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It was my intention to
write up this trip but to date I haven't had the heart to do it.
As time carries on the memories of the little details are fading.
I intended to be away for two weeks but the effect on me of
visiting Birkenau was such that I changed tickets and was back
home within a couple of days of having left. For reasons I will
perhaps never understand it will always be a very special place
There are plenty of websites on the subject so there is little more that I could add. ( Click here for my 'music' video. )
The pictures you see here are some of those I took (despite my unease at doing so) together with my unaltered travel notes.
KL Auschwitz II - Birkenau (Brzezinka)
Walking in on the road 3km from Oswiecim
outside the main SS guard-house "Death Gate"
entering the main gate
view from the SS watchtower
another view to appreciate scale
the end of the line
My Raw Travel Notes
On the bus after having found it.No TV no English. France @ 18:05BST (19:05 bus/European time). Calais 90minute crosssing. Calm but windy on deck. Fish and chips. In a foreign land as soon as I got on the half full bus. A three hour delay the bus at a standstill. The border and money at midday. Money at border was a better rate than the hotel. Next stop 50 Grosz for the toilet to the old 'munchkin'. Forest, forest Fiat126 forest. New driver and crazy! Bars every few km and scantily clad women thumbing lifts!! Gnomes gnomes and more gnomes. Six women in a row in the middle of the woods. Stop go stop go 10 mins here 30 mins there. Managed a conversation in French with a chap who bought me a hot dog because I was looking confused about the prices. Arrived in Warsaw after a hair raising drive. The chap gave me the phone number of someone who speaks English in Krakow who he said would help me with accommodation. Walked for a bit in the direction of one YHA place nearby. Asked various people ALL of who spoke English. Round in circles and then shown the hostel. Loads of stairs!!! In and ok for two nights only. 24 zlotys. Cheap. Showered and straight to bed exhausted. Woken by the loud mouth American and his posse of Australian girls. Shared dorms?
22/10/96 Woke up early.Need to eat and drink -priority. Breakfast of a do nut thing and tin of coke. Returned to the YHA before lock out for more clothes. Brrrrr!! Start walking to Old town square. Still new but rebuilt old. Every old person seems to me to have something hidden. Some amazing past almost too heavy to bear. Bumped into an 'uprising' monument near Krasinski Palace. Went back to see an exhibition next to it. Just some photos and rusty metal but overcome with emotion!!!??? Outside it had happened here. Went for a close up of the monument and was spoken to by an old man. He didn't speak English but made me understand the monument was him. He was there. I shook his hand and was glad he shook mine . .and walked away.
I DON'T KNOW IF I'M UP TO THIS !!!!! The war is why I'm here but I don't know why. I DON'T KNOW IF I'M UP TO THIS !!!!!
The ghetto monument - almost touristy. Guy selling memorabilia immediately approached to offer help on the display of maps etc No hard sell - just good vibes. Every rich Americans stop off for photos/postcards and gone. Older people sit and .....sit! Walk, walk, walk, eventually to the Jewish cemetary via the ghetto stone blocks and the bunker. Past a university building. These girls don't feel the cold at all!!!! Into a bar for a hamburger. A drunk who spoke English tried to persuade me to have a beer. Only 22zl?!!! That couldn't be right. I think he was looking for a free round. Walk, walk, walk (amazing on street open air market place) to the train station. No English speaking staff !!!! German businessman and freind enabled me to get an 11 o'clock train ticket tomorrow to Krakow 26.40zl. Changed another 50 dollars at the station. Probably a bad rate but a bit better than at the border. Eyeing up rolls of food in the station the same Rgerman businessman and freind passed by. I obviously looked like Bambi cause he asked if I was hungry No No just looking (and planning ahead) Slipped away and got a hotdog and Ersatz coffee!!!!Yuuuuk.Shouldn't have stirred it. 16:00hrs YHA is now open should I wish to collapse. Time to walk some more. Hand rolling tobacco seems to catch peoples eye !!? Went to find the Chopin museum. Got lost loads but found it eventually. Closed on Tuesdays! Bought some Nescafe in a shop - no sugar -back to the hostel. So warm. Felt exhausted.Only 18:30. Went back up the old town to see it in the dark. Stopped in a church. Ok. Back to hostel. Coffee fags, shower - chatted to an American 'doing the world' and everything. To bed by 10:15 knowing I'll be woken early by someone.
23/10/96 Up at about 7 o'clock thanks again to the eager Japanes guy. Coffee cigarettes chat to the American and gone.(Thank god I brought my own toilet paper). In central train station at about 09:15 and bumped into Maurice asking if I'd phoned his mate. Excuses excuses but I don't want the hassle of getting involved with someone. Dunno why but I want to do this on my own. Totally -ish. Breakfast of a long curly sandwhich thing and a coke - if I got it right I'm on platform 4 at 11 o'clock. I got it right and the seats/coach etc works by numbers so not so bad. Feeling a little low cause a week would have been enough. Time has slowed down. Leaving Warsaw Central feeling LOW - graffiti in the station in English "Hey man be happy". How could I not be :o)
Lots of scenery very much in some ways like England but not in terms of the rural life. Lots of little strips of land being ploughed by horses. Free coffee and 'alcoholic' cake on the train was welcome. Krakow steel works in the distance. Everything the books said!!! Disgusting. Out at Krakow avoiding the beggars who even begged in the appropriate language. Sat and walked a little and sat to read the books on orientation. A guy speaking appropriate languages tried to help ..... but why? I could smell the beer. Thanks....bye. A strategic move around the corner to sit again. Tried a central hotel but told only a suite left @ 190zl. No way. Found the PTK PPK? And got a room for only one night but on VISA. Excellent. Found a built in resteraunt so had a good meal and then set off walking again. Found the main square and was VERY impressed. Beautiful. Walk walk walk. Guitar player busking - WOW!! A nice place. Back to the hotel to find the 8 berth room full of English, American ,Australian. All 'professionals' doing time and distance. English been in Italy fruit picking for a month. Food, board, lodging and pay. Beats the dole. Now heading home. American chinese doing Europe /Moscow/ Asia etc on month 1 of ???. Joined the Yank and a Melbourne Aussi for a meal and then slank back with the Yank to the hotel for a quiet early night. All the others were out clubing/pubing until the early hours. At about 9:30 another English guy turned up having spent 13 months doing the world the 'wrong way' round to the west. Just done the trans Siberian railway from Bejing. Talked till late - me feeling like an amateur.
24/10/96Not much sleep. Rushed down to make sure I have the room for another night. Ok. Why all the fuss about hanging around etc. Out by 08:10 and a brisk walk to the bus station. Platform 5 pay on the bus. 4zl and I'm on my way to Auschwitz!! Hour and a half of travelling along through the country. Loads of half built houses. Half breeze block half brick. Into Oswiecim. Unexpectedly large and industrial. The bus stopped and all the older passengers picked out the museum visitors and told them they should get off. Stopped to roll one and allow everyone to get ahead so I could follow. Up a small road and ther it is denoted by loads of coaches and hundreds of kids on school trips. 'Dancing' with the kids I headed into the building . Bought a small guide with a map and headed out. Just in front the infamous gate "freedom through work".
~No more words!!~
25/10/96 Up at 7 o'clock dressed out to the bus station.Wandered around and spotted a Eurolines toicket on a bag so asked the lady where to check in. She was an ex pat living in Wales and spoke perfect English. She adopted me and even saved me a seat opposite hers. Lots of English voices so this will be better than the trip out. The sky is clear and the sun is shining but it's still bloody cold. Apparantly we travel North to cross the border this evening at about 7 or 8pm! Didn't expect that.
I discovered the enormous and
beautiful main square in Krakow and spent some time exploring it,
walking around and around and people watching. From a little
distance away on one side of the square I became aware of some
music and a small gathered crowd. As I moved closer I began to
make out the most delicious, intricate, wailing electric guitar
being played by the most talented busker I have ever seen. He was
assisted by a friend who was tending the tape recorder playing
the backing music, monitoring the leads batteries and mini
amplifiers and who at suitable intervals was displaying semi
professional 'home' made tape recordings for sale from a
suitcase. I sat for a long time and smoked and listened. He was a
genius. Despite money being tight I just HAD to buy one of the
cassettes the cover of which of course was all printed in
Back at home, for months it was all I would play with the volume at full blast in the car going to work and much to the annoyance of my colleagues, sat having occasional cigarettes in the car park outside the office. As so often happens with a certain piece of music it had the ability to bring back into focus all the feelings and memories of a half forgotten moment in time. I played it and played it and wanted more. I remembered that I still had some Polish currency since because of the international situation it was not possible to exchange it on having left the country and that it was of little use to me whatever its real value since I knew of no one who was liable to go to Poland to whom I could 'sell' it. The cassette cover did have a foreign phone number on it so I decided to phone it to see if I could get an address. With some difficulty I eventually managed to get someone on the phone that spoke just a little English, his sister I think it was, and I managed to get the guitarists address. I laboriously constructed a suitably flattering explanatory letter and sent the majority of the remaining Polish currency I had, which was worth far more than several cassettes, securely wrapped in a package requesting another tape because I thought his music was so great.
I never got a reply!
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