Europe: Krakow, Auschwitz, back to Krakow, and…
Published 08-07-2009 on my old wordpress blog.

Building 3, Apartment 6, Room 1, 400 meters from Momotown Hostel, Krakow, Poland, 10:12

After a healthy night’s sleep to the rhythm of passing trains, and a glass of water or two to the sound of BBC news (John Hughes died!) I think I’m ready for my free breakfast sandwich and a walk with my backpack to a couple sights in Krakow before getting on the train to Auschwitz. That was a long sentence.

The front steps, Auschwitz Museum, Osweceim, Poland, 17:40

This is my second concentration camp, you know. I visited Manzanar on my road trip with the college ex. She was half-Japanese, and I had studied the photography of the site, so we had to visit. These places are sad. Yet, there are inspiring stories buried in that sadness. Like the Polish resistance movement in Auschwitz. Like individual sacrifices like giving your food to the weak prisoner so they can survive that much longer. These places are the essence of the best and the worst of us. What can happen when we’re consumed by power and what can happen when we choose to survive. The view I’m taking away is the latter.

I’ve been considering what my religion might be in these dark times, and I’m more and more convinced that I believe in nothing more than the human spirit. The power of collective and individual determination. The essential good in people. More often than not, I am let down because of my expectation. Here is no different, but there are still those stories that I will try to focus on. The general idea that humans can survive through so much more than seems possible. A camp like this, where death and terrible life are everywhere, reminds us that we can survive anything, as a whole.

Yet, we are also reminded that we are capable of horrific evil. I walked through an incinerator made for burning humans and rooms that were filled with poison gas and people until they were only filled with corpses. It’s not real until you touch the wall where someone may have last felt life. Where thousands of someones may have died for no possible reason. Yet, the lists of names in the exhibits hit me the most. I really let myself experience my true loneliness and solitude at that point. I wanted to express my sadness by crying openly over a glass case holding a list of names of people I probably have no reason to feel sad about. It seeme no one else did. There was no one there that seemed to care. I wanted someone there who understood what it meant to feel this way about a list of names. I wanted to squeeze their hand when they felt the same way about a pile of shoes or a mass of human hair or hundreds of hairbrushes or whatever else set them off the same way. But there was no one there, so I did what I do best and fought it off through clenched teeth and squeezing my fist and a rough scratch of my head. I don’t want to be like this anymore. Always alone. If I just could find someone again that really understood I would get it right this time, I swear.

In high school, I grabbed on to the icon of the red triangle handed out to political prisioners at Auschwitz. I made one up with a six digit number and wore it around on my backpack. But, as everyone knows, I would have never been a political prisoner. Maybe then, but definitely not now. I would have been a good little German or occupied territorian. Example: a family of possibly deaf people was taking a photo in one of the exhibits. Not only is photography not allowed, the father was pretending to whip his daughter while the mother took a picture. A political prisoner would have said something about respect and how that wasn’t funny at all. I, the only other person in the room, got angry, scowled at them, and walked out. I’m not good enough to be a political prisoner. To be fair to myself, I still think I would have resisted somehow. I definitely would have been one of the people to feed his food to a sick person or follow along in an escape plot or help plan things. Yet my country is committing atrocities all over the globe and what have I done? What do I do?

Some stupid Polish train, headed to Krakow, 20:29

Unless some miracle happens, I’m going to miss my sleeper train tonight. I’m a little angry at Poland right now. My train that was going to get me there with 30 minutes to spare ended up being delayed 40 minutes. I paid $5 for a reservation for that train!! Now I’m on the last train out of Osweceim and it is supposed to arrive about 5 minutes before my other train leaves. Wouldn’t be too much of a problem if I hadn’t locked my backpack in a locker at the train station at least 10 minutes away from the trains. I guess I’ll try to run like hell and get on that train. If not, it’s Krakow for another night. All of this started because I missed the last shuttle from Auschwitz II-Birkenau back to where the bus I took to get here was leaving from. The bus that takes less time to get there than the train does, mind you. No problem, I’ll just walk the 2 km to the train station! Except for this whole jerky-ass train system. Maybe the train will be late leaving Krakow. It better be, I don’t want to have wasted my money on anything, I hate that. Bright side: this might let me try one of those Vegetarian Kebabs that I saw.

I forgot to talk about my walk around Krakow this morning. After a healthy free breakfast (actually, basically a lunch), I walked over to some castle. Funny story: by the time I got within 500m, I had to pee bad. There were no public toilets! I figured the castle would have something, so I kept on keepin’ on. Sure enough, at the far south end of the castle was some public WC. I ran in there and did my business and then saw the price on the wall. Well, no one was around, so I didn’t pay. I did this same trick later at the mall before I got on the bus to Auschwitz, so this is probably why the Polish train system is going to screw me tonight.

Okay no more toilet talk. I walked around the castle an found an entrance. I hiked up the hill, but when I got to the top, some guy started yelling at me in Polish. I figured out it was about my backpack, which I wasn’t supposed to wear in the castle, apparently. He pointed back down the hill and around the castle to the luggage check place. I said okay and left. I didn’t have time for that nonsense.

I walked north past a bunch of Catholic stuff I didn’t really care about to the Market Square. I had big expectations for Market Square and it solidly let me down. I was hoping to pick up some groceries for the day with my newly acquired Polish zloty’s, but there were no stalls in the market, really. There was a hall selling wood things and souvenirs and t-shirts and stuff, but no groceries. I sat by a statue and watched kids feed the pigeons for a while, instead.

I eventually found an open air market. After I had bought some groceries from a small shop, that is. The open air market was pretty amazing. Lots of old ladies selling whole chickens and homemade cheese and fruits and vegetables. All crammed together in the biggest shack you’ve ever seen. It had a roof, but the sides were pretty open where there weren’t more established shacks/shops. I took a picture that I’ll post later. I can’t describe things right now because I’m too pissed about this train debacle. I keep telling myself it will work out. I’m sure it will. I wanted this sort of adventure, didn’t I? Wasn’t Auschwitz and it’s message important? Dammit, why didn’t I run when I saw that shuttle leave!??!

Secret location to be revealed momentarily, Poland, 22:42

Allow me a moment of swearing: HOOOOOOLY FUUUUUUUCK!

I don’t know if you’ve had the pleasure of sprinting from a train to a locker and then back to a train in four minutes, but it is exhilarating! My slow ass Polish train arrived at 22:11. My Prague train was sitting there waiting for me, scheduled to leave at 22:15. I fucking sprinted my ass to the locker, let’s say 200 meters away, down some stairs an up some stairs. Threw my key in the door and then jammed on my moderately heavy backpack and sprinted back to the track next to the one I was just on. Let’s say that was about 400 meters with a 20 pound load. I could join the army or something. I made it on the train, saving me my $30. Now that I’m exhausted, I’m going to wake up in Prague. The window is open and a cool wind is blasting on my face and the sound of the train is my lullaby. This is heaven, I’m sure of it. Now, time for 7 hours of blissful slumber.

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Keywords: europe, poland, solemn, travel

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