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Report 1962: Poland and the Baltics--Finding Roots

By Sharonov from Illinois, Summer 2011

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Page 2 of 9: Krakow

Krakow's Old Town is one of the places in Europe, like Prague, that was not bombed into oblivion during WWII. It has a gigantic market square with countless booths to buy a wide variety of souvenirs and household goods, several stands where you can buy a kielbasa or similar fare, and now they even offer healthy stir-fry veggies in a nod to modern health concerns. There are two old cathedrals, and of course outdoor cafes where one can sit and nurse a beer while watching the people and horse-drawn carriages go by. On the hour, you can hear the beginning of a trumpet song from one of the high cathedral windows. It cuts off in mid phrase, in tribute to a 13th century trumpeter who was shot with an arrow while warning of the enemy's advance. Don't ask me who the enemy was.

Around the market square are the requisite narrow cobblestone streets, sans cars, with countless shops and eateries to tempt the visitor. We were tempted often.

Krakow once had walls surrounding its Old Town. The walls were removed and replaced by the "Planty", which is a circular park that is wonderful to walk around. It has tall shade trees, flowers, many benches and an occasional fruit stand.

We took several side trips from Krakow, notably Auschwitz and the Salt Mine. We opted to take a bus to Auschwitz early in the morning, because if you arrive before 10:00am you get in free and also don't have to hire a guide. The descriptions are all in Polish and English, so I didn't feel we needed a guide. We could have gone to Birkenau also, but not only was it too hot, Birkenau's ovens would have been too disturbing. This is where Hitler's "final solution" was carried out.

I found it interesting that a great deal of the verbiage in Auschwitz seemed to be almost justifying Polish behavior toward the Jews during WWII. It explained that, unlike in other countries, a Pole's entire family would be killed if he was found to be aiding or harboring a Jew. Many, many Poles died in Auschwitz too, as they were considered "untermenschen" by Hitler and used for slave labor. Intellectuals were simply shot.

The Salt Mine was just OK. I could have skipped it.

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