Krakow, through my eyes

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Imagine an old fashioned Christmas card, featuring a fairy tale-style dimly lit town, covered in fresh white snow.

Imagine the quiet hum of a busy tram, and the near silence of a handful of locals, crunching their way home through the crisp snow.

With a minus six degree chill desperately hugging me through my thick layers, numerous pairs of socks, big boots and scarf, this fairy tale Christmas card scene is exactly what blew me away upon arrival to Krakow.

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REBECCA, ROB AND HANNAH: Between the Jewish Quarters and Old Town

After an early 2am coach pickup from Teesside University, by 12 noon we finally made it to Poland.

The final descent into Krakow airport gave our eyes the pleasure of an endless view of snow covered hills, roads and houses. This could have easily been mistaken for somewhere like Alaska, Canada, Finland or Iceland.

But Poland? Oh yes; Poland at its absolute finest.

On the first afternoon, we got the chance to explore Krakow at our own leisure and to absorb the different culture from what we are used to back in Middlesbrough.

The sun was already setting by 3.30pm.

After walking just a few minutes from our hotel, we reached the Main Square of Old Town Krakow.

Stood, at an enormous towering height, decorated from top to bottom with lights and baubles, was the single most stunning Christmas tree I have ever set my eyes on.

Look left, and there were scattered sheds covered with lights and wreathes and the smell of authentic meats and cheeses filled the square.

It was soon clear to me that Poland was still celebrating Christmas, as Epiphany was the previous day (on January 6th), and is another huge celebration in their culture and heritage.

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POLISH CUISINE: Christmas food shacks in the Town Square

 

The following day (day two), was an extremely difficult and mentally challenging day, at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Personally, I find it very hard to write down or type out my thoughts and feelings, because what I experienced can’t be put into words.

The horror, death, exhaustion and eerie peace that fell over Auschwitz-Birkenau is something that will stay with me forever and constantly tap at my mind.

If the chance to go to this Concentration Camp to learn and see the horrors that happened there arises, I believe everyone should take it and embrace it, and use the opportunity as a personal experience and learning curve.

Day three was spent at the Schindler museum and factory, which takes us finally to the penultimate day (day four) when we visited the Galicya Museum and met a survivor of the Holocaust, Monika Goldwasser.

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“KINDNESS”: Myself and Monika Goldwasser, such a brave inspiration

 

What an honour.

I have never met anyone with such a sad look in their eyes.

She was beautiful. Her hair was pinned up into a neat bun, and she had an immaculate dose of bright lipstick.

But her eyes, although beaming bright, were so sad.

Learning of the heart-breaking events almost brought me to tears – sometimes tears of sorrow and sometimes tears of happiness and hope.

Monika was born into a Jewish family, so was already vulnerable to the monstrosity of the World War 2 events, and a victim of the Holocaust.

Her parents, knowing they had no chance of survival themselves, saved the life of their only child, Monika, by taking her to a nunnery and leaving her there with the hope of her never being traced and found.

Monika was left at the nunnery wrapped in a bundle of clothes, with a single piece of paper attached to her.

This single piece of paper, with her birth name, date of birth and names of her parents, was what gave her hope, and gave her a chance of finding her identity later on in life.

The story she told, whilst sipping her tea from a white cup and saucer, could be compared to Homer’s epic The Odyssey or The Iliad.

The unimaginable events, from the murder of her parents, to the killing of both her good friend and nun from the nunnery, to the more optimistic occasions of her finding out who she was, and meeting long lost family members…

This story, her story, is one of pure inspiration, sorrow, bravery, and hope.

The one thing that has stuck in my head, which I will carry with me forever, is when she ended with: “If there is one thing you should carry out in life, it should be kindness.”

 

 

from Tside