Krakow / Auschwitz
We arrived in Krakow on officially the bumpiest flight ever. That from Drew and James - both seasoned and frequent flyers. I had white knuckles and a wild staring look by the end of it. Thank you Captain Kangaroo.
The hotel was perhaps a little further out of town than we had envisioned - but hey, that gave us ample opportunity to sample Krakow's mad taxi drivers at close quarters.
We dropped our bags off and went into town for a look around. Biggest medieval town square in Europe, dontchaknow. All rather picturesque. After a spot of brunch we talked about whether we wanted to make a trip to Auschwitz concentration camp.
I think we all had mixed feelings about going (Should we go? Was it right to go? Would it be tasteless to go? etc) But we made up our minds, got on a bus and an hour later we were standing right outside the famous Arbeit Macht Frei gate.
It all seemed so strange - having a English speaking Polish guide telling us in plain terms the horrors of what took place there 65 years ago; "This is where the Jews were stripped of their possessions", "This is where the Jews were shot" - utterly unreal to hear and to come to terms with to be honest. But the tour was deeply respectful and the many Jews who were touring at the same time seemed to feel so too. It got the balance right between telling you the facts and making clear the awful tragedy of what happened.
About an hour in - just after looking at the mound of children's shoes and the mountain of human hair - a sense of utter despair washed over me. A profound sense of sadness that such despicable acts of torture and inhumanity could be carried out right here, right in this very room where we were standing.
It was an education too. I'd naively thought Auschwitz was just one place. In fact there was Auschwitz II - a huge second camp where Jews were kept under even more inhuman conditions and where the mass executions took place - 2000 Jews at a time gassed in four massive gas chambers and then their bodies carried up in lifts to be burnt. There was even an Auschwitz III. In fact there were forty or more sub-camps in the area. Auschwitz was a huge killing machine. Sickening, it turned my stomach.
So it was harrowing tour, yes, but I am glad I went. Nothing can quite bring something home like seeing it with your own eyes.
There was a massive rainstorm with thunder and lightning on the way back to Krakow which just seemed to reinforce the sense of sadness of the place. We had just visited.
We had a quiet evening when we got back - just a bite to eat in town. That night I had nightmares about what I'd seen earlier that day. An unforgettable experience.