Remembering Krakow

Last November 2004, during my vacation in Germany, I was able to visit the first Nazi concentration camp in Dachau. On Sunday, I visited the largest concentration camps during World War II, Auschwitz I and II. Both of these camps are located near Krakow.

It is sobering to consider the atrocities that took place in these camps. Over the main entrance gate to the camp is written, “Work brings freedom” but as we know now, no one was ever freed during the Nazi occupation.

Both camps sit on large plots of land. Many of the buildings at one camp still sit as a testimony of the horror. Passing through the buildings, I recalled the phrase, “If only these walls could talk.” If ever there was a time in which I wished that could be it was during my visit there.

However, I was able to see the mounds of shoes, eyeglasses and other things that were taken from the “prisoners.” The prisoners were stripped of their very humanity in every respect. While I would not want to visit the place often, as it is a horrible reminder of what took place there, everyone that is able should go so that we will never forget and I pray these things will never be repeated.

The city of Krakow is historic. It has a wonderful city square that still has the charm of an old European city. Around the square are lots of sidewalk cafés. The apartment that our group rented was in the old Jewish area and one missionary that lives in Krakow mentioned to me that Nazis probably climbed the stairs of the building to arrest the Jews living there. I must admit that when I climbed and desended the stairs after that I wondered what it was like for them.

One morning some of the missionary kids from Krakow took me on a tour of the Jewish ghetto and cemetery. I have not seen Schindler’s List, but I was told that the Nazis desecrated the cemeteries and took the tombstones from the cemeteries and made roads with them. This is shown in the movie. Well, I went to the Jewish cemetery near our apartment and saw the tombstones that were recovered and they now line the walls around the cemetery.

I was able to visit the wonderful Salt Mines outside of Krakow as well. The Salt Mines have been around for hundreds of years and, after excavation began, the workers started making carvings and sculptures in the massive tunnels in the mines. Some of the rooms are exquisite. There is even a beautifully large chapel in the mines where mass continues to be held even today!

Salt was an expensive commodity long ago and was more valuable than gold. It’s interesting to think that salt is not very costly now. It was fun to visit the place and see all the exhibits that were made from salt. I didn’t realize how much one could do with salt!

They are very proud of those salt mines as well. The tour lasts over 2 hours, but I can’t say I didn’t get my moneys worth!

On a purely personal note, after visiting the ghetto we had lunch at KFC. That may not be news to you, but there is not a KFC in Ukraine or K’stan. So it was great to eat there. I had their new Taco meal: a soft taco wrapped around a hard-shell taco, filled with nacho cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and spicy chicken. The French fries were covered with nacho cheese. Of course, I topped it off with a diet Pepsi! Needless to say, I didn’t watch my diet during that meal!