So, let me ask you, what do you know about Poland? If you’re like me, I didn’t know anything about this country until I actually stepped foot on it and it dawned on me why Dad was very eager to visit – mainly because of its immense account in history. So here are my “I-didn’t-know-that! Moments” of Krakow, Poland.
- I took ample curiosity in WWII events and where better to learn it than the country where the war all started? Yup, World War II began when the Nazis (German’s) invaded Poland that faithful night in September 1939.
- Not long after, the Soviet’s (Russians) invaded the country, now, the poor Poles were arrested, exiled and then executed for no other reason but to kick them out of their own country.
- A great number of Poles were Jewish and the Jews were filthy rich and for some reason Hitler hated them and wanted all of them dead! So they were transferred to a Ghetto or to Concentration Camps where they were treated like animals. A dime was probably more than a Jew’s life.
- Pope John Paul II was born in Krakow – How marvelous is that? Me, being in the place where a saint grew up.
- Oskar Schindler, who has become one of my greatest icons, has his factory still standing in Krakow and it is the very place where “Schindler’s List” was filmed. –One of my ultimate favorite movies.
Here’s me wishing you had an “ahhhh” moment as well. But despite of wars and oppressive regimes, the city’s survival makes it a precious gem to its country. The city is just simply beautiful to explore on foot where you get to experience its medieval ambiance amongst a modern atmosphere.
Rynek Główny, is the heart of the Old Town where the Cloth Hall and the Mariacka Basilica is found. These buildings survived the wrath during the war, which makes them even more beautiful. This is where all the shops and the restaurants are located.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
We left the city in the fascinating, sunny afternoon to sightsee the renowned Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is said to be the oldest salt mine in all of Europe.
Entering the Wieliczka Salt Mine, we were welcomed by a flight of stairs heading down and to my surprise, it seemed like it was the staircase to hell – I couldn’t see the end of it. We descended a non-ending 380-step staircase to Level 1 -Yes, I counted!.
Poor dad thinking “how are we getting back up?!?”. On the 380th step, we reached Level 1. We were very deep underground now as in 210 feet under, it was claustrophobic-ish for some. Here we learned the legend of the Hungarian princess, Kinga, accepting the Salt Mine as a form of dowry so this guy could marry her. There a lot of statues and carvings in this level that’s all made out of salt.
This is said to be Boleslaw the Shy asking Princess Kinga’s hand in marriage.
We passed through corridors and chambers made entirely of salt that led us deeper into Level 2. This level showed us how the people worked everyday underground and they even had horses down here. How they got them here is beyond me!
Just look at this wall! That’s all salt right there.
There were also lakes inside
On the last hour of our tour, we were so deep underground that it was just scary! We were now 440 feet underground in Level 3. This is where the richly ornamented Chapel of the Blessed Kinga is found. It’s a chapel that everything you see is made of salt; from the tables to the carvings to the chandeliers…literally everything. it was just amazing! They even said some choose to get married in here but I wouldn’t want to go down 500 steps in my wedding gown! No, thank you!
Following Pope John Paul II’s Footsteps
The entire morning, we followed the footsteps of the early days of Pope John Paul II. We visited where he was born, the church where we became bishop and most of the significant places during his early years. It was very enlightening.
The highlight of the afternoon was visiting Oskar Schindler’s Factory in #4 Lipowa Street. This factory rose to fame after the movie “Schindler’s List” by Steven Spielberg in 1993 with Leam Neeson playing as the German Businessman, Oskar Schindler.
This very factory was where bomb cases and bullets for the Germans were made to use during the war. Schindler, being a smart businessman, got Jews from the ghetto to do the labor. In the end, he was considered a hero by a thousand Jews because he gave them jobs they were outlawed from and it eventually helped them endure the war.
The centerpiece is the office of Schindler has been remarkably preserved and still includes the original desk, chair and huge map on the wall.
AUSCHWITZ CONCENTRATION CAMP
This is by far, hands-down the saddest place on Earth. Unexplained emotions, unknown facts and just pure evil and inhumanity. Auschwitz is probably on top of the list to see when visiting Krakow. It was an almost 2-hr bus ride from the city but it was worth it.
“ARBEIT MACHT FREI” is at the entrance of most if not all Concentration camps all over Europe. It means “Work Makes You Free”, making the prisoners (Jews, Gypsies and Poles) believe of a false truth.
The tour showed us how the prisoners were made to believe they were going to New Canada where life would be better; it showed us how they were tortured throughout the 5 years, it showed us how unsanitary the food they ate were and how little they were given, it basically showed us what HELL would be like if we were to rot there for eternity.
It was very hard to take in the horrible things that went on in each of the buildings. If standing in some of the places where people were put to death in such horrific ways makes the hair at the back of your neck rise, wait until you enter the glass room where they show the actual suitcases, glasses, shoes and everything else. See photos below.
For me, the most horrific exhibit in the entire memorial was the “hair room”. We weren’t allowed to take any photos of that room as a sign of respect for the victims. All the prisoners’ hair were shaved off, be it men, women, children, old, young, healthy or sick. This being the case, their hair was used as “warmers” during the wintertime and this is the actual hair you see in the “hair room”. No words could explain what I felt in there. You have to be in there to feel exactly how I felt.
The prisoners were asked to be totally naked before they were told to “take a shower” not knowing they were entering the gas chamber that would lead them to their death. The tour guide made all of us go in the chamber at once and told us to imagine what happened in there. It was so eerie you could even still see the scratch marks on the walls.
The beauty of Poland is how it has bounced back from every crushing blow it has encountered and even had the energy to hold on to its culture.