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In Auschwitz execution courtyard
David in execution courtyard at Auschwitz

Inside Birkenau barracks
Nathan inside barracks at Birkenau

Dave with Sigismund Bell in Wawel Cathedral
Kay with Sigismund Bell in Wawel Cathedral
Dave (top) and Kay with Sigismund Bell in Wawel Cathedral

Touring Ulica Bracka street
Touring Ulica Bracka street in Krakow

With tour guide in Krakow
John (left), Elizabeth, local tour guide Anna and Dave in Krakow

Carol in Main Market Square
Carol discovering people-watchers in Krakow's Main Market Square

Carol and Levente in salt mine tunnel
Carol and assistant guide Levente in Wieliczka Salt Mine tunnel

Three Nights and Dazed in Poland

Oct. 4-6, 2007

Dzien dobry, Polska!

Population: 39 million (similar to California). Area: 122,000 square miles (similar to New Mexico or Illinois and Iowa combined). Capital: Warsaw. Government: parliamentary democracy. Latitude: 52 degrees north (similar to Berlin and London). Famous for vodka, author Joseph Conrad, composer Fryderyk Chopin, early astronomer Nicolas Copernicus, physicist/chemist Marie Curie, Solidarity.

folk musicians in Krakow's Main Market SquareDonna's Photo Album of Poland

Auschwitz | Krakow

Lessons of the Past in Auschwitz

town of PszczynaOct. 4: We ate lunch and took a meandering walk through the cute town of Pszczyna (also at right). And then we spent the afternoon at the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, Europe's grim but moving memorial to the Holocaust. Nazi Germans systematically murdered at least 1.1 million innocent people, mostly Jews, at these death factories from 1941-45.

Execution courtyard in Auschwitz concentration campIn Auschwitz I, we saw the notorious entry gate with the cruel message, Arbeit Macht Frei ("Work Sets You Free"); rows of brick barracks that held an average 15,000 prisoners a day; tall barbed-wire fences everywhere; grim museum exhibits on how prisoners were killed and the conditions they suffered while alive; the courtyard for executing thousands of innocent prisoners (in column at left and at right); and the crematorium for gassing and killing up to 700 people at a time.

train tracks and guard towerAt Auschwitz II--Birkenau, we saw its infamous brick guard tower; still more barbed wire; rows and rows of the ruins of barracks; a few restored barracks (also at left) with tight wooden bunk beds for up to 1,000 prisoners each; a dehumanizing latrine; and the train tracks (also at right) that brought the Nazi victims inside this death camp. For visitors who can stomach it, the camp also has the ruins and remains of several crematoria, one of which could cremate more than 4,400 human beings per day. The defeated Nazis destroyed these factories of death in a failed attempt to hide their crimes.

Groups of Polish and Israeli high school students tour the camps frequently ... so they'll never forget a time in history that must not live again.

At AuschwitzFirst they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak out for me--Martin Niemoeller, 1892-1984, a Protestant pastor in Nazi Germany and prisoner of the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps.

barbed wire at AuschwitzGary's Photo Album of Pszczyna and Auschwitz

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View of Krakow from Wawel CastleDelightful, Surprising Krakow

Population: 757,000. The "Boston of Poland."

stained glassOct. 5-6: During these two days, we toured the hilltop Wawel Castle (on a misty morning, at right) and Wawel Cathedral (in column at left and below left), the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz), the Gothic St. Francis' Basilica (at right) and the remarkable Wieliczka Salt Mine (also in column at left).

Donna at statue of poet Adam MickiewiczWe also had plenty for free time to shop for amber in centuries-old Cloth Hall, check out the nearby statue of poet Adam Mickiewicz (at right), visit the Wyspianski art museum, enjoy trumpeters in the St. Mary's bell tower, mix with the locals (also at top left and in column at left) around Krakow's colorful Main Market Square, do more mixing at an underground jazz club, and celebrate Donna's birthday in a romantic hideaway. We even checked out a gigantic, modern Krakow shopping center.

Wawel CathedralGary's Photo Album of Krakow

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Dziekuje, Poland, for an extraordinary time!

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┬ęGary and Donna Larson, Seattle, Washington. Modified Feb. 24, 2008.