Sunday, September 4, 2011

Jewish Poland


Poland suffered the biggest losses during the Nazi occupation. The country had the largest Jewish population in Europe and along with the Jews, a large number of prisoners of war, clergy, homosexuals, gypsies and political and religious opponents were killed. One of Adolf Hitler's goal was to ensure a complete destruction of all Poles and about 6 million Poles died during this dreadful period.

Today, there are very few Jewish families living in Krakow and most live in the Kazimierz district, which is known as the Jewish Quarter. In Kazimierz, there are synagogues as well as Jewish style architecture with buildings that have signs in Hebrew.


We visited the Remuh Synagogue as well as the cemetery next to it. The synagogue had very beautiful interior decorations and lots of explanations of Judaism.



We walked around the cemetery and noticed that many little stones had been placed on the tombs. This apparently shows the number of visitors for each tomb.


Walking along the streets of Kazimierz was very interesting as many buildings are old and had interesting signs or paintings on them. Somehow I felt that it was much quieter and somber as compared to the ambience in the Old Town.




We then went to Schindler's Factory which is now a very well designed museum. This museum has bold images, statues, and artifacts that show visitors the life in Poland during the Nazi occupation.



Finally, no visit to Poland is complete without visiting the notorious concentration camps in Auschwitz and Birkenau. We took a train to Auschwitz and once there, we had to join an English speaking group for a guided tour of the premises.


We were taken to the blocks of buildings where the Nazi victims were forced to stay without proper food or water. Many people were simply crammed into small spaces and this caused the fast spread of diseases which resulted in the death of many of them. Males were separated from females, which meant husbands no longer saw their wives, fathers never saw their children, and grandparents could not be with their families anymore. Not knowing what they were about to face, this parting was very unbearable for many and no one knew if they would see their families or friends ever again.


The Nazis wanted to get rid of those whom they thought would be useless to them and this meant the sick, elderly and young children. Many were gassed to death immediately upon arrival at the camps and children were often led to believe that they would be going for a shower when in fact they were about to be killed. Many life threatening or permanently damaging medical experiments were conducted on women by evil and selfish Nazi doctors. Men were forced into hard labor. Anyone who tried to escape was immediately shot to death. Of the million victims who were in the concentration camps, only 142 managed to escape. So you can imagine just how strict the Nazi security was.



In some of the buildings, there are collections of the victims' personal belongings such as spectacles, tins, hair brushes, combs and shoes. In one room, there was a massive collection of human hair, which was shaved off the victims' head. It was really sad to see this and no photography is allowed in this area.


Here, you can see the hard beds the victims were forced to sleep on. Often, there were hundreds crammed into these areas, therefore making it very difficult to breathe and causing the spread of diseases.

We got to Birkenau which was the larger of the two concentration camps. Here is where mass killings occurred in the gas chambers. You can see how vast this area is and those arriving here knew they were doomed. The poor victims had to endure the terribly cold weather in addition to the cruel treatment by the Nazis.


This post showed Poland's dark history, but one that should not be forgotten. It is an essential part of any visit to Poland and we should remind ourselves how privileged we are to be living in safe places. Unfortunately, war is still prevalent in many countries and along with it are the incessant killings of innocent people. Won't people ever learn from past mistakes?

Next up, my yummy dining experiences in Poland!

3 comments:

David said...

Very emotional visit, but worth doing it to always remember this sad part of history.

banoo said...

Yes..while reading I felt how lucky we are to live in the safest region! But this type of historical events always make me sad! Very cruel and these facts cannot ever be digested!

Nicely written ammulu! You & Dvd look great!

Sriram said...

Preethi, thanks for this write-up on Auschwitz and Birkenau. They are in my 'must-see' list when I visit Europe.

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