You’ve already read what we did on the afternoon of our final day in Poland; now it’s time to hear about what we did that morning. And yes, that is out of order, which I normally don’t do, but I wanted to save the best for last.1 This being me, “the best” is defined as “a cool underground thing.” More specifically, a salt mine – the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
I promised myself I’d have something happier to follow up my last post, and I also promised you, dear reader, that I’d eventually talk about the big fancy church in the Krakow town square.
Today, it is time to deliver on those promises.
I’m actually getting slightly out of order, because what I’m writing about here happened after the events of my next post, but the next one is also very long, so I’m taking a bit of a break from the long posts to have something short and sweet.
One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic.
The human mind is a miraculous thing, but it’s also a flawed thing. We weigh emotions far more highly than we do logic, which is how something like the quote above1 comes into being. To the human mind, a single death is a tragedy – a life snuffed out, an intelligent being gone from the world. A million deaths, though? We can’t comprehend that in the same way; instead of a million tragedies, a million lives gone unlived, untold billions of hopes and dreams obliterated, it’s just… a number.
In the years 1940-1945, the Nazis deported at least 1,300,000 people to Auschwitz:
23,000 Roma (Gypsies),
15,000 Soviet prisoners of war,
25,000 prisoners from other ethnic groups.
1,100,000 of these people died in Auschwitz. Approximately 90% of the victims were Jews.
On Monday afternoon, we arrived at Oświęcim, a town of about 40,000 people about an hour away from Krakow. As towns go, it’s fairly normal – the most notable thing I can remember seeing was a mall that was utilizing a KFC as an anchor store.
And then you hit the edge of town, and find out why the name seems ever so slightly familiar: three quarters of a century ago, the Nazi government of Germany decided they needed somewhere to put their prisoners. Having recently conquered Poland, they decided they wouldn’t waste any of their precious homeland on prisoners, and allocated some land in their new largesse. With a characteristic disdain for everyone they were in control of, they wrote off the Polish language – and all the Polish names for places – and renamed the town.
Day Two of our time in Krakow began with a walk back into the center of town to meet in the shadow the church I wrote about previously. A few people went in, as we had a bit of time to kill, but I’m still using that as a teaser for an upcoming post – I didn’t actually go inside the church until our last day in Poland.
Instead, we headed across town towards the Collegium Maius, the heart of the ancient Jagellonian University.
Saturday night, we hopped aboard a train to Krakow; as I’m writing this, we’ve arrived back in Vienna on Wednesday morning, and I’m taking advantage of the fact that Wednesday is a national holiday1 to get caught up on writing up all the things that we did over the past few days.
It was a night train, so we arrived in Krakow on Sunday morning, feeling… not-well rested. There’s only so much sleep you can achieve in a bed that’s slightly shorter than your body and vibrating to the slightly-irregular rhythm of a moving train. We caught a group of cabs2 to our hotel, dropped off our bags, and then met up with our tour guide to start exploring the city.