My friend and I visited Warsaw and Krakow and we also ate Warsaw and Krakow. The food is delicious especially the perogies and Polish sausage. Holy all that is good in the world! I didn’t even like sauerkraut but now I love it! Plus, they have chocolate covered marshmallows and an ice cream shop every fourth store.
What I didn’t know about before I got to my Fatherland was the Polish resistance in Warsaw in 1944 against the Nazis. As a result of this rebellion, the people and the city were brutalized; 85% of the city was destroyed, prisoners were sent to Auschwitz, and overall, Poland lost half of their population. Half. It’s a miracle my ancestors made it. After the war, the people got together and painstakingly rebuilt the city, which took years and years. For me, it is a tribute to the human spirit and I love that this resistance and subsequent rebuild is somewhere deep in my DNA.
Speaking of World War II, I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. Seeing the piles of baby shoes of the children who were gassed is pretty much the lowest form of humanity imaginable. But then, it gets worse. There is a room full of human hair. Human hair. After people were gassed, their heads were shaved and the hair was sold to make mattresses and nets. People’s belongings were systematically rifled through and sorted, teeth were pulled for the gold, and they were only allowed to use the bathroom twice a day in awful conditions. I understand I am not even close to scratching the surface of the cruelty and inhumanity; it is just impossible for me to wrap my head around the enormity of it all. And to makes matters even more inconceivable, not only were the Nazis incredibly cruel, they were profiting from this system of death.
Another area that shook me to my core was this hallway with photos of the some of people who lived and died at Auschwitz. Our guide made sure to tell us to look at the dates of arrival and death. One month, three months, six months. I saw two brothers, arrived on the same day but one brother outlived the other by two months. Whole families, futures gone in a moment.
It was good I went, but like my tour guide said, once is enough.
What an amazing history lesson my trip turned out to be! I wasn’t sure what to expect but I did learn that my last name is very common. And every place I went, someone began speaking to me in Polish – I fit right in! That was kind of fun. One woman looked genuinely shocked that I was American.
So Poland, thank you for a wonderful trip… and especially for the chocolate covered marshmallows.