Zakopane… a picturesque little town at the foot of the Tatra Mountains in Poland and it is Christmas, 1990. An old mate and I used to escape the madness of Christmas in the UK in those days, and take ourselves off for a week somewhere cold, snowy and good to look at in Eastern Europe.
Along with the holiday came packages, trips here and there to places of interest and our ever-helpful tour guide appeared one evening and announced that there was to be a trip toAuschwitz the next morning, warning that it was a long bus ride and thus an early start. There were about 40 in the group and half of us signed up. Little did we know what we were in for.
Auschwitz. A word from the history books synonymous with horror and the Holocaust. A place where the Nazis had killed 1.1 million people in an industrialised process over several years. Mostly they were European Jews, but gay men and women, gypsies and the mentally handicapped were all brought here to have their bodies harvested for work if they were able, and their hair, spectacles, gold teeth fillings and body fat to be rendered into soap if they were not fit to work. They were killed in bunkers by having a gas called Zyklon B pumped in, and then incinerated in vast crematoria and their ashes finally disposed of in a large pond to the north of the camp.
For those interested, go to Google Earth and search for ‘Oswiecim’ the town nearest to the camp and there it is, neat lines of elongated rectangles that were the accommodation, the administrative blocks, The Ramp where the trains bearing those soon to die arrived and were sorted. All very orderly.