Auschwitz, Katowice, and Prague

January 5, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

Today has been a big day. I woke early to pack and got picked up from the 8:15am to visit the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration and death camps. My driver was Patrick, a really sweet kid from Krakow and on the hour long drive we discussed funny things about the Polish and English languages, and the weird things different people do in his car. Polish is known to be the most difficult language to learn (for English speakers, maybe for everyone).

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We drove through some pretty tough weather and after an hour arrived in Auschwitz, “Oświęcim” in Polish, which is not just the site of over a million murders, but also a town with a mall, a cinema, houses, etc. I had the tour of the camps Auschwitz I and then Auschwitz II and Birkenau. 

wp_20170105_11_15_25_proIt was interesting to finally visit after learning about the Holocaust and especially this site all my life. The heaviest places on the tour for me were the Birkenau death camp with its wide open spaces and train tracks running into the camp (pictured below), and the only remaining gas chamber and crematorium in Auschwitz, where I saw the very distressing evidence of torture on the walls (not pictured).

wp_20170105_12_08_23_proI already knew about the atrocities, so most of what I learned from this tour aside from what it was like to physically be there were things about logistics and history. Which people went to Auschwitz and when, what parts were built when, what was different about the attitudes of the SS officers towards the prisoners after the Red Army victory in the battle of Stalingrad in 1943, and what happened to Polish people and Jewish people after the camps were liberated. It was freezing on the tour and very windy and snowy at times, but it was obvious that whatever discomfort we felt was nothing compared to the cold the prisoners had to deal with for months on end.

wp_20170105_16_09_46_proAfter the tours, which lasted about 4 hours, Patrick drove me to Katowice, a town about an hour away from Auschwitz and the departure point for my late afternoon bus and train journey to Prague. I had about two hours in Katowice, so walked around a bit and found a family-run pierogi restaurant.

wp_20170105_18_27_46_proI had not tried real pierogis yet in Poland so it was time. I had a nice glass of mulled wine, a mix dish of pierogis (mushroom was my favorite) and then it started snowing really hard so I had another glass of mulled wine and read in the restaurant until the bus.

wp_20170105_21_49_04_proThe bus was more like a little van and the ride to Ostrava, Czech Republic, was about an hour away. At the station in Ostrava, I found an earlier train to Prague. and arrived at 9:30 instead of 11:30 pm. on the train I wrote most of this blog and cleaned out some computer folders. I walked to my hotel from Prague main station and “Czeched” in. The room is very comfortable.

The guy at reception told me a little bit about Prague, helped figure out a plan for walking around tomorrow, and gave an awesome recommendation for a “beer and snacks” place in the old town called Lokal. I walked over there and had a Pilsner beer and one sausage with mustard and rye bread, and cabbage salad.

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So Czech food is very similar to Polish food, maybe even heavier. I noticed on the walk through the town that Prague seems a little “shadier” than Krakow or Warsaw with some people on the streets doing strange things. There are also a lot of drunk students. Looking forward to a good night’s sleep and another big day tomorrow.

Love,

Annie

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