Driving to Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine & Auschwitz, Poland. – Europe Road Trip

Day 31 – Travelling

We were sad to leave our little car park but it was definitely time for something a little nicer, preferably with showers and a toilet. Plus we really needed to do some washing. Our new campsite in Krakow is kracking! We have wifi, hot showers, free washing machine facilities and a pretty little spot under some trees.

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Day 32 – Wieliczska Salt Mine

That’s it! We’re a month into our trip. 6 countries down and about 2,500 miles in. I think it’s starting to take a toll.

This morning, after another painful attempt to wash my hair in pathetic campsite showers, I had finally had enough of my dried ends causing chaos. A quick YouTube watching session later, out came the kitchen scissors and off went 4 inches of my hair. I think it looks fine as my curly hair is hiding beautifully whatever I’ve done, but I’m sure the next hairdresser to get their hands on my hair next will probably have a fit. Oh well… It will grow back!

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We then headed off to the bus stop to cause more chaos. Literally! The bus driver grumped at us, so we attempted to buy some tickets from the machine further down the bus. A really lovely lady helped us, despite not speaking a word of English. We showed her where we wanted to go and she got really concerned that we’d got on a bus that wouldn’t take us there. Our instructions told us where we needed to get off the first bus and what second bus to catch, so we tried to calm her down by showing her our instructions in English. In the mean time, she’d started discussing with a second lady the bus routes and she used her fingers to count out the number of the second bus – which we had written down on our instructions. All we wanted was tickets! As we sat down, a man behind spoke to us in English and we’re pretty sure he then got a bollocking by the first lady for not speaking English sooner.

We then got off the first bus, with the second lady signalling at us when to get off. After getting onto the second bus, we realised we didn’t have enough change and the ticket machines only accepted change. Jack then approached four boys in their teens and tried to ask if any of them had change for a 20 zloty note. They didn’t. We gave us trying to buy tickets and hoped our first tickets would get us to our destination, when about 10 minutes later, one of the boys approached us and gave us 19.10 zloty. Turns out the four of them had chipped in all of their change to help us out! So we then felt obliged to buy tickets.

Krakow has two main out of town tours which we wanted to go on, the first is the Wieliczska Salt Mine. This has to be one of the most random things I have ever done or seen. It’s basically an old mine, which is only partly now in use. Every time a chamber was emptied of all of the usable salt, it was then completely decorated by craftsmen. Some of the larger chambers were used for ballrooms in the 19th century and even today you can get married down there. Some of the areas where the salt had been left to make its own patterns were really beautiful and some parts looked like stars and the galaxy. We visited parts dating back to the 16th century, and some of the artwork was incredible. Our pictures don’t really do it justice as we forgot the camera and only had our phones! It really is a beautiful place that’s not quite like anything else.

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We also managed to find a random little photo booth thin where you could take photos and email them to yourselves.

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Day 33 – Auschwitz

I still can’t really get over this place in order to form words let alone sentences.

It amazes me the lengths the Nazi occupation went to in order to deceive the Jews. They informed large groups of Jews that they were going to be relocated to the country in a village of their own. They were packed into train carts and forced to stand for 7-10 days while travelling to Auschwitz with many dying on the journey. We were shown train tickets that were bought, some bought land and houses that they thought they would be living in upon arrival. They were told they could bring one suitcase per person and to write their names on their suitcases should they get lost. The paperwork they received with instructions for packing used reverse psychology, saying that they should leave their valuables at home. Of course, they were the first thing packed. When the Jews arrived on the platforms they could see all of the huts around them; however, these huts were already overcrowded with people. When a new train arrived at the platform, these prisoners were told not to come out of the huts, therefore making it seem like the place was empty ready for the new people arriving. They were then separated into men and older boys, and women, elderly and children, and then 20-30% of them who appeared fit and healthy were rounded up to be saved for the labour camps. To avoid panic, the fit women who were with small children were not separated out. Anyone deemed unfit for work was ushered towards the ‘showers’. Right up until the last minute the deception continued. Even fake shower heads were installed in the gas chambers.

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The large amount of personal belongings that were found in the blocks nicknamed Canada, (Polish believed at this time that Canada was the land of plenty) included a massive amount of pots and utensils showing that families genuinely believed that they were being relocated.

Survivors of Auschwitz that entered on these trains admitted that at the time of their arrival they still had no idea about the gas chambers.

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Alongside the Jews a large number of other political prisoners, labour prisoners and prisoners of war were kept in Auschwitz. One of the blocks walls are completely lined with Polish labour prisoner pictures on the walls, showing their name, previous occupation, date of arrival and death. Many of the women only lasted a number of months due to the hard tasks they had to carry out. The majority of men lasted much longer, but thousands of people arrived everyday into the camp, so they were easily replaced.

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As Auschwitz was not fully destroyed, there is still an incredible amount of things to see, including one of the gas chambers in Auschwitz 1. The larger gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau were blown up just before the end of the war by the Nazi’s to try and cover their tracks.

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We were shown the outside of the ‘hospitals’ where experiments took place. One of the main experiments that took place at Auschwitz was forced sterilisation, where women were tested on with radiation from x-rays, surgery and other drugs. If they died, autopsies were then performed. By the end of the war the Nazi’s had sterilised 400,000 people against their will.

We also visited one of the blocks where the first experiments with Zyklon B. It took the first prisoners 2 days to die, by the peak of mass extermination they had got this down to 15-20 minutes. Large amounts of cans of Zyklon B crystals were found after the liberation and are also now on display.

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The Nazi’s did everything they could to cover up their crimes. From burning the houses at the end of war, to grinding up bones in order to not allow anyone to work out how many people had been murdered. They even sold the burnt ashes as manure, alongside the hair for stuffing of mattresses and other textiles.

Auschwitz 1 is completely different to Auschwitz-Birkenau but the tour we went on took you to see both sites. The original Auschwitz is now the site of the museum where you start, before getting the shuttle bus over to the camp. You can also see the execution wall where thousands of people were shot in the early years of the camp. Civilians were also tried in ‘courts’ within the camp; the majority never left.

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The pure size of the camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau is something I wasn’t quite ready for either, but I think it’s somewhere that everyone should visit at least once in their lives.

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We ended our trip by going up to the top of the watch tower which gives you the full view of the camp.

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By Summer 1944, Auschwitz was capable of murdering 20,000 people a day.

 

By the end of the day we were very glad we had been, but not quite sure what to do with ourselves, so we played a game of Where’s The Van with the washing we had been avoiding doing.

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