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Krakow - Auschwitz: a weekend to world history

Krakow - Auschwitz: a weekend to world history

Kraków

Hidden Treasure

Finally Autumn is here and since there’s a classfree Friday at Bocconi (weird) what’s the plan? Well I can sleep till noon (not weird) or I can catch the early flight for Kraków. My studying days will come to an end soon and when will I ever go to Poland again?

Ok, off I go.

 

Poland’s most charming city emerged from World War II as the only major Polish city that wasn’t reduced to rubble. As a result, Kraków didn’t have the downtown real estate to accommodate the enormous concrete apartment blocks that were built during the communist era in so many other Polish cities. 

“Pit-stop” at Smakołyki, nearby the main market square for a super cool Polish brunch. And yes the pancakes were amazing! 

 

The main market square, the main square of the old town, dates back to the 13th century and it is the largest medieval town square in Europe. The historic centre of Kraków, the former capital of Poland, was included as the first of its kind on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1978. Its rich variety of heritage architecture includes Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings. Kraków's palaces, churches, theatres and mansions display great variety of color and architectural details. 

 

St. Mary's Basilica originally built in the early 13th century 

The former factory of enamelled vessels known as Oskar Schindler’s Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik (DEF) is located in the post-industrial Zabłocie district and houses the new branch of the historical museum of the city of Kraków. Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist, spy, and member of the Nazi Party who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories. 

Auschwitz – Birkenau

Return to the past

A trip to recent history that many would try to avoid is a powerful dose of “cruel reality” that awakens unknown emotions and makes one reflect on the weakness of mankind. The UNESCO world heritage site of Auschwitz – Birkenau, symbol of the Holocaust, of mass murder and terror, is a true proof of what racism and hate can generate. Located in Oświęcim, a town 50 km west of Kraków, the notorious Nazi concentration camp stands there to remind us the unimaginable breakdown of contemporary civilization and culture. 

 

Auschwitz II – Birkenau. The main SS guard tower also known as gate of death. The railroad spur and ramp ran from the main gate towards the gas chambers and crematoria.

Founded by the SS on the spring of 1940 initially as a concentration camp for Poles and later for Soviet prisoners of war, it soon became a place of mass extermination, slave labor and criminal medical experiments on an inconceivable scale. The antiSemitic and racist Nazi policy led to the annihilation of more than 1,2 million people 90% of which were Jews. 

 

The fence around the camp (Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II – Birkenau ) was almost 14km long. Prisoners sometimes attempted to commit suicide by throwing themselves on the electrified wires.

Prisoners classified as unfit for labor were taken to die in the gas chambers. In order to avoid panic, the SS usually deceived its victims. They promised them that they would bathe and then be united with their families. The Nazis sent to Auschwitz at least 1.100.000 Jews, nearly 150.000 Poles, approximately 23.000 Roma, 15.000 Soviet prisoners of war and 25.000 prisoners of other nationalities including Greeks. 

Auschwitz I. The camp gate with the cynical inscription “Work makes you free”.

Auschwitz II. Part of the camp

 

“We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.” ― Primo Levi

 
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