|Krakow, Part 4
||[Feb. 26th, 2006|12:59 pm]
From Auschwitz I the bus took us the three kilometres to Auschwitz II – Birkenau, the largest part of the Auschwitz complex where most victims of Nazi extermination were murdered. This had been the village of Brzezinka till the Germans evicted the Polish people who lived here and destroyed their houses to make way for the death camp. We got off the bus and walked into the camp through the guardhouse building. The lower part of the main watchtower is the Gate, and despite a heavy snowfall we could still make out part of the railway spur which brought the trains in from the main railway lines outside. Prisoners of all nationalities were brought into the camp through the Gate. Those of Jewish extraction were immediately divided into two columns, one for men and one for women and children. After a selection process, around three quarters of the new arrivals would be sent to the gas chambers. |
We were able to walk around the camp in the snow and go inside the barracks where the prisoners had been kept. The living quarters and communal latrines remain as they were back in the day. The brick barracks were built in haste and set onto the swampy ground without foundations or floors. The wooden barracks were originally stables designed to accommodate 52 horses; after scant modification, each building was used to house several hundred and sometimes up to a thousand prisoners. We also went up into the main watchtower above the Gate from where we could look out over much of the camp.
By the time we got back to Krakow it was late in the afternoon. At our hotel we freshened up then went downstairs for a drink or two before dinner. The service in the hotel restaurant was too slow so I made a formal complaint then left to find somewhere better. Looking around the town we decided on Wierzynek 1364 and it was a good choice. This is the most famous restaurant in the city, so-named because in 1364 the Polish king Kazimierz the Great invited monarchs from all over Europe to a gathering, ostensibly to celebrate his granddaughter’s wedding, but mainly for political purposes. The King asked a rich merchant, Wierzynek, to play host and take charge of the festivities, and the banquet Wierzynek laid on at his own house for the King and the guests has passed into legend. V. and I walked in off the street to be met by an elegant young lady in period dress. There are about half-a-dozen separately decorated dining rooms within the restaurant, and the girl led us upstairs to what I think was the Pompejanska room which has frescoes on the walls. She handed us off to a waiter and from then on he looked after us very well. Our table was right by the window looking down into the square. The food was superb and we really enjoyed our meal.
I gave our waiter a tip then we went for a late-night stroll around Krakow.