Monday, 25 July 2016

The Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy and a visit to Aushcwitz

Hello, I’m back from my break and looking forward to catching up with you all. If you have a question or would like to leave a comment, please do, I love to hear from you.


Taking a blogging break gave me the opportunity to read some of the books I've accumulated over the last few years. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately I can never resist buying more so the size of my must-read pile remains virtually unchanged! One new book on the list is The Kracow Ghetto Pharmacy by Tadeusz Pankiewicz. I heard about it on a recent trip to Poland and was lucky enough to find a copy at The Oskar Schindler Factory Museum (Fabryka Schindlera). Tadeusz Pankiewicz was the only Pole living and working in the Kracow Ghetto from its inception to its liquidation. I’m sure it won’t be an easy read but when was anything worthwhile ever easy? Having seen the remnants of the ghetto walls and visited Auschwitz and Birkenau the Holocaust is uppermost in my mind.

This is the entrance to Auschwitz with the words “arbeit macht frei” which translated means “work will set you free."


According to the BBC historian Laurence Rees the sign was erected by order of Commandant Rudolf Höss. Made by prisoner-labourers the sign features an upside-down B, which has been interpreted as an act of defiance.

We thought we were ready for Auschwitz, but nothing prepared us for the overwhelming sense of sadness that prevails. The feeling of the place seeps into your bones and will not be left behind.



The complex is divided into three major camps: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Auschwitz III-Monowitz and several sub-camps. During the Holocaust gas chambers using Zyklon-B claimed the lives of roughly one million people. Most of the victims were Jews, and the majority killed in this way died at Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

Auschwitz III provided slave labour for the I G Farben plant founded at Auschwitz in 1940. Farben produced synthetic rubber, along with high-performance fuels, various plastics, methanol, nitrogen and pharmaceuticals. The Zyklon B gas used in the gas chambers was produced by Degesch a subsidiary of I G Farben.


Auschwitz II - Birkenau

Entrance to the infamous Auschwitz - Birkenea death camp.

Several of the buildings have been converted from barracks into museum rooms. The rooms are used to house the "Material Evidence of Crime." This consists of piles of shoes, glasses, suitcases, kitchen utensils and the most chilling of all human hair. The Nazis not only murdered millions of men, women and children, they also "harvested" some of the remains. In the early nineteen-forties, a brisk trade emerged between the death camps, and German felt and textile manufacturers who used the hair in the production of thread, rope, cloth, carpets, mattress stuffing, and felt insulators for the boots of railroad workers. According to historians, it's quite possible some of the products are still in use in German homes today.
Auschwitz I

The collection of shoes is possibly one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. Most are in the same dark grey colour, but a few are made from red leather, a poignant reminder of the red coat worn by the little girl in the film Schindler’s list. The guide who accompanied us around the museum said it will soon be 'updated' with new interactive exhibits. I’m not so sure it's a good idea. At the moment it is a stark reminder of just what humans are capable of and maybe it needs to remain that way.

Shoes and clothing of prisoners found at Auschwitz-Birkenau 
Photo Credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum

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If you are planning a visit to Auschwitz expect a tough day in more ways than one. Don’t assume you will find wheelchair access or level paths because you won’t. The site is not disabled friendly. It is also far larger than I ever imagined, and the only way to see it is to walk. We didn't find it too much of a problem, but if you have difficulty getting around do check before finalising any arrangements. 

I'm sorry this is a sad post, especially as it’s the first one for a while. I promise the next one will be more cheerful

48 comments:

  1. Dear Barbara, I had wondered how you would cope with that visit ( not a place I would wish to go) and I think you have done it very bravely, both of you. The proof is in this 'post' in the way that you portray the place and it's history and the terrible deeds that were carried out there. God forbid the like ever happening again. A very moving, well illustrated, well written report. John

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    1. Thank you very much John. I really struggled with this post, and it almost didn’t get done. It was such a difficult place to visit, and I still feel a little numb, but I’m glad I went. Terry found it really interesting but also very moving as did all the people in our party. It was odd because it was a really hot day, and it took a few hours to go around (we walked over ten miles – I know because my step counter was in my handbag), but I didn’t hear one person grumble – but then how could anyone grumble?

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  2. Gosh that was a quick reply! I just nipped away to get another noggin and cursed myself for not saying "Great to have you back!"Came back to do so and find your answer already. Anyway, like I say, great to have you back.........Reminds me of a 'pipe' aboard ship to remind personnel to apply for leave..."All those that have not done so,but wish should do, so should do so now at the Coxswains office!"

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    1. I enjoyed your story about the 'pipe' and marvel at the way you remember so much. Your brain is clearly functioning well. As for my reply, I just happened to be sitting at my desk when your comment arrived and decided to respond before turning on the oven. Oven is now on, and I had best go and put something in it! Thanks for the welcome back.

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  3. No matter how often I read about this camp or see the images, I can't absorb the cruelty and understand it.

    Great idea to take a break, read and refresh. I'm putting that on the calendar for December to be sure.

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    1. I hoped to have a better understand after visiting but if anything I’m even more baffled. The cruelty and torture is just too awful to comprehend.

      A holiday in December sounds like a very good idea, maybe I will try to squeeze one in.

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  4. Lovely to see your blog again, Barbara. So valiant of you to witness this. I know a Birkenau survivor. The rest of the family perished. I am at a point where I cannot read more or watch more films about WWII.Still, we must never forget what happened. Thank you for sharing your experience and so many photos. You have a real talent for illustrating your blogs. Is it my imagination or does the bunny at your signature look sad? Sending you a big hug!

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    1. Thank you Colleen, it is nice to be back. I've missed everyone. My interest in history has only developed as I’ve got older, so I have a lot of catching up to do. I cannot imagine how anyone who survived Birkenau deals with the memories. Your friend has my utmost respect.

      Do you know I think that bunny might look a little sad, although it’s the first time I’ve noticed it? Maybe he will smile when I publish a happier post! He is holding a ribbon in his mouth because he used to be responsible for packing parcels in my book selling days! ;-) xx

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  5. Sad, but necessary. We must never forget or allow this to happen again. I felt the same sense of sadness visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam ealier this year. I can imagine that feeling is magnified at Auschwitz.

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    1. Hello Darlene, I’ve read The diary of a young girl several times but have yet to visit the Anne Frank House – I must add it to my list of places to visit.
      Auschwitz or more especially Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a place to be taken lightly. I expected to feel sad, but the reality was so much worse.

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  6. Hi human, Barbara,

    I am very glad to see you back from your blogging break, my dear human friend. This was such a harrowing, emotive story you have so powerfully conveyed. The inhumanity makes for painful reading.

    You needed to verbalise this and I totally understand that.

    I look forward to some of your future magical stories that you tell so well, along with the wonderful illustrations.

    Hugs and pawsitive hopes, your way,

    Penny xx

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    1. Hi Penny & Gary
      Thank you so much for the welcome home and for your kind words.
      It's a relief to be able to share some of what I feel right now, just wish I had the words to do it properly. xxx

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  7. Welcome back, my dear Barbara! You're right, anything worthwhile is never easy. This is a deep and sad tour but it's also important. As a reminder of what humans are capable of and yet how we could change all of that (the other things we are capable of) -- that there is always the other option available if only we look that way. Not to kill but to love. Not to usurp power for yourself but to build that in others.

    The human hair remains is chilling, the shoes sad and moving.

    Bravo for pursuing a difficult but important direction on your vacation, Barbara. Don't worry about having to write happy/cheery posts. We love heartfelt posts, so whatever really grabs you, let us know about it! xoxo C.

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    1. Hello Claudine, you are absolutely right. There is too much sadness right now and throughout history – we need more love.

      I cannot even begin to understand how human beings can inflict such misery and suffering on another. But we have to remember there are good, kind people in the world (I know I’ve met many of them through blogging!) and goodness will win in the end.

      Thank you for your always positive thoughts and wishes. xxx

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  8. Welcome back from you break away Barbara and great to see a post from you and thanks for visiting my blog. Always good to find out more about the history and to see your photos. Thanks for sharing and yes, very sad post with what went on there.
    Have a lovely week
    hugs
    Carolyn

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    1. Hello Carolyn,
      I always enjoy visiting your blog, and it’s great to catch up with everyone now that I’m home.
      I’m feeling a little sad right now, but ‘chatting’ with blogging pals is doing me a power of good.
      Thanks for coming and over and for leaving a comment. Barbara xx

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  9. AUSCHWITZ...
    The semiquaver chugging of the train on the track
    And the people on board who will never go back
    And the terror in the eyes of all the young ones to go
    With no one knowing as the train comes to slow

    Those men at the station as the ramps drop down
    Where humanity lost is the only crippled sound
    Hope gone for those who stand behind the hard sharp wire
    And the smoke in the towers rises just a little higher

    And the blue ink stabs a little harder in the skin
    Above the veins of despair where murder let it in
    And the terror in the eyes of all those about to leave
    Another train on the track no last minute reprieve

    And the slow, cro...chet chugging of the train on the track;
    And the people on board. Who will ne...ver go.

    Back.

    By Charles N Whittaker

    - See more at: http://hmd.org.uk/resources/podcast/olivia-colmans-recording-auschwitz-poem-charles-n-whittaker#sthash.Bym9i4FC.dpuf

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    1. Oh my goodness Willie, that is just so sad. I had tears in my eyes as I listened to Olivia Colman reading the words. There really is nothing else to say, thank you so much. xx

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    2. Thank you for your comments. I tried to make the poem as emotive as possible.

      Charles

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    3. You are most welcome Charles. Thank you for your beautiful words, they could hardly be more emotive. Barbara

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  10. It is a sad situation, but your post is YOU and what YOU have seen and that to me, is a beautiful gift: to share insight. Unlike myself, you have been to a place that still screams out the truth about humanity, reminding us that not all is well with the world...I say this as an isolated citizen of the earth. I watch the news, I read about the killings that are now happening DAILY around the world, in my community. I say, "What is this world coming to?" But the truth is that long ago, we already "arrived" at an evil level of operation that is humanless. I look at these photos and the history you share, and I remember, "Yes. The world has always been a place where humanity has done much harm. It's not getting worse. It's the same. No change in the heart of mankind." But, like in any other phenomenon of nature, there are pockets of beauty. People who do care, people who do build. We need to keep fighting against the injustice that knocks at our doors.

    Welcome back dear friend! Thank you for visiting my Instagram!

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    1. Hello Anita,
      I think you are absolutely right. Nothing is different, although I feel it should be. We still squabble like children and inflict harm on one another. More awful news today, this time a priest in Northern France, it is all so very, very sad.
      You are also right about pockets of beauty, and it is those we must nurture.
      Take care, much love Barbara xx

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  11. A very sad visit and very brave to go there. I hope they leave it as it is and maybe a visit there should be compulsory for some people! Looking forward to your next blog xx

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    1. Hello Sister,
      We took a tour to the Schindler factory on our last afternoon in Krakow, the tour operator was saying all Polish children are taken to Auschwitz when they reach fifteen. He actually said he doesn’t think they are old enough to appreciate what they are seeing and wonders if the age should be raised to eighteen. The Polish people have certainly not forgotten the history of the place. They talk about it as if it happened yesterday.

      Next blog in a few days, thanks so much for taking a look a leaving a comment. xx

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  12. As the German's resolutely say, we must remember to never forget. I have read many books about the Holocaust and WWII. Currently I'm reading The Nazi Officer's Wife, the story of a young Jewish woman who managed to disguise herself as an Aryan. Though she didn't go to any of the death camps, she still experienced many harrowing things, and lived in a constant state of fear.

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    1. Hello Bish, I’ve just read a couple of reviews about The Nazi Officer’s Wife, and I am certainly going to look for a copy. Thank you so much for mentioning it. Have you read Born Survivors by Wendy Holden? It’s the story of three concentration camp prisoners Priska, Rachel and Anka, who are all pregnant when they arrive at Auschwitz. I’ve just started reading it having now finished The Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy. I think this is going to be the summer when I read nothing but Holocaust memorials. Have you noticed how your reading goes in ‘cycles’ like that or is it just me? I seem to get so engrossed in something I feel the need to keep reading about it.

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  13. Truly a sad post but educational. You are so brave for going to see such a painful place.

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    1. Hello Eve, it will stay with me for the rest of my life, but I’m glad I went.

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  14. Dear Barbara you were very brave to visit the place and you have very eloquently put your feelings and experiences down. Whenever I read or see films about auschwitz my heart is greatly saddened. But you know in some ways I am glad that I know about it. As a little girl and in my school we never learnt about this. But my dad was an avid reader and he would bring some wonderful books home which I used to browse through and one of the books was a full illustrated book of WW2. There used to be many pictures. Ofcourse I didn't fully understand a lot of it at that time even though my dad tried to explain in simple terms to me but it made me curious to know and as I grew older I began to understand little by little about the terrible events that took place. Last year I visited a Jewish museum in Berlin which had displays of torn letters written by Jews that were deported to Aushwitz. Many of these fragments were found in the camps. They were displayed in a tablet format and was such a poignant and sad reminder of those terrible times which many many people went through. Just reading those letters filled me with so much of sadness and I could hear many visitors men and women crying as they read the letters. So I am not sure how I will cope if I visited this place. However if I did get a chance to visit it I would visit it.

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    1. Hello Shashi, lovely to hear from you. To be honest this post was rather more difficult than most. It is such a sensitive issue and being wary of upsetting anyone I decided less was probably more.
      When I was growing up it was discussed in a ‘not in front of the children’ kind of way, which left me with a hazy idea of what happened. Of course, I’ve read and learnt more as I’ve got older, but it really didn’t prepare me for the horror of it all, and I’ve felt a bit low ever since.
      Your experience at the Jewish museum in Berlin sounds very similar to a visit to Auschwitz. Most people were subdued throughout the tour but once inside the museum it was impossible not to shed tears. The thing that really surprised me was the tour guide who cried along with us. I spoke to her afterwards, and she recalled her grandfather’s memories and said it was because of him that she does the work she does. I don’t think I will ever forget the things she said both on the tour and afterwards.

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  15. I also had the honour of visiting Auschwitz when I participated in an exchange programme with a group of young Polish people. Amazing to see the reaction of the British teenagers, it brought it home even more that the families of the Polish young people had their personal memories that they kindly shared with us. Having broken down at the sight of the shoes and all that hair, I'm afraid I couldn't bring myself to go into the gas chambers themselves.

    On a separate but related note can I ask what you think of the Pokemon craze which has seen people capturing what I believe to be a rat character within Auschwitz

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    1. I was in Andover yesterday afternoon, and it felt like every other person was trying to ‘catch’ a Pokemon character. I can see the fun in it, and it is getting kids out of their bedrooms and out walking but there has to be a time and a place and Auschwitz is most certainly not the place.

      I saw something in the news earlier where they said Japan is asking for the Fukushima nuclear exclusion zone to be classified as a no-go area for Pokémon after the discovery of at least one of the game’s characters on a power station’s site. How worrying is that?

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  16. Thanks for sharing this sad, but interesting post. My son visited there, but was a bit quiet about it when he returned. Now I have a better sense of what he witnessed as a young student. Looking forward to hearing more about your time away from blogging and before I forget---welcome back! My blogging breaks seem to be getting longer and longer, as well...but I'll have a new post soon.

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    1. Hello Marcia, I’ve done a lot of thinking about my reactions to Auschwitz, and maybe your son had to do a similar thing. It is not an easy place to visit and even harder to talk about.
      I know what you mean about the breaks getting longer – sometimes I wish the world would slow down a bit so that I could catch up! Thanks for coming over.

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  17. This is truly a difficult place to visit. It's hard to comprehend how it was ever allowed to come into existence let alone commit the kinds of crimes against humanity that did happen there. Thanks for sharing your visit and your reactions to Auschwitz.

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    1. Hello Alex, you are absolutely right. It is beyond incomprehensible and terribly, terribly sad.

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  18. Hello Barbara,
    You are really brave that you visited that place. But I can understand that it would have been so difficult for you to write about it. Years ago I saw a movie about auschwitz which made me very sad.I couldn't even sleep for the next few days.
    Thank you for sharing your experience.

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    1. Hello Aunt Mary, I don’t feel at all brave just terribly sad. I understand why you had difficulty sleeping; these things do play on the mind.

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  19. Barbara- I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau 8 years ago when I was in Poland for the first time visiting with my husband's family. You described the sadness perfectly. I was shocked by how much bigger the camps were than I had expected. Seeing the shoes, living conditions, and all the pictures of prisoners was heartbreaking. My husband's great aunt was a prisoner and knowing she had survived such awful conditions was overwhelming. The museum is an important reminder that we can never let history repeat itself!

    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hello Stephanie, I am constantly amazed at how anyone survived such an ordeal, but it just shows how strong the human spirit is. You are absolutely right it must never be forgotten.

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  20. This is so moving.
    Had been only to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam so far. Will visit this place one day.

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    1. It was a very moving day and one I will never forget.
      Anne Frank’s house is on my must see list.
      Thank you for coming over and saying hello, Barbara.

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  21. Fascinating to read this post and your latest one on the delights of Krakow. And welcome back!

    Living in the middle of Germany, as I do, I am acutely aware of what happened here in the period 1933-45. At our local train station, for example, there is a board of photographs taken during the late 1930s of Jewish people from the local area getting onto trains going East. I say getting onto as there were no guards with whips or guns, or cattle trucks. The people are well-dressed, carrying their suitcases, and in family groups. You can only imagine that they genuinely believed that they were being sent away temporarily to work. The people are named, and their ages at the time of the photos given. The seeming calm of it all makes it all the more chilling.

    I thought you might also be interested in the 'Stolpersteine' monument, started by artist Gunter Demnig which places small brass plaques in the pavement outside homes where Holocaust victims lived. In commemorating their last chosen home, this commemorates their life rather than the terrible circumstances of their death. We have a few in our local villages:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolperstein

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    1. Hello Sue, thank you for the welcome.

      I had forgotten about one of the displays in Auschwitz, but your comment reminded me. It consisted of letters and other paper items as well as 1st class rail tickets paid for by wealthy Jewish people. It seems they were utterly convinced about a ‘better life’ at the end of the line. It makes it all the more terrible somehow.

      I had no idea about the Stolpersteine plaques, what a lovely idea. I do feel terribly ignorant of what went on. It was touched on at school but nothing more, and it was not something my parents talked about – other than in a hushed ‘not for the children’ kind of way.

      Thank you for the link and the information, I found it really interesting.

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  22. I think this is one of those places everyone should visit in their lifetime. Nobody should be allowed to forget what happened and it should never be allowed to happen again (though similar things have been happening, just not quite to this extent). I've yet to visit, but I do plan to one day.

    Thanks for the recommendation... I'll add The Kracow Ghetto Pharmacy to me to-read list.

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    1. Hi Nikki, I absolutely agree with you – we must not forget.

      I finished The Kracow Ghetto Pharmacy last week. It is harrowing, but I’m glad I read it. I’ve also just finished The book thief by Markus Zusak. I saw the film a while ago, but the book is so much better (in my opinion). If you’ve not read it, you should – it is a brilliant, brilliant book.

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  23. Excellent post Barbara. But as expected very sad. With time I find difficult to read more or watch more films about WWII. But I think it is extremely important to never forget what happened. (Mum's family origins are German). Thank you for sharing your experience.

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    1. Thank you so much. It was difficult not to be sad after visiting such a place, but I’m glad we went. I’ve never understood why people can’t all get along, but I suppose that is very naive of me.

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I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara xx

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