Friday 18 May 2007

Krakow - words alone

It is impossible to comprehend what happened during the last war. We had a visit to Auschwitz included in the tour, but I did not go. I've read books, seen documentaries and films, and I didn't want to see the actual place. I were Jewish I would have gone of course, or if were German or Austrian it would be some sort of act of contrition. Many of our party were in their 70s or 80s and they felt they should pay their respects, having lived through the period of these events.

I didn't want to have images in my mind that would always be there. A shocking or distressing sight sears into your mind and can't be forgotten. I can still see my father in his coffin, and he died when I was 16. No one went to Auschwitz to treat it as a tourist attraction but, as an observer rather than an involved party, I felt it wasn't appropriate for me. Those who went said that the worst thing was the stacks of children's shoes, and the shorn off hair. It brought home the complete inexplicable negation of everything that made those torturers able to be called people.

There were many parties of foreigners in the city, from all over the world and it shows how adaptable people are, that in the few years since the collapse of Communism, they had cheerfully adapted themselves to welcoming us all as tourists. All the young people spoke English and even those who didn't were happy to try out a few words and wanted to be friendly. One old lady, from whom I bought a smoked cheese that looked remarkably like a small loaf of bread, held up fingers to show the price and then patted me smilingly on the arm to say thank you and goodbye.

I loved the market and I wish I'd taken pictures, but I feel that standing snapping away sets me too much as an outsider and I feel too embarrassed, as if I'm treating people going about their daily business as curiosities, so I don't do it. The market was there daily, but the last morning was evidently Market Day, as there were lots of extra small stalls, with fresh cream cheeses, smoked cheese, meat, bread and plants. I wanted to buy some flower, cabbage and lettuce plants in their damp newpaper parcels, but I wasn't sure if it would be legal to import them and I also felt the journey would crush them, so I left them alone. I did, and how whimsical is this, bring home some kohl rabi for Al to sell, just for the sentiment of it.

I must do some work this morning, while the sun shines. More photos later.


The Boy said...

Not sure I would want to visit any of the concentration camps either. I've known a number of survivors over the years, two of whom felt an obligation to talk about it to any who asked. That was more harrowing than just about anything I've experienced otherwise. Don't need to visit.

I'm with you on pictures, I generally don't take pictures of people when I travel unless I ask. Like you say, it distances you.

Chairwoman of the bored said...

I don't know whether I would have gone. Probably, because I would have felt it an obligation.

Did you watch the service from Auschwitz a couple of years ago, where the dignitaries sat in the falling snow? The flood lights lit the centre of the camp, and the dark hovered threateningly around it? Probably it was the association of ideas, but I have never seen fear and evil in the way that the darkness conveyed it.

I don't blame you at all for not going.

Z said...

I haven't known anyone from a concentration camp, but I did know a couple of people who had been in Japanese prisoner of war camps. They did not want to talk about it.

Yes, Chairwoman, it put across a strong message.

heybartender said...

I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. about ten years ago. It also had stacks of shoes and shorn hair, as well as many other things that I can still see very vividly. I don't blame you for not going. I'm glad I went, but I wouldn't do it again.