the Salt Mines, we got back on the coach and made our way towards Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

When arriving at Auschwitz 1 (the working labour camp) it was quite surreal. As you walk into the actual camp you can see the infamous sign “Work shall set you free” and walking underneath it, taking the same path that all them poor victims took only 70/80 years ago, sent a shiver down my spine.

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‘Arbeit Macht Frei – Work Shall Set You Free’

This camp, Auschwitz 1 (The forced labour camp), had quite a strange feel to it. A lot of the blocks were completely shut up, and the few that were open had been redecorated and prettied up to give it a museum feel, so in a few areas of the camp, it was quite hard to imagine some of the horrendous things that had happened there.

A couple of places of this camp that really struck home was the displays of human hair and shoes. You walk down a corridor in the middle of this massive room, and along each side is just mountains of shoes, taken from the victims that were killed at Auschwitz. Another display was a mountain of human hair/women’s plaits, that had been cut off when they had first arrived at the camp, it was so disturbing to look at.

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Prisoners Shoe Display– This is only adult shoes, there is a seperate room full of a Kid’s shoe display. Heartbreaking.

The other part of Auschwitz 1 that really got me was the shooting wall, outside of block 11. Block 11 was considered the “prison within the prison” and this block was used solely to punish prisoners through forms of torture. Block 11 was also where they tested the first use of mass killing by gas. The block felt quite eerie as it hadn’t been redone as much as the other blocks. We were taken down into the basement where the singular torture cells were located and it was horrible to hear that prisoners were subjected to different kinds of deaths via each cell. One cell was designed for death by starvation, another designed for death through lack of movement (this cell was so small i could barely fit in there myself) and another was named the dark cell, so prisoners were locked in complete darkness until the passed away through lack of light, albeit a horrible, slow and painful death.

Just outside of block 11, within the courtyard between 11 and 10, stands the “Shooting Wall”. Famous within many Nazi films and documentaries, the wall where prisoners were lined up and executed on the spot. The wall when we visited consisted of a lovely flower display, to hide the bullet holes forever present in the brick wall behind.

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The Shooting Wall

We then got back on the coach, and headed on a short 5 minute drive to Auschwitz Birkenau. One thing I didn’t realize before looking into tours, was that Auschitz was made up of 2 seperate camps. I thought it was one big camp, but infact Auschwitz 1 is the forced labour camp (and where they conducted the first mass killings within its single gas chamber), and Auschwitz Birkenau was later created with the sole purpose of being a death camp. Prisoners were transported to Birkenau to be killed, that’s it.

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Birkenau Watchtower– Prison Officials Kept lookout over the entire camp and trains coming & going.

Birkenau completely caught me and Sam off guard. The first place we got taken was up to the top of the watchtower so that we could see out over the entire camp. I can’t describe the feeling when viewing from up there, it is so eerie & chilling. It made us feel quite uncomfortable. This camp hasn’t been touched, redecorated or “Museumed” up in any way. It has literally been left exactly as it was the day the prisoners were liberated after the war and the feeling it gives you when being there is magnified because of this, unlike Auschwitz 1, you can really imagine what happened at this camp.

Our tour guide actually described our tour as “I’m going to take you on the same path the prisoner’s took” and so he took us along the train tracks, walked us down to where 2 of the gas chambers can be found. These were bombed after the war to try and hide evidence, but the ruins are still intact. He then took us down to the prison bunkers, where the prisoners were forced to sleep, and we actually got to go inside on of them. All of the bunkers were built by the prisoners themselves, and the Germans would allocate an astonishing 700 prisoners to each tiny bunker. It was dark, damp and smelly when we went in there ourselves so I cannot begin to fathom what it must have been like for 700 prisoners to be crammed in there.

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4K Barrack, Birkenau- This is the “bunks” the prisoners slept/lived on, each section of the bunk would house 3/4 prisoners. So in on 3 tiered bunk that you can see pictured, 9-12 adult prisoners would live here. The top bunks were considered luxury, because if a prisoner slept on one of the bottom 2 underneath, the urine/faeces from the prisoners above would drop onto them and they’d be forced to live in that dirt.

On the Sunday, we had planned to explore the city, but like I said at the beginning of this blog, a lot of the places were shut due to it being Easter Weekend. So we explored everything we could from the outside. One thing we really wanted to do whilst we were there was visit Schindler’s Museum. For those who don’t know, Oscar Schindler was a very wealthy German during the war who held very different views to the Nazi Germans. He rescued hundreds of Prisoners from the Auschwitz Concentrations camps by giving them refuge as workers within his factory. Without him, all of these people would have been killed inside Auschwitz. When the war was over and the prisoners were liberated, he had to flee the country as he would have been arrested and executed for working against the Germans. Unfortunately, because of Easter, the museum was shut, so if this is something you would like to do when visiting Krakow, don’t visit over a bank holiday.

I feel like Krakow and Auschwitz is something everyone has to visit once in their lifetimes. These places are steeped in so much history, history that occurred not that long ago, within our parents/grandparents lifetimes. And it’s something I feel everybody should see it and realise how cruel the human race can be sometimes. Seeing places like that will hopefully help prevent something similar happening again.

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As you can see from the Salt Mine one above and this one, Sam cannot take a serious photo :’)
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Exploring Krakow

I hope you enjoyed this blog. Please leave a like and a comment below about your experiences if you have visited Krakow or if you plan on going at some point. I am going to do another post similar to my Rome one where I put together a little trip planner to give you guys the best opportunity to visit as cheaply as possible.

TTFN,

Lizzie x

17 thoughts on “Travel Diaries: Krakow, Poland- Exploring Auschwitz & Delving into History

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