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The Year Trip We are on another grand family adventure. This time we are taking 10 months to circumnavigate the globe!

Krakow and Auschwitz

USA | Saturday, 16 December 2017 | Views [699]

As part of our visit to Poland we took an overnight trip to Krakow to visit Auschwitz.  We debated if we should go, Elizabeth and I wanted to, but we weren’t sure about taking the girls.  We went back and forth if the girls were too young.  The Auschwitz visitor page did not recommend taking children till the age of 13.  After several days of Elizabeth and I discussing back and forth we decided we would go.  If we thought it was too intense or we needed to take the girls out of the museum we could. 

Since we did not have Auschwitz planned at all we had to figure out how to get there, how long it would take, and reserve tickets.  After reading several articles about going from Warsaw to Auschwitz we determined it could be done in a day trip, but seemed much less rushed if we stayed a night.  So, we decided to take the train from Warsaw to Krakow stay the night, the next morning take the bus from Krakow to Auschwitz.  We would spend most of the day at Auschwitz, take the bus back to Krakow and catch a late train back to the Warsaw. 

The trip started out good.  We made our reservation to and from Krakow on the train.  Using the Eurail pass the reservation cost about $80, which was not too bad.  It was a bit higher than most regional trains. Anyways, it was done and we were on our way.  We made it Krakow in late afternoon and check into a cute little single bedroom apartment.  It was a couple hundred yards from the train and bus station, and only cost $40 for the night.  The manager was from Krakow, but lived in Chicago for some time, so his English was really good.  He was also chatty, which was actually really nice.  He provided us with a quick history and recommendation of Krakow. 

There was a little drizzle, but we still decided to take the manager suggestion and walk to the main square to check out the town.  It was a lively square, even with the drizzle, people were walking around admiring the what was left of the old castle, a church and bell tower, a market place and some art.  The one thing that caught Kaleigh’s eye was the horse drawn buggies.  There was an entire line of them.  Since Morocco she has wanted a ride in one.  I made a deal with her if we had a ride in Krakow she would not pressure us to ride in everyone we seen after that point.  She agreed. Besides, I thought the covered buggy was a good way to see the square, since there was a slight drizzle.  It was a pleasant ride and gave us a quick over view of the area. The quick over view allowed us to select several items where we wanted to explore before heading back for the night.  It was getting late and we had an early bus in the morning.  We actually would have liked more time to spend in Krakow area.

When we arrived on the train the day before we were not 100% sure how the buses tickets worked.  We read several conflicting articles about buying tickets from the driver or from the station.  So, right after we arrived we walk to the bus station and talked to the ticket office.  We were able to get the schedule for the buses to stopped at Auschwitz and purchase Elizabeth’s and my ticket there.  The ticket office let us know the children’s tickets should be bought on the bus and the return tickets could be purchased on the bus when we were ready to return.  Our tickets were for a specific time, which actually made no difference to the driver, but we loaded on the 9:00 AM bus. 

The bus ride from Krakow to the Auschwitz stop was over an hour ride.  It was a small regional route bus, so it had plenty of stops.  There was no stop guide, but there were several others on the bus going to Auschwitz, so I figured between us all we would figure out what stop.  However, the bus driver helped us out.  It did not seem to be an actual stop, he just pulled off on a curb, said Auschwitz and pointed across a small park.  I think we were all a bit confused at first but we still all got off and started walking and it was there.  We crossed the park and arrived at Auschwitz.  Of course, in my mind the first thing I started to wonder was then how do we get the bus, we did not seem to get off at stop, so as we walked I immediately started looking and searching on the phone for bus stops.  This is one thing extremely different about Elizabeth and me; I want to have a plan or at least an idea.  She would worry about the bus we left the museum and figured it then. I really wanted to know before entering the museum where our stop was, what was the bus schedule, and how much was the ticket.  As we walked to the gate, I seen there looked to be a bus stop in the parking lot and Taxi’s, so at least I know we had something to go on. 

Tickets to Auschwitz are free, but if you want a guided tour, which they recommend, you have to pay.  Though they are free you still need to either register online or go to the ticket office.  So, the first thing we did when we arrived was head to the ticket office.  We got our free tickets, we thought it was best not to do a guide with the girls, then headed into the museum. 

We walked through the turn stiles we actually had no idea what to expect or what the Auschwitz museum actually consist of.   We read about some of the exhibits, but in my mind, it was a large building with exhibits, maps, images, and remains of the Auschwitz camp.  I was wrong, it is the Auschwitz camp.  Auschwitz was one of the few concentration camps that was not destroyed at the end of the war or after.  The exhibits of the museum reside in the building that exist in the camp, many of them housing (cell) units.  Most building have a specific designation, such as way of life, housing, torture or the building has a specific geographical location the exhibit refers.  When you arrive you first walk through the gate in the double fences, death zone, before entering the camp.  Then you are able to freely walk around building to building. 

The first set of buildings we visited were geographical, so they were emotional but more informative. They would explain the number of people from that area, such as Finland, that were sent to Auschwitz, what their route was, what type of people (mainly Jewish or soldiers), how they were treated, and outcomes.  The displays were mainly written, images of newspapers, and maps so it was not bad for the girls.

As we moved through the buildings they started to change from wall displays of information to actual images, physical display, and material articles left at the site.  The emotional impact substantially changed.  We would stop and have conversations with the girls about what happened, when it happened, and why it is important for us to know it happened.  We would also remind them that both of that their grandfathers went to war to help stop it from happening.  Oddly enough, their grandfathers gave them something to positive to think about.  They would ask did one of camps help save this camp or do you think our grandpas know anyone that was here.  I think using their grandfathers we one of the best way to assist with the emotional impact the museum presents.

We made it through most of the buildings, not all, but most.  We missed some of the geographical areas.  However, we came to the point that it was enough for both us and girls for the day.  There are several parts of the museum that took the biggest emotional toll on me and I was not sure how to explain it to our girls, at least not at their age.  

One of the first times I did not know what to say to my girls and was debating if we made the wrong choice to bring the girls was the cremator.  How do you explain something to a child that you cannot comprehend how people can do such things and you have a hard time yourself emotionally accepting?  It is one of the building we probably did not need to go in, but was just moving through the camp.  We opted not to explain it fully and left it as we can talk about it when you get older.

The second was a combination of walking through the torture building, which was very emotional for Elizabeth and me, but less for the girls.  They could really see and understand they were rooms for holding people.  They did not read the information or see the rooms were only couple feet wide, so people had to stand days on end or gas was dropped in the room to test the results or they tested the limits of starvation in certain rooms.  What they did is really hard to conceive.  The part hit us all was upon walking out of the torture building to the right was the wall.  The wall was actually torn down, but pieces left so the museum has rebuilt a portion as a reminder.  Why a wall, because it was the execution wall.  The bullet holes, the shrine of flowers and candles, the look of it just hits you.  Even the girls knew.  It was the second time I questioned if we made the right the decision with the girls.

The third time was the building of children.  It was probably the worst for the girls and we left shortly after.  I think the hard part for the girls was it meant it could be them.  That it was not a grown-up thing.  The extreme emotional part was not the sadistic torture and killing that experiences, it was that it happened to children.  The images of the children in the Auschwitz clothing had more of an impact on our girls than most of the museum.  The children’s exhibit was the last one we visited. 

It was a quiet walk from the museum.  Luckily, we were hungry which gave us something to think about besides the museum for the time being.  We grabbed a small lunch and the bus happened to be right next door as we walked out.  The bus was really easy to find and it cost several dollars each to the driver and we were on our way back to Krakow.  It was an emotional day, I think we all caught a bit of a nap before arriving back at the bus station. 

We still had 4-5 hours before our train, so we decided to see if we could catch an earlier one.  The ticket lady in Krakow was extremely nice and let us know we should not have been charged for the original reservations with the Eurail Pass, though there was no way to refund.  We did determine Poland was not informed about the Eurail Pass.  The conductors on the train were often confused, asked a lot of questions, and just didn’t seem to know what it was.  It is the only place we encounter that with the pass. Anyways, we rescheduled and headed back earlier.  

The walk from the train to our Warsaw accommodations was just over a mile.  Though none of us, especially the girls, was in the mood to walk, I think it was good for us.  Both the bus ride and train ride was quiet and I think everyone was reflecting or trying to forget the museum.  On the walk we all got to stretch our legs and enough time had passed, the girls felt comfortable asking some questions.  Also, they complained so much about walking it moved us on from the museum.     

In the end, I am glad we went and took the girls.  I do not regret taking them into any the exhibits now.  Kaleigh does not like talking about it and things that remind her of it.  However, she is the same was about Bloody Tower and its story in London Tower.  I am not sure how much of Auschwitz the girls will remember as they get older, since it’s probably not an item we will reinforce into memory and probably not one they will ponder about, but time will tell. 

Tags: awschwitz, krakow, poland, world nomads

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