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

Krakow, Poland: Raining at Auschwitz (cont.)

The public bus to Auschwitz was, as I had hoped, very old, unsafe, and bursting with passengers. There were babushka-wearing locals and farmers, frock-wearing nuns, solders with rifles, crying babies, and for some real excitement, several large clucking chickens. I was the only obvious tourist on board. Another element in this peculiar, though curiously fitting situation, was the weather. For the past three weeks as I traveled through Denmark, Germany, the Czech Republic, and now Poland, Europe had experienced an unprecedented heat wave, with temperatures above 90 with humidity to boot. On that day though, the day I was visiting one of the most terrible and horrifying places in the history of man, it rained. It rained all day with temperatures barely reaching 65. I was thinking about this deviation on the bus when I noticed a small stream of water dripping through the apparently porous ceiling and onto my leg.

The day passed very slowly. I walked through the many buildings filled with shoes, eyeglasses, suitcases, and piles upon piles of human hair. In an understandably somber mood, I imagined what had taken place there and watched the other tourists in amazement. Showing extraordinary hubris and unbridled ignorance, my fellow travelers walked around Auschwitz telling jokes, smiling, and saying (this is not a joke) “Hey Mom, come take my picture in front of the killing wall.” I was speechless, and that’s saying something for me.

I spent a few hours in the main administrative camp of Auschwitz, then, after missing the bus to Birkenau, I hailed a cab --a curious occurrence for the location. The infamous brick gate, railroad track, and crematoriums impressed upon me the tremendous scope of this operation. Next to the train tracks were hundreds, maybe thousands, of brick chimneys, all that remain of the barracks that housed the immense work force needed to maintain the camp. Later in the afternoon, with only two more scheduled busses returning to Krakow, the majority of the other visitors departed, leaving me virtually alone in Birkenau. I wandered around the destroyed crematoriums, passed the brick skeletons of barracks, and up to a small pond still gray from the ashes. I was entirely alone and not sure what to think or what to feel. I walked around as if in a trance, trying to take it all in, yet fighting with all my might not to let it in at all. The sights and emotions evoked during my visit to Auschwitz proved overwhelming. I could not then nor can I now comprehend the events that took place there.

Later that evening, after reconnecting with my friend, the fourth tenor, at the hostel, I resolved to put the days upsetting sites behind me. With this task in mind we gathered up our Zlotys and went in search of a nice meal. In Krakow my few dollars bought an appetizer (I couldn’t believe it either), a beautiful and tender portion of filet mignon, several pints of good beer, a dessert, and an espresso to finish it off. We were so pleased with this turn of events that we left our stunning and adorable waitress with a large handful of coins; she refused at first, but with some convincing, surreptitiously pocketed the sum.

My friend and I walked the now jubilant streets of Krakow, reflecting upon the day and the horrific events that had taken place just a few miles away, indeed, events that continue around the globe, in some form, to this day. I remembered with reverence those people whose lives were governed by such sorrow and anguish; and I felt deeply grateful that I was able to travel, laugh, eat and drink free from worry and persecution.

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