Auschwitz

Today I also went to Auschwitz. I am kind of at a loss on what to say about it.

One thing I didn’t know was that it is actually a series of camps. We went to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II, but there is a third that was basically lost.

It’s hard for me to grasp my experience there. When I try to really imagine what happened my mind closes. I may need to walk away from this post.

I am not sure if I should write about the history and leave it at the facts. Or if I should write about my feelings behind it.

We are all humans, and I am not sure what makes anyone feel like they can decide that a certain race is subhuman, 3/5ths of a person, or savages. So I am trying to judge it by the experience of those who lived it as opposed to bringing up every atrocity that man has subject other man to. It’s hard! It’s sobering.

Again, my mind wants to block it out. We saw exhibits of people’s hair that had been shaved. It was used to make products in Germany. Some of the hair was certainly children’s hair. We saw the shoes that belonged to people. We saw luggage that had people’s names and their date of births.

It was totally mind boggling to see a map that showed the many places the people came from to be sent to their death. There were photos of people that showed where they came from, their birth dates, how they died (firing squad, gas chamber, hanging). There were two twin girls who died within two days of each other. You could see when they were deported and when they died. Some died in a day some months.

The camp was mostly Jews, but also gypsies, Polish people, homosexuals, POWs. It is believed that 1.1M people were killed, and what for? For being Jewish? For being gay? For being a gypsy?

It was so weird to walk into a gas chamber and then into a crematory knowing that people had died their in masses. The wash rooms and toilets were not sanitary. People had to use them in masses and many suffered from stomach problems like diarrhea. And they had to sleep together. There were these standing punishment cells that held four to five people. People were in there over night and expected to still work their 11 hour work days or labor.

People were used as scientific experiments all in the name of creating this perfect, dominant race while an “undesirable” race was exterminated. What the What?! Who determines that a race is “undesirable.”

And what of the people who helped or the soldiers who worked there. Yes, you are following “orders” but don’t we know right from wrong? If faced with the same situation would I be silent or would I go with the flow. It’s hard to fathom how many turned a blind eye to this. If faced with the actions of evil what do we do? Are we silent to mistreatment around us? Probably, but we comfort ourselves by saying but nothing to this magnitude.

Okay. I am starting to ramble, but it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

On a lighter note, the county side was beautiful. The fall is very beautiful here!

Krakaw – Day Two

My hotel is in a great location. We are across from a park called Planty. It is the longest park in Europe (according to our guide Isabella) and surrounds the city’s old town. The hotel is on the same block as were Oskar Schindler lived, and right by the St. Francis Basilica. We are also about five minutes from the Main Market Square and up the hill from us is the Wawel Castle and Cathedral. When I come again, I will certainly stay in this area. It’s where a lot of of my planned site seeing is.

I learned that the emblem/symbol of the city is the dragon. Krakow wasn’t damaged much in the war so much of the original city remains. As mentioned it is the former capital of Poland. One of the kings was an alchemist and he was trying to turn metal into gold and the old palace caught on fire.

The city has 800K residents and 200K students. There are 100 churches in the made part of the city alone. It’s called Little Rome because of that.

We started the morning in they Kazimierz area or former Jewish Quarter. We passed by the Ghetto Hero’s Square. I need to go back and take a picture. It represents the chairs that Jewish children carried when they were being moved to the ghetto. We stopped by the Old Synagogue, which is the oldest synagogue in Poland. We also stopped by the Schindler Factory. There are pictures of same of the people who worked there who were saved from certain death.

We went to Wawel Hill to see the Wawel Castle and Cathedral. I have to tell you that the Cathedral was magnificent. It’s one of the prettiest I have seen. It is their Westminster Abbey. There are a lot of tombs in there. Pictures were not allowed, but I am not sure they would have done the Cathedral justice anyway. There was just so much. One fun fact about the castle. When they finally got indoor heat, it was only in the king’s section not the queens. I found this funny for some reason. That’s one way to force the marriage bed.

We ended up in the Main Market Square. It was established in the 13th century. Everything was sold here during older times. There is an important church there called St. Mary’s. A church has stood there for 800 years. The original church was destroyed by a Tatar invasion. I didn’t go inside because they charge. I have been in plenty of churches, and I went to St. Francis Basilica later.

Oh and there are sick people all around me. Keep them away please. My nose was running this morning, and my throat is starting to hurt. I don’t want to be sick!

Oh and the inside market I mentioned yesterday is called Cloth Hall.

I also went to see the Barbican, which is part of the city walls. I also mentioned going to St. Francis Basilica. They have a real nice glass window showing God as creator called “God the Father Let It Be.” Across from the basilica is the bishop’s palace were John Paul II the second lived.

I did manage to cross another item off of my Bucket List! I went on a horse and buggy ride! It was so unexpected, but I didn’t want to have cash left over when I left here so it worked!

Like Warsaw, the next time I come I want to visit some of the museums, specifically the history museums. The history of Poland is pretty amazing. They prospered for hundreds of years under two dynasties. Then they had weak kings who were elected by nobles so in the nobles’ pockets. Then they were divided for over one hundred years. Then they were free for a few years only to be invaded by Germany and “liberated” by the Soviet Union. They have only been recently free since 1989.

I had the zurek soup and more pierogi. I also want to try the duck but only heard about it tonight.

Tomorrow we are off to Budapest (or the two cities of Buda and Pest).

Oh, and some cute translations stories. They call headsets whisperers. It reminds me of when Yamini’s grandmother calling crosswalks zebras.

Krakow

I am currently now in Krakow.

This needs to be edited but I want to make it live. I keep losing posts!

I made some edits/changes to the previous post but would guess it still needs some work!

On the way to Krakow, Dean gave us a history of the EU. I didn’t realize it had been around for so long. There are 27 nations in the EU with 17 using the Euro. There are 50 countries in Europe and there are some who hope for a United States of Europe. In June 2014, Croatia joins the EU. There are also candidates like Turkey, Iceland, Serbia, and Montenegro. Turkey’s membership is problematic for many reason. Some involve the history, with Turkey invading Christian countries, and Christian countries uniting to fight them. Other involve the size of the population and territory. Both are huge and give them some advantage. Finally some are concerned about being responsible for guarding their borders, which include hot spots like Syria and Iraq.

As a result of the war, Poland is 95% ethnic Poles. The number of Jewish people is only in the thousands.

So I have been eating a big breakfast each morning. I may need to wake up early to keep that going. Mostly yogurt, fruit, and granola. It actually is good to have the energy in the morning. I’m a five more minutes sleeper!

On the Seattle – Frankfurt leg, I sat next to a woman named Annie. She was actually going to Israel to visit her boyfriend. We exchanged information because she goes there all the time. I am going to try to meet up with her when I go and possibly go to Petra with her. She is from Canada so it could be Alice all over again! Alice and I met via the port via email and decided to travel together without ever meeting in person. We have been friends for over a decade! I went to visit her last year in Hong Kong.

Also it is certainly fall. It’s not as cold as I thought it would be yet. So it’s bearable. Trees leaves are beautiful colors and quite lovely and of course falling. It sounds like snow could be on the horizons. I think I am ready.

I wanted to mention that the restaurants that play music for some reason always play Lionel Richie’s Say You, Say Me. It’s quite funny to me. That could end up being the theme song of this trip.

So en route to Krakow we stopped in Czestochow to see the Black Madonna. She is hidden from 12 to 1:30 daily. The legend says that St. Luke created the painting of Mary and Jesus out of the wood from the Holy Family’s table, which is why she is brown. It was hidden and discovered by Helen (Constantine’s mom) who was on pilgrimage looking for the Cross that Jesus was crucified on. She brought it to back with her, where it stayed until the Turks invaded Constantinople. It was spirited off and on its way to Krakow. When they made a stop, the horses refused to move when the journey was supposed to start again so that was seen as a sign. An abbey and monastery were built. Others say that they are brown because of soot from candles people lit over the years. Hard to tell. They are certainly very, very brown.

It’s a place of pilgrimage for Slavic Catholics. I have to tell you it’s the first time I have seen this dedication and devotion at a pilgrimage site. It was actually very touching to see the reverence and respect. When we went there was service so I stayed to take the Sacrament. It was extremely crowded even in the down season.

I was stopped by two young ladies who I thought wanted me to take their picture but they wanted to take a picture with me. They loved the hair. That was actually very fun!

We arrived in Krakow. I went to the Main Market Square, which was established in the 13th century when the city was rebuilt after being invaded by the Mongols. It was an important meeting place and had a lot of markets, that moved into a shelter during the colder months. But alas, I must depart. More history later.

Warsaw – Day Two

Okay folks. This one is long and needs to be edited, but I need to walk away. Forgive any mistakes. They will be fixed in due time. I may also have to add some stuff. I also may need to reorder to help with flow.

Now that I am in Warsaw, I wonder why Poland was not on my radar screen of places to visit outside of wanting to visit Auschwitz.

Warsaw (Warsawa) is Poland’s capital and largest city. The capital prior to Warsaw was Krakow but that was changed by a king in 1596 after he lost his castle to a fire.

The Warsaw I am seeing is one that is pretty vibrant. With the history, you could expect doom and gloom, but there is power in the human spirit. It’s extremely mind boggling to learn that 87% of the city was destroyed during WWII. I try to imagine how it would feel to lose everything, but my mind can’t grasp it. I can’t imagine seeing Seattle leveled to the ground. An estimated 800,000 residents of Warsaw lost their lives during the war. Hitler decided if he couldn’t have it, it would be destroyed. Exit the Nazis. Enter the Russians.

The architecture the Russians built is just plain awful. I really like the style of architecture that was designed to reflect the Polish past. In my pictures so far there are a lot of churches and a lot of buildings. So right now there is a combination of Soviet influenced buildings, which basically remind me of projects. Buildings that were rebuilt to look medieval (old style), which are my favorite. And there are modern day skyscrapers.

About 1.7M people live here. There are around 38M in Poland. 95% of the population is Catholic with 75% practicing, which explains the many, many, many churches. Sometimes they are right across from each other. Poland was between Protestant Germany (one time Prussia) and Orthodox Russian. The fact that both nations have played significant part of the Polish history is not lost. Faced with oppression, the people hung to their faith. Poland didn’t exist between 1795-1918. At this time it was divided between three countries (Russia, Prussia, and Austria).

Before WWII, 80% of the Jewish people who lived in Europe lived in Poland. This was second worldwide after NYC. In the middle ages while other European kings were imprisoning or exporting Jews, the Polish kings accepted them. So they flourished in Poland from the middle ages until WWII.

The hotel I am staying at is in a very good, central location. I have done all of my sightseeing in this area. Today I walked for well over five hours, possible six. Hopefully this will lead to a slimmer me when I return. *_*.

Today I started with a morning tour with my group, which included going to the other side of the Vistual River, going to see Chopin’s monument, going along the Royal Route, going to the former Jewish Ghetto, and going to Old Town. When it was finished, I spent a lot of time exploring the Old Town and then went back to the former Jewish Ghetto. Then I cut back to Old Town and walked the Royal Route home. My hotel is literally off of the Royal Route.

So let’s start at the beginning.

My tour guide is Dean. He was born in Amsterdam to Serbia parents. He currently lives in Belgrade. The Warsaw tour guide was Magda. I learned that she used to work 30 hours/seven days a week, but has reduced her hours because she has a child.

One thing that sort of sticks out is the Palm Tree. My driver on the way to the hotel from the airport pointed it out to me. I was like what? How? He didn’t tell me that it was plastic, so now it makes complete sense.

We drove by a series of embassies. I actually meant to go back and get some pictures because a lot of them are old villa palace style. The eye-soar example is the American Embassy, which is modern. It’s my own preference, as I abhor modern architecture.

The park that housed the Chopin monument is under construction, but we could see the statue through the gate. Though his name and dad are French, his mom and birthplace are Polish. I’m not that interested in his life, but learned he had to flee Poland. Ended up dying alone around 39 of TB.

The area on the other side of the river (from the center) is being gentrified. It’s now becoming popular and trendy when before people would not go over there. There was a lot of criminals and criminal activity.

When the Nazis’ occupied Warsaw the city was divided into three sections: Polish, Jewish, Nazi. We visited a few monuments in the Jewish Ghetto. When I walked through the ghetto again, I  revisited the monuments, and I am glad I did! But first some history.

For centuries Jewish people lived in Poland peacefully. In the middle ages, it was safe haven. Other nations in Europe were deporting or imprisoning Jews. In the 1930s there were 380,000 Jews in Warsaw. The Nazis arrived in 1939 and within a year pushed all the Jewish people into the one neighborhood and built a wall around it. People from other towns in Poland were brought there so it was overcrowded (1/2 a million). Over the next year the population grow by1M! By 1942, 1/4 of the people had died of starvation, sickness, committed suicide, or been killed. The Nazis began moving 5K a day to “resettlement camps,” which in fact were the death camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz. When the population was around 60,000 they began getting word about what was actually really happening. Thus they staged an uprising (April 19, 1943), which was unsuccessful. The Nazi’s struck back. They destroyed the ghetto and “liquidated” the people. About 300 were able to escape through an underground rail system.

I saw two monuments. There was one in the Ghetto Heroes Square. It is “for the dignity and freedom of the Jewish Nation, for a free Poland, and for the liberation of humankind.” The people in the monument are very striking. People have left flowers, candles, and stones. There is a Path of Remembrance leading to the other monument. It’s kind of like a Stations of the Cross, as it tells the story of the uprising. The next site is the Umschalagplatz (German for transfer place) monument. It marks the stop where Nazis brought Jewish families to prepare them to be loaded into trains bound for Treblinka or Auschwitz. The second time I went there there was a tour group with Jewish teenagers. They sounded like the could be from England. Their leader was trying to emphasize what had happened in very direct terms. It seems like after struggles, each generation forgets or the impact is not there for them. I hope the young people heard what he was trying to instill.

It is hard to not judge history from today’s perspective. How many countries promised help but did not deliver? How many countries turned a blind eye and listened to the Nazi propaganda that nothing seedy was happening? And why does ethnic cleansing happen today with the world leaders putting sanctions on leaders who are killing people? It seems so simple.

I saw a brick house that was a place Jewish people used to live. There are pictures of faces all over the building. There is talk about renovating it to it’s former glory, which asks the question should it be restored? Or should it be left as is as a reminder? It was an amazing experience.

In lighter news, I visited the Old Town (97% of this area was destroyed) and New Town. I really like the Old Town. I started in Castle Square, which has the royal castle. I also visited St. John the Baptist Cathedral. It’s the oldest cathedral (1339) in Warsaw. In 1791 the Polish constitution was consecrated there. It was also the last battle in the Warsaw Uprising. The rebel leaders were hiding in the church and the Nazi leaders sent a tracked mine (a huge bomb on tank tracks) into the church and killed the leaders. There are some that criticize the uprising, but again judging history from our own eyes. I suppose at some point in time, you have had a enough and want to take your future into your own hands, especially when you could be going from worst to worst. The Warsaw Uprising happened in the summer of 1944. The Soviet tanks were near and it was known that the Nazis would be pulling out soon. Many felt that if the Soviets “liberated” Poland, they would not be independent. In August 30,000 Polish resistance fighters launched an attack. The uprising lasted two months. 18,000 uprisers and 200,000 civilians were killed. Hitler was outraged and demanded that the city be destroyed, and it was. After the Nazis pulled out, the Soviets (who sat and watched and waited) pulled in. So was the uprising brave or stupid? I can offer no judgement.

There are some who don’t like the Old Town. They say it’s cheesy, but I like it. It actually reminded me a lot of Brugge. It has what would have been the ruins to outer walls (originally the rich lived in Old Town and had walls built to protect themselves). There was also a defensive gate. The New Town represents the area that was built outside of the wall. Ironically, because of the war, parts of the New Town are actually older than the Old Town. Basically, some of the buildings built used parts from the old buildings.

There was also a mermaid fountain. Long story short. Two fishermen found a mermaid and would visit her daily. An evil man was suspicious why two fishermen came back daily with no fish but happy. He followed them and saw the mermaid. He captured her to make profit. She sang a sad song and the fishermen recognized her voice and rescued her. She now carries a sword and shield to protect herself and all fishermen. She has a twin who lives in Copenhagen.

For dinner, I had pierogi, which was totally good. It’s basically called a dumpling. Mine had meat inside and being as greedy as I am, I could have eaten another serving, but I did not! There is one other dish I want to try before I leave. It’s soup, bread, and a sausage.

It’s a city that is changing and growing. There is so much construction happening. They are actually building another Metro Line as well. One of the tour members visited 35 years ago. She said it has changed since she was there. Warsaw had been described as dark and gloomy, but hope has a way of changing things. Did I mention communism ended there in 1989?

Oh I met this Russia guy earlier and I wonder how his reception is in Poland? I guess the past is the past is the past and at some point in time there has to be reconciliation. The way I meant him was I accidentally stepped into his picture as he was taking it. I apologized and he was like no problem. Then a few minutes later, he asked me take a picture him. Then I was just wandering aimlessly in the Old Town and ran into him again. That’s when I learned he was from Moscow. His impression of Seattle is that it rains ALL of the time.

Which reminds me the building I saw yesterday and really liked was was the Palace of Culture and Science. It was a “gift” from Stalin that the Polish people paid for. They call it Stalin’s Penis (insert another word choice). I really, really like the building, but it’s problematic since it was a forced gift. There is (or was) seven similar places in Russia.

The next time I come I want to visit the museums and spend more time in the parks, which reminds me I did walk through a nice park. I need to find out the name but it has a cross in honor of Pope John Paul II. He has a street named after him, which ironically has a block with adult themed shops.

Tomorrow we head to Krakow. We will see the Black Madonna enroute.

More to come!

Warsaw – Day One

Here is my disclaimer. I will edit when I get home. :).

Monday morning, I got up around seven and did my final organization. I caught the bus to the Mount Baker Transit Center. I had to make a pit stop to Rite Aid because I forgot to get batteries. Then to the airport.

It was a pretty quick process. I gave myself the three hours they recommend, and I did not need all the time. But with that said, I will continue to get there three hours ahead for international. The one time I didn’t there were LONG lines. I finally had to go the “problem lane” because I was like my flight is leaving soon! By the time I cleared TSA and got to the gate, they were well into boarding. I would rather be sitting there relaxed than getting there stressed right on time. But I digress.

The flight was relatively quick for ten hours. I watched Rock of Ages, What to Expect When You are Expecting, a Sex and the City in the city episode, and How I Met Your Mother. It occurs to me that I could be repeating some of my earlier post. It’s 8:20 p.m. here, and I am trying to to stay up for another hour.

As I mentioned I got to the hotel and settled in, and I went for a walk.

I just walked and would go off track when something drew me. I have seen some beautiful churches and architecture. I need to find out the names of the some of the buildings I took pictures of.

I went to a very beautiful church to pray and thank God for my safe arrival. Sometimes in daily life it’s hard to clear the air and see life for how it is. It is good! While my life is not “perfect,” it’s perfect for me. I can honestly say I have nothing to complain about. The grass always looks greener on the other side, but I am trying to water my own lawn and appreciate what I have been given.

I need to come back here and start an anti-smoking campaign. A lot of smokers and I am trying not to breathe their air. I hate cigarette smoke. I grew up around it and hated it!

Also there are a lot of KFCs and Starbucks. I haven’t seen a McDonald’s yet. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

The one thing I really need/want to do while here is to walk through the Old Town section. That is my goal for tomorrow afternoon.

The weather is cold here, but it’s not as cold as I thought it would be. I was actually very comfortable walking today, and I wasn’t wearing my heavier sweaters.

I met my tour mates. Basically the demographic is older, retired. Many of who are repeat customers to Gate1. The group is 13. Four retired couples, two friends, and a middle age couple and me. We will have seven more join us in Budapest.

Day one is done!

The Eagle Has Landed – Warsaw

First of all, the amount of security hoops to get into Blogger, Facebook, and Hotmail was a little crazy. Yes, thank you for trying to protect my identity, but dang! It’s hard proving who you really are!

Anyway, I have landed safely in Warsaw, and I am settled into my hotel.

The flights were okay. I don’t think I got much sleep, and I can’t wait to hit my head on the pillow tonight!

The plan right now is to go for a walk to see what I can see and then meet my group for orientation and dinner.

More to come!