I have arrived in the City of Cracow and I have ventured forth, stepped back in time to an era which sees its Jewish population decimated by Hitler and his legions. Cracow was a City of over 56,000 Jews. Kazimierz was a Community vibrant with the heritage of the Jews of Cracow. I have raced past signs which are significant in the terms of The Holocaust, names like Bedzin, Bochnia and Sosnowiec. Each of these Towns housed a Ghetto in its own right, a holding pen for future decimation. Each one of these Ghetto’s was along the staging post toward Auschwitz, Birkenau, Belzec and even Sobibor. Some names of these Towns are more instantly recognised, as is the name of Cracow, the then Capital of Hitler’s General Government under Hans Frank.
There is the sign for Podgorze, which housed the Cracow Ghetto. The Ghetto itself is directly opposite the Kazimierz Jewish Quarter, and across the Vistula. Here, where some 16,000 Jews were confined within the Ghetto perimeter at any given time, nothing much makes you aware of the fact that a Ghetto existed here. There are many of these names known to those who have dealt in the fullest terms of an horrendous Slaughter, a Genocide fully visited upon any People that are all not so well known. The World knows of Auschwitz and indeed Birkenau, yet there are Towns and Villages, tiny Shtetl groupings communally housing their Jewish People all hoping to evade Nazi attention. Many of these Jewish Towns and Communities, that had disappeared into a History swamped by the devastating destruction of an entire Jewish People, have had their Jewish connection wiped from the face of Polish soil.
We race along, the signs pointing toward Tarnow! Toward Wadowice, which Pope John Paul II knew so intimately! These signposts I have recognised, as we speed past them and toward my Hotel, are a reminder of why we need to Remember and why we should all add a Testimony to those who have been taken from us. I am here amongst the History of that past, a History I have been steeped in for so many years, that its tenure has almost become known to me in a personal way! I am filled with a sense of awe as cobbled Streets and imposing buildings, once thriving with the sense of Jewish antecedence, of markets filled with Jewish peddlers, businesses once profiting the Polish economy and Jewish enterprise, all have had their Jewish identity removed from them.
I am a tired boy after my travels! I will join the fray tomorrow.
I have visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. I want to take time to gather My thoughts. Everything seems surreal. It is an awesome place. You feel like an intruder. You are walking across a desolate landscape. Desecrated. Empty. Remorseless. What you recognise from Books or Film has no bearing on what is here. They are merely a guide to what is such a realisation. 1,100,000 Murdered Jews are not to be found here. They have been eradicated by a Hitler whim, a hatred so intense, obliteration has newer meanings.
The journey along winding Roads itself is a reflection on what is my Historical research as we pass Communities which formerly Housed entire Jewish populations. Communities which witnessed all that the Polish people saw. The signs still spring forth as I am catapulted back in time. Babice, Bierun, Harmozc, Katowice, Tychy and on toward Oswiecim. We speed along watching a Video of The Liberation of Auschwitz. Surely this is meant to prepare the mind, but can it ready the soul for the searching questions we seek or the answers we can no longer deliver? It has always been my contention that only those who have suffered as a consequence of the very detail of The Holocaust, the selective processes which will lead to an eventual Slaughter or toward Survival for far too few, they are the ones who know!
As a result of what we come to learn, we can barely know of what it must have meant for those Jews, the 6,000,000 who perished or the some 200,000 Jews who Survived the Camp system. What can ever prepare the mind for the realisation of such a Catastrophe? I meet others who are making their own pilgrimage. I have so much to add, but I will bide my time. I will leave You with Gabby's thought as we journey through the Auschwitz Museum:
"..I wonder if my Grandmother's Hair is amongst this?"
as we pass by the collection of Human hair forming part of the exhibition. Out of respect we were asked not to take photos of the Human Hair, so I present to you instead the Prayer Shawls. It is a chilling reminder that not only were 1,100,000 Jews Murdered here, along with many others, but they have left behind a legacy of Families seeking to have answers to what happened to their loved ones, why it happened and why it was all allowed to happen.