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Travel Image: Auschwitz, Poland
 Photo: Jolian Blevins
Travel Image: Travel Image: Auschwitz, Poland
 Photo: Jolian Blevins

Krakow, Poland: Raining at Auschwitz
By Jolian Blevins

He was from Tulsa, Oklahoma and said he was an opera singer. Clearly, this could not be so; I would need some proof. And so he began to sing, first an aria from Rigoletto, and then, and more appropriate to our location, “March of the Hebrew Slaves.” We were on an overnight train, Pavarotti and I, traveling north, bound for Krakow, Poland.

The medieval capital of Poland, Krakow is filled with grand castles and estates, cathedrals and a town square to rival any in Western Europe. Spared from Nazi bombing during the Second World War, the city retains much of its ancient sights and charms. In the 20th century, Krakow is historically remembered as the closest city to the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. I had come to Poland for this reason, in search of a deeper understanding of what happened there. And also, on the lighter side, I had come to escape the throngs of American tourists packed into every major capitol city in Europe.

The train screeched to a halt around 3:30 in the morning, just as my companion, whom I had met upon boarding the train in Prague, began the final crescendo in his masterful rendition of all, it seemed, of Verdi’s operas. We had reached the Polish border. A scruffy looking gentleman wielding a large machine gun and an even larger German Shepard entered our compartment to inspect our papers. The man glanced at my crisp American passport and handed it back with a grunt of approval. In an impetuous and daring moment, I thrust the little book back into his hands, gesturing that I would please like the stamp. The other passengers regarded this spectacle with a mixture of anxiety, amusement and pity. I got the stamp though, and it remains in a place of honor directly in the middle of the page, straddling all four quadrants.

As we hurtled through the magnificent Polish countryside, drinking 70 cent Czech beers, I listened in a daze to my new friend’s life history, his hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, women he had loved, both past and imagined. Pulling in to the station around 7 AM, he inexplicably was met by a young Polish woman of unmatched beauty and grace. I, on the other hand, was met by a growing hangover, and a several mile walk in awful heat to a closed guesthouse. 7 o’clock Sunday morning is apparently a bad time to arrive in Poland.

With little to do but wait, I went looking for a bite to eat. Directly in front of the cathedral where the Sunday mass was taking place, I found a small food cart which served, to my amazement, exclusively fish products, of varying shapes and sizes. So, that morning, I celebrated the holy Eucharist by eating a nice fish sandwich. After this very pious moment of repose and nourishment, I heaved my 50-pound backpack, mostly containing books and camera equipment, and set out to find another probably closed guesthouse.

I spent the next few days exploring the alleyways, cathedrals, castles, and public houses of Krakow. I found the town enchanting, although the knowledge of what had taken place there was too much to overlook. On the third morning, I trekked back to the train station and boarded a bus for the small town of Oswiecim and Auschwitz.

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