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A Cold and Lonely Path: Into Auschwitz

I’m running through Kraków’s bus station, spinning around to see coaches lined up behind me and smaller trams rattling through the concrete space below. My eyes jump around, searching for D8, for Oświȩcim.

A stocky man strides towards me, gesticulating.

“Proszę,” I say, please, before my supply of Polish dries up. I’m suddenly embarrassed, flushed and ashamed to say to the face of a stranger one of the most emotionally charged words in the world.

“Auschwitz.” He says it first.

In fact, he grabs my coat and drags me to the grey staircase that leads to the underground car park. “Dziękuję,” I reply in thanks but he smiles and waves me on my way.

Auschwitz. To me, the word symbolizes the worst aspects of humanity. To him, the platform number for foreigners looking for something.

Tour Signs

In Kraków’s central streets, posters brandish the name in lime green or fuscia pink against a sunflower yellow background. I’m already feeling uneasy. I’m definitely not taking a tour for this and I’m not here to research an article. So, I ask myself, what am I here for? What do I expect to find?

In the hour that spans the gap between Kraków and Oświȩcim, our minibus fills to the brim and then empties again with shoppers, mothers, children, workers and chattering pensioners. By the time Oświȩcim appears on the roadsigns, there’s only the four of us left. One couple, two strangers.  All British, as it turns out, each alone with our thoughts.

“Auschwitz.” He says it first.

The Auschwitz camps – I, II and III – starved, tortured and executed over a million people during World War II. Prison camps became concentration camps and then ultimately death camps. History lessons at school, the Red Cross Museum in Geneva, the books of Frankl, Levi & Frank and even the film Schindler’s List have provided enough images to haunt me for a lifetime. Will seeing the place with my own eyes change anything?

We pull up against a slushy, ashen pavement, a high metallic fence stretching off into the distance. The girl to my left trembles and tries to get up.

Nie, no, no!” cries the driver and the minubus continues on, passing by the industrial landscape of an out of town shopping centre.

Auschwitz. To me, the word symbolizes the worst aspects of humanity. To him, the platform number for foreigners looking for something.

When the bus stops the next time, no-one moves. “Muzeum Auschwitz!” calls the driver. “Muzeum Auschwitz!”

I take a deep breath and stumble out into the cold, but not before the driver thrusts a square piece of paper into my hand.

Tarmac, wire, snow and an empty sky fork out in each direction and once again we are lost.

Muzeum jest w ten sposób,” says our driver, gesturing to one of the three pathways. We nod our gratitude and begin the walk.

Continues here

The Road to Auschwitz

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3 Responses to A Cold and Lonely Path: Into Auschwitz

  1. Katrina Foster March 30, 2010 at 6:26 pm #

    Really well written (part I) post…I found it so hard to write about what it felt like to go to Auschwitz. You’ve captured the approach beautifully.

  2. Abi April 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    Thank you – it’s a place that stirs up so many different emotions.

  3. Tash January 14, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    Landed here from travelllll.com’s post about good writing – and wow, spot on! This is compelling! Off to following the story!

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