5 days in Poland, the Land of dragons. Episode 3: Auschwitz

Auschwitz and Kazimierz, 2 days of memories

I want to understand more about Polish history, so I decide to visit also Auschwitz-Birkenau (Oświęcim is 50 km from the city). Go there? Don’t go there? I believe that nobody can recommend such a visit or not: it is something strictly connected to the sensibility of each one. I need to see and touch with my hand, and I wanted to be there: being there meant for me trying to understand the scope of all that horror.

I did not know that the fields were actually two, Auschwitz and Auschwitz II (Birkenau), or rather three, taking into account also the third field of Monowitz, where Elie Wiesel had been imprisoned, and they are 3 km away from each other. From a logistical point of view, it is quite easy to organize the visit by yourself, arriving by train to Oświęcim and then moving from one field to another with a shuttle, but if you are in a group it is mandatory to hire a guide. Unluckily there were no more guides either in Italian or in English, so I bought a dailyorganized tour with Getyourguide, including a visit to the fields in the morning and in the afternoon a visit to the Wielickza mines.

Auschwitz, with his tragically ironic motto “Arbeit macht frei” and his brick blocks, put me in touch with the accounting of the killing: an obsessive, hyper-rationalized organization and bureaucracy, endless lists of people and instructions physically impossible to deny and delete. The endless field of Birkenau, with an endless horizon so barren to lose meaning, put me in contact with the horror.

Auschwitz and Kazimierz. Auschwitz
Auschwitz, the entrance
Auschwitz and Kazimierz
Auschwitz, the blocks
Auschwitz and Kazimierz. Birkenau
Birkenau, the field
Auschwitz and Kazimierz. Birkenau
Birkenau, the barracks

In the afternoon, the beauty of the Wielickza mines was a breath of fresh air between the difficult histories of Auschwitz and Kazimierz: one of the oldest salt mines in the world, it is more than 300 meters deep and is dotted with lakes and salt sculptures, which culminate in the incredible Chapel of Santa Cunegonda, a real underground church completely built in rooms by the miners she protects as patron saint.

Wielicka mines (photo from Meteoweb.eu)

It is time to return to Italy, not before having visited the Jewish quarter Kazimierz: the Western is the Christian part with the Gothic churches, in the Eastern you can feel the Yiddish spirit, with the facades with the old inscriptions of the shops, the melancholy small cemetery, the synagogues. Once alive and crowded, with more than 65.000 people, then forgotten, in the end rediscovered thanks to Schindler’s List movie (the Schindler factory is not far away). Today it is a neighborhood with a somewhat “alternative” and ethnic spirit. I like to remember it, and to remember the time rediscovered during this journey, with a quote painted on the walls of the Izaak Synagogue: “Man worries about the loss of his money, but fails to worry about the loss of his days. His money cannot help him, his days will never return”.

Kazimierz, old shops
Kazimierz, cemetery
Kazimierz, synagogue

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