Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Art & History Feature - Europe Travel Diary, Part II

The sports camp by the lake in Poland
After we left Paris (Part I of the travel diary), we made our way to Poland. Hubby has been teaching karate seminars there for many years at the school of one of his close friends. Although I hail originally from Ukraine, I have never been to Poland, which neighbors it. It was actually excited by the fact that we were so "close" to Ukraine and my native city of Kiev, but unfortunately we couldn't make it there on this trip. One day...

The first three days, we spent at a beautiful "sports camp" area by a lake. It was peaceful and picturesque there, and our little chalet (see pics below) smelled of wood.

While there, we visited one of the concentration camps. It's called Sobibor. Unlike many other "extermination camps", this one was leveled by the Nazis after a successful uprising by the prisoners. Today, archaeological excavations are in full swing there. Because there are no buildings around and it looks more like a shady beautiful park, the inconsistency between the sense of peace and calm and what really was going on there in the past is extremely shocking. There's an alleyway among pine trees with stone blocks running on either sides with names of some of those who perished. There's also a memorial mound at the site of the mass graves. Someone has made a cross on the border of it with the gravel stones from the mound, and we added a Star of David to it.

Sobibor Concentration Camp - signs in many languages
Star of David we made at the the mass grave mound
















When we left the camp, we stopped in Lublin on our way to Warsaw. Lublin is an old Polish city, going back to the Middle Ages. The "old city" part of Lublin is quaint and beautiful. We had a great time walking the ancient streets and squares, and eating the Polish pierogi with meat, cabbage, potatoes or berries.

*Warning: some of the events I describe here may be difficult to read so reader discretion is advised*

Then came our next stop, which was nothing less of horrific. I can honestly say it was the worst place I have ever visited. And it's called Majdanek concentration camp.

This camp still has most of its buildings intact and walking around there, I felt like evil and pain ware forever imprinted into each stone. It was also extremely creepy to see hundreds of crows gathering in the fields there - apparently a common event during the end of the summer and fall but still, the sight was chilling.
 
We stood inside the ditches where 30,000 Jews were executed in two days (over 79,000 people were killed there during its work). The ditches that they themselves dug out on orders from their jailers, while not knowing its purpose. We were inside the crematorium where the bodies of executed where burned and where, on occasion, other prisoners were brought to be executed in rooms where bodies were already piled up waiting for their turn in the ovens.

Re-construction of the crematorium
But probably the most outright horrific building was the "welcome" stop, where prisoners were brought to be processed when they arrived in the camp.  They were stripped naked and herded into a long room with shower heads running all along it. Not knowing what was going to come out of these showers, they were forced to stand there until freezing cold and scolding hot water was alternately poured on them. There was also a tub with a certain kind of acid that some were forced to get into for the "special cleansing".

"Shower" room were prisoners were "cleansed" with alternating freezing and scolding hot water
After the "shower", the prisoners' hair was cut and they were separated. Most women, children and elderly were then put into the "gas chambers", while those who could work were taken through to their barracks.
I was trying to hold it together, but after the "shower" room, which I couldn't get through fast enough, and standing in front of the little rooms that were gas chambers (with doors that had a little window in them so the jailers could look through to make sure everyone has succumbed to the gas), I completely broke down and my husband had to take me out of there and insist that we were done and were leaving. The horror of it all wouldn't leave me for days. (I have to say that my husband, having visited Auschwitz and knowing how impressionable about these things I am, wasn't sure I should go to visit a concentration camp. But I always wanted to and, despite how hard it is to be there, would suggest that every single person visits one at least once in their life. If you don't feel anything there, you're not alive!)

A mausoleum in which all the remains of the cremated bodies that were found around the camp are buried
There were also many accounts of the horrors written by the former prisoners that had my heart breaking and my hair standing up while I was reading them. And all I could think about what "why?", "how could this happen?", "how can humans do this to other humans?". And "this can never happen again!"

I'm not sure if any of our family lost people in concentration camps back in Ukraine, though I do know that some were executed in a place in Kiev called Babiy Yar (I will do a post about it one day). But being in the camp brought home the horror that Jewish people went through during the World War.

The rest of our trip was spent in Warsaw, which was 90% destroyed during the World War II and rebuilt. The old part of the city is also beautiful and we had a wonderful time walking around.

Here are some of the pictures from that part of our European trip this year.

The little house "chalet" we stayed in while at the sports camp in Poland
"Old city" part of Lublin
"Old city" part of Warsaw
In the "old city" part of Warsaw
"Old city" part of Warsaw
"Old city" part of Warsaw with thunderstorm clouds in the background

5 comments:

  1. I visited Auschwitz this summer, and the experience is one that is difficult, but it is something i think everyone should have once. Reading about these things is one thing. Seeing it for yourself is something else.

    Great post, and beautiful pictures.

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    1. Vanessa, I absolutely agree with you! Seeing it, being around the place where so much suffering happened and where human cruelty was at its most horrific, is different than just reading about it. We have to remember this dark period in our history to fight to never have it happen again.

      Thank you!

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  2. amazing photos and looking forward to reading ur writing :D *new follower*

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    1. Thank you :) Going to check out your blog now

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  3. I can't even begin to imagine how hard it must be to visit such a place. But we must continue to bare witness, to remember so that nothing like it ever happens again. Power to you my dear for having that strength.

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