After the emotional roller coaster of visiting Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau), Grant and I were both very glad to be on to brighter and happier places. We stopped in Kraków but our time here was very short because we wanted to be in Warsaw by dusk. We parked near the famous Wawel Castle (this picture is obviously not mine):
The main Auschwitz I camp (I blogged about earlier) gets all the attention. It has most of the iconic imagery everyone associates with the Holocaust, most notably the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate (“Work Sets You Free”). While horrific things definitely happened there, and in fact nobody that entered was able to exchange work for their freedom (perhaps only delayed their death by some number of days or weeks), it was a much smaller place than I expected. A few rows of buildings, some of which we went inside, some of which we skipped only to avoid more mental exhaustion.
Head over to Auschwitz II (Birkenau), only a couple of kilometers away, and a sledge hammer hits you over the head with the phenomenal scale of the operation. This was a large
work death camp that was obviously the result of a very intricate plan.
I feel all kinds of different emotions for all kinds of different people – sorrow, envy, pity, joy. But nothing is as breathtaking as stepping inside a concentration camp, and the inevitable and involuntary feelings those steps can stir about the people involved on both sides. You can read about the Holocaust all day long, and I have, but I don’t think anything can really prepare you for actually being here.