If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you’ll know I recently stayed in Kraków, Poland for a week with my boyfriend and his family. I decided I’d write a little bit of a travel post, including what we got up to, the sights, the food.. basically just everything I can tell you! I’ve decided to split these things into two separate posts since there’s quite a lot of stuff that I’d like to include. So I hope you enjoy!
Kraków is truly a beautiful city with so much to do and so much history. Auschwitz concentration camp is in the vicinity, along with Schindler’s factory museum, Rynek underground, the Salt mines, the Jewish cemetery. These are just a few of the ‘attractions’ and interesting things you can see.
Whilst I didn’t manage to fit all of these things into the week, I did do quite a lot of stuff which I’ll tell you about!
The four places I will cover in this post are: Auschwitz & Birkenau concentration camps, Schindler’s Factory, U21’s Euro final at Cracovia and the Jewish Cemetery. Each section will have a heading so if you just wanna read about certain thing, feel free!
Auschwitz and Birkenau
It’s probable that you have heard of the concentration camp Auschwitz and the camp very close by, Birkenau, nicknamed ‘Auschwitz 2’. The atrocity that went on here is well known and it is has always been somewhere I’ve wanted to visit because I’m pretty into history. Visiting these camps was one of the main reasons we decided to go to Kraków this summer.
The tour cost around 120 Zloty (£25) from Info Tours and included transport to and from the camp and a guided tour of both camps in a little group (around 15 people). We met outside the Info Tours shop at 8:30am. The round trip (both car journeys and tours) is predicted to take 5 to 6 hours. Which was about right.
When we got there we had to go through a security area and had our bags checked. We also had to pick up a headset and an audio device. The tour guide took us round the camp, but we had headsets and she spoke to us through them, which was great as there was no risk of missing any information.
The camps were upsetting, especially the parts were we saw real items that belonged to the people. For example, the suit cases and shoes.
For the most part, you are able to take pictures. However, there are two places were photography is prohibited. These places are a room which contains women’s hair and the ‘death chambers’, which are cells were people were tortured (such as starved to death). Both of these places, for me, were some of the most upsetting things to see and I can fully understand the rule on no pictures. You don’t need pictures, the image has stuck with me. The death chambers are exactly as they were, even down to the wallpaper and it really hit me what went on there. So much of the tour did, the pictures, the quotes, the dates of how long people were in the camp before they died. All of these things / places were in Auschwitz, where the first part of the tour happens.
After the tour of Auschwitz we had to catch a bus over the Birkenau. Birkenau’s entrance is the picture people imagine when they think of Auschwitz concentration camp – the train tracks and the brick building. (I’ve included a picture). There isn’t as much at Birkenau in terms of museum items, but the site is massive. You walk down the tracks up to the gas chamber ruins. The Nazi’s knocked the buildings down in attempt to cover up their awful crimes when they heard word that the camp was likely to be liberated soon. There is a replica gas chamber at Auschwitz, which was built following the Nazi building plans which were discovered. I can’t put into words how I feel thinking about the role of gas chambers, and I’m sure many of you think the same when the thought comes into your head too.
Continuing with the tour, there are headstones dedicated to the prisoners of the camp. Bodies were removed from the ground, turned to ash and buried with respect. The tour guide told us to look at the ground were we were standing near the grave. There were specs of white on the floor which were bone fragments. Still there today.
The final part of the tour was one of the bunkers. Each ‘bed’ was for six women. The small building held a lot of people, it must have been so awful, especially with all the sickness and disease that was going round.
At the end of the tour, our guide said something that certainly rings true. She said that the camps were open as museums to the public so that we might learn something from the reality of it, so that something like this can’t happen again. She went on to say that looking at the state of the world at the moment, we have learnt nothing.
You more than likely already know of Oskar Schindler and what he did during WWII. But if not, I’ll give you a little overview. He was a wealthy business man and a member of the Nazi party. However, he is responsible for saving the lives of 1200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them to work in his factory. He treated them ALOT better than they were treated in the concentration camps. You can watch the film ‘Schindler’s list’ for the whole story, which is an amazing, emotional film. It’s long, but so worth it.
So the factory is located in Podgórze, which is a walk from the main square in Kraków or a tram ride. There isn’t much else in the area. From the outside the factory just looks like a building blending in with the rest.
I’ve read a few reviews from people who have also visited the factory who didn’t seem to enjoy the attraction as much as they thought they would, so were a little disappointed with it. Therefore, before I went I didn’t even know what to expect! However, I really enjoyed visiting the factory and would say it’s a must if you’re stopping in Kraków.
The innards of the factory aren’t the same as they were during the war, the machinery is no longer there. But the building is the same. I think this could be why some people were let down with their visit, maybe they expected it to be as it were back then. Instead it’s a museum which takes you through the years of the war/Nazi occupation. It tells you about the factory along with Jewish ghettos in the area. It’s really eye opening and interesting and at times emotional. Some of the quotes and words of young children in the ghetto’s really got to me.
A ticket costs around 21 Zloty and is well worth it!
U21’s Euro Final at Cracovia stadium
Whilst we were in the city, the U21’s Euro final was held at Cracovia’s stadium (a football team in the Polish league). My boyfriend and his family are massive football fans so of course we couldn’t miss this match since we were already so close!
The match was between Spain and Germany and when we arrived after catching the tram from the centre, the area was absolutely buzzing with fans from everywhere. There was mostly Spanish fans which was half unexpected because Poland is closer to Germany than Spain.
Around the stadium, there were people painting either Spanish or German flags on faces for only 5 Zloty! So I decided to go for it and got myself a cute German flag on my cheek. I decided to back the underdog and spoiler.. it all planned out! Germany won 1:0.
We decided to delve a little more into Polish history and culture with a visit to the Jewish Cemetery found in Kazimierz (The Jewish quarter). Prior to WWII, the cemetery was nearly full and was a beautiful place of rest. However, during the war the Nazi’s sold some of the stonework, whilst other headstones and slabs were used as construction material for paving the supply road to camps, such as Plaszów. The bones were left scattered and exposed.
After the war, Mr Stendig (likely to be the camp survivor Jakub Stendig) recovered tombstones from Plaszów and arranged to have them reinstalled in the new Jewish cemetery, the one I visited.
Any graveyard is sobering, however this one particularly is, given the history of it all. The most notable thing was the wall which was made up of broken headstones, presumably the headstones which were taken and used as the roads to the camp.
People have placed stones on each headstones, as a kind gesture of remembrance. We added a stone to a grave each whilst there.
I’d really recommend a trip here if you’re visiting Kraków any time soon. You pay a small amount to enter to the synagogue and it’s worth it completely.
That’s all for this post! The second one will cover all the great food we ate and other things. Thanks so much for reading, feel free to leave any comments below!