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September 08, 2004

Warsaw - Krakow - Auschwitz-Birkenau

I am going to do this quickly. It's been a long day and I am starving!

I spent Monday in Warsaw, roaming through the area that was the jewish ghetto during WW2. The germans walled off a section of the city very early in the war and 'quarantined' all of the Warsaw jews inside. It became a nasty place - full of disease and there was little food and no clean water. The germans slowly moved people out of the ghetto to the concentration camps, but before that had completly happened there was a jewish uprising. The jewish people had assembled a guerilla army and fought the germans for a few days. As a reponse, the germans completly flattened the ghetto. When I say flattened, I mean nothing left at all. Nothing standing in that section of the city. Quite crazy. I visited the old Gestapo/SS headquarters - the basement of the building survived the flattening of the city. It was the site where thousands were tortured and executed. They have turned the basement into a museum to commemorate the ghetto. It is rather sobering. Lots of stuff left from the war - jewish id cards, possesions and things that the prisoners smuggled in/out, diaries, photos, torture instruments, SS/Gestapo logbooks. They also have a few of the old cells set up in original condition. Not the most enjoyable museum - but very educational.

From there - things brightened up. On Tuesday I took a train down to Krakow. Krakow is awesome. It was untouched during WW2 and so all of the buildings and streets are quite old. In Warsaw, the streets were all wide and obviously made for cars. In Krakow, it is more like other cities in Europe, the streets are narrow, paving stones uneven and the buildings are all either coulourful, or grey. Krakow is apparently the intellectual and artistic center of Poland. There are tons of coffee shops and hang out places great for killing time. There is also very little obvious Soviet influence here. I have learnt that because of Poland's heavy involvement with the Catholic church, it remained very 'western' thinking during the time of Soviet occupation(post WW2).

Today I visited the world war 2 concentration camps, Aushwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have thought quite a bit about what to write and tell people about my trip to the two camps, and I haven't really come to a conclusion. I would say that in a couple of weeks it will have sunk in - but right now I don't have a lot to say. I've put some photos online so they should help! Aushwitz is the camp we hear the most about, and Auschwitz-Birkenau (3km from Aushwitz) is the camp everyone knows from the movies and books. Needless to say, descriptions and photos don't do justice.

Ok. I am starving. One/Two more days in Krakow then to KIEV! I hope this post doesn't make my trip sound depressing - it's not!

Posted by Alistair Howard at September 8, 2004 09:40 AM