Krakow, Poland to Auschwitz
We had a free morning in Krakow. Before our trip began, we learned of a portrait done by Leonardo DaVinci called Lady with an Ermine. We decided to go to the National Museum to see it. Lady with an Ermine is fascinating for many reasons. The subject, sixteen-year-old Cecilia Gallerani, was the mistress of Leonardo’s employer. Her body is turned toward her right, but she is looking over her left shoulder. Cecilia is quite attractive, but the ermine, not so. She is stroking the ermine with her right hand, but her hand seems too large for her body. Unfortunately, black paint was put atop the original background in the 1800s, so we will never know what it originally looked like.
Then we walked back to the town square for a quick lunch. Nick ordered smoked salmon salad, and I, baked brie with cranberry jam. So good! Next it was time to return to our hotel to meet our fellow travelers. We boarded our bus and headed to the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. We met with our local guide, who took us under the sign “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which translates to “Work Will Make You Free.” An average of 14,000 prisoners were kept at Auschwitz at a time. Birkenau was much larger, holding up to 100,000 people. At least 1.1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz between 1942 and 1945. Approximately 960,000 of then were Jewish. The lives of men who could do heavy physical labor were prolonged, but the elderly, women, children, and people with disabilities were all unnecessary to the Nazi cause and were the first to be eliminated. Roma people (then called Gypsies) were also considered undesirable. Eventually, being Polish was a reason for elimination.
We saw many of the horrors with which we were familiar at Auschwitz and Birkenau, such as the unheated bunks in which the prisoners were kept. We learned of many horrors that were new to us, such as long hair that was removed from the women prisoners to be sewn into the coats of the Nazi soldiers to keep them warm. We’ve posted photos here. Recently I saw Rick Steves being interviewed on TV, and he said he sends as many of his groups as possible to Auschwitz and Birkenau, and we understood why. As painful as this visit is, we must all know that it happened, and we must never let it happen again.
Back in Krakow, Nick and I had a quiet dinner together.