When we arrived at Krakow, we went first to the Schindler museum. The museum focused on the entire Holocaust experience in Krakow and only had two rooms dedicated to Schindler. Even though the museum was not what I was expecting, it was an excellent museum. One of the most interesting parts of the Schindler museum was the exhibit on Polish resistance where they had a china cabinet with a fake back to hide a machine gun. It was also nice to see Schindler’s desk. It was raining in Krakow, so we had to take a taxi. We went to the Galicia Jewish museum next, which was an excellent collection of thought provoking photographs. The picture that stuck out for me was one of a farmhouse door…with the sidewalk flipped over….the sidewalk was made of upside down Jewish tombstone…and the Hebrew writing was imprinted in the dirt. After the museum tour, we were invited to attend a lecture by the United States Ambassador to Poland, Steven Mull, who discussed how he has witnessed changes in Poland since he first arrived in 1984.
The Ambassador invited us to an official reception celebrating July 4 and the celebration of the relationship between Poland and the United States. The reception was at a monument for a Polish Revolutionary War hero. The reception included food provided by American/ Polish sponsors. McDonalds paid for the fireworks. The food included the Hard Rock Cafe, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dominoes Pizza, Subway, Hilton….and they had a giant American flag cake. What made this odd was that everyone else was in very fancy dress, and I was in wrinkled work clothes. This really made me feel like I stood out. I did enjoy the fireworks.
On Thursday, we traveled to Auschwitz. First, we went to the archives and were able to look at the original documents which included German records and survivor testimonies. Afterwards, we toured the camp. One thing I learned was that the prisoners called the warehouses of stolen items from the victims were called Canada….because it was a better place very far from Auschwitz. Touring the camp was very emotional…the stockpiles of baby shoes, eyeglasses, suitcases, and human hair….left me wondering how anyone could do this. I believe my pictures will explain this experience better than words…but I will have to wait until I get back because our Internet is iffy. Our hotel is called Przegorzaly, which is another emotional thing because it was built as a retreat for SS soldiers by the Germans. The building is now a hotel and there is a university and dorms behind it. We are staying in the dorm behind it.
The next day, we went to Berkenau. This camp really hit me even more than Auschwitz. The camp was burned and destroyed as much as possible by the Germans to destroy the evidence. Berkenau was huge….it is unbelievable how big this camp was. There were the remains of five crematoriums that the Germans destroyed with dynamite. We learned that right after liberation there was no evidence of what happened here. Then they started to collect the survivors testimonies. There was a camera smuggled in and they took 3 pictures of the autocracies. The prisoners also smuggled in dynamite and destroyed one of the crematoriums themselves. A collection of personal photographs stolen from the victims was smuggled out in a suitcase that were found and are on display. And the Germans themselves took photographs. The camp has these photographs on posters where they were taken so you can really understand. I had imagined Canada was a single warehouse…when we hiked to Canada….it was a field of buildings….the scale of Berkenau is unimaginable. There were also 2 different Canadas. When we got back to the hotel, I wrote a song called “The Song is Gone”. Our guide was able to get me a guitar to borrow while I was in Krakow….I have written a collection of songs….most are silly ones about culture differences. You need to have some kind of release when you are studying something so deep. When we got back, we met with a group of Polish teachers and shared a Bar-B-Q with them. After the Bar-B-Que, we participated in a team building event….learning a drum circle. The instructions were all in Polish, but I was able to follow along with no problem. It was very interesting watching the instructor build the parts and direct the circle. Afterwards, we had a dance and the person who let me borrow the guitar played for a while.
On Saturday, we went into Krakow. We went to the Jewish section and had a meeting with a Jewish hotel owner and private school owner. While meeting with them, we met three holocaust survivors staying at the hotel. We walked over to the park of the empty chair memorial. We also went to the pharmacy museum where a pharmacist provided medicine to people trapped in the ghetto. We also walked to a remaining section of the ghetto wall. The wall was made to resemble a Jewish cemetery. Next, we went to the center square of Krakow. Krakow is one of the most beautiful cities architecturally that I have ever seen. I found the Krakow Hard Rock which had Keith Moon’s cowboy boots, the scarf John Lennon had on in front of the Statue of Liberty, an autographed Eddie Van Halen guitar, Bun E. Carlos’ drum set and other items. One interesting thing was that they had a guitar from Keith Richards hung where no one could see it.
Sunday was our first semi “free” day. Mr. G. is on this trip with me, and we both worked with an exchange student, Gabi, from thee Czech Republic. She had made arrangements to come and see us, but the plan fell apart and she had to cancel. G and I decided to go downtown (we tried to tour the salt mine but the timing would not work.). When I got out of the cab, my phone fell out and I left it in the taxi. I could still see the taxi when I realized it was gone and started sprinting after it, but it pulled away to quickly. So I had an entire day without electronics. G and I walked down by the river, explored the former ghetto, and then we went back to the Jewish Synagogue. The Synagogue had been closed, but today it was open. The Germans destroyed all the cemeteries…so many of the stones were repaired. Many more were unrecognizable, so they used the stone pieces in the cemetery walls as a memorial. The wall is both beautiful and very sad. After touring the synagogue, we went to the larger Jewish cemetery and the walls of this cemetery are also made of broken stones. We were in town during a Stanley Kubrick exhibition which we went to and I got to touch the typewriter from the Shining. We had a group dinner and decided to turn in early.
Monday (7/7/2014) we are attending a lecture about teacher education in Poland. We leave Krakow tomorrow morning early.