On to the last leg of my Holocaust jaunt. To Krakow, Poland.
If this is the first post you are reading about my European jaunt, it might be worthwhile to read why I embarked on this 9-day, 5-city tour. You’ll find that here. You may then follow up with accounts of my trips to Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich and Budapest.
Done with Budapest, I chose to take a bus to Vienna. I would then take a sleeper train from the Wien Hauptbanhof to Krakow.
So, why did I choose to detour via Vienna?
Because I can! Stop asking silly questions!
But really, Budapest to Vienna is just three hours by bus. I thought I might hop over to have a look at the city. After all, this was the city of Mozart, Beethoven and Freud.
And the Käsekrainer.
That is a Käsekrainer.
It’s a large sausage filled with cheese. When grilled, the cheese melts deliciously and with it any resolve to shun cholesterol. It is It is usually served with bread, mustard and/or ketchup. It’s a favourite street food of Viennese.
Oh Käsekrainer! If I spend an extra day with you, I might not ever leave Vienna again.
Vienna or ‘Wien’ to Germans is so German. It is the second-largest German-speaking city after Berlin. The city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and in 2017 moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger, a list which included Timbuktu in Mali.
Vienna, you and I need to know each other better. How about a date? Dinner in 2020?
Right. On to Krakow.
I Ubered from the city centre to the Wien Hauptbahnhof (see how German Vienna is!). It’s a very modern and cool station. Rail travel in Europe is just so interesting if you are coming from Nigeria or Africa. The stations, trains and coaches have different personalities. There was something aloof about Vienna and the Wien Hauptbahnhof. Self assured and cultivated.
My conveyance from Wien Hbf to the Krakow Glowny station was the Euronight sleeper train the Chopin.
Awesome. This is the closest I have ever been to a virtuoso pianist.
The train left Vienna at about 22:10pm. I’d book a two-bed deluxe cabin but this time I was lucky to have the whole cabin to myself. The cabin had its own wash basin, wardrobe, TV and complementary snacks and juices. My two-bunk Hilton.
There were no border patrol offers knocking on my door during the journey. However, the train conductor had also advised to bolt the door while I was in.
Just as with the journey from Munich to Budapest, it was dark and there was nothing of interest to see. In between reading A Forest of A Thousand Daemons and short snoozes, the time flew by quickly.
Soon it was dawn. The morning was covered with mist. The train rolled slowly through villages and farmsteads. Along the rail tracks were lone houses with dim lightbulbs. The mist gave the villages an ominous feel.
Sometime around 6:00am, we passed very close to a house. Upstairs, there was a woman by an open window. She was taking in the fresh morning air. I was peering out my cabin window too taking in the rustic scenery. When the woman saw me, she reeled back sharply from the window and closed it.
That can’t be good, can it?
We arrived Krakow Glowny station at about 6:30am. Warsaw was 3 hours away.
Why am I in Krakow anyway?
The largest extermination camp the Nazis built.
Close to 1 million Jews were gassed to death there in 3 years.
Check out the BBC drone shot of Auschwitz-Birkenau to grasp the monstrosity of the this death camp:
Auschwitz was also where Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” conducted genetic experiments on inmates. Without regard for their safety, health, physical or emotional suffering.
Mengele was particularly fond of identical twins. Between 1943 and 1944, he performed experiments on nearly 1,500 sets of imprisoned twins at Auschwitz. Only 200 of those twins survived the experiments. Sometimes he would sew two twins together to see if he could create conjoined twins. Or he would inject different dyes into their eyes to see if the eyes would change colour.
That Josef Mengele was never caught and never faced trial is a travesty of justice. Bugger died in 1979 from a stroke while swimming in Brazil.
Swimming in Brazil?
He should have been swimming with the fishes!
Shame on you, Mossad!
If there was one Nazi you needed to catch, it was this guy!
What was that? You tried? You almost had him?
Yea, I almost married Halle Berry too.
Breathe, Jide. Breathe.
Anyway, what were my impressions of Krakow?
Simple, I didn’t get the feeling I was welcomed here. I’ll share three encounters.
When I disembarked from the train at Krakow Glowny, I hailed a Taxify to take me to my hostel. The driver would meet me at Car Park 5, on the fifth storey. At the elevator, there was a white older man also waiting for the lift. I reckon he would be in his early to mid 60s.
I greeted “good morning” with a big smile. The man looked me over and ignored me. Trust me, I didn’t look like a bum. I had a very chic camera backpack and a cool National Geographic carry-on. Every inch the tourist.
I greeted the man again with an even bigger smile. Maybe he didn’t hear me the first time. The man looked at me again and ignored me still.
I concede that perhaps the old chap doesn’t speak English.
But the look. Loathsome. Looks don’t lie. You know when someone abhors your presence.
In the second incidence, a few hours later at the same train station, I had approached a policeman for directions. The buses to Auschwitz were somewhere around the station and I needed directions. So I approached the cop.
The guy shooed me away without listening to what I had to say. He returned to fiddling with his phone. I told him I needed help with directions. He gestured to me to get lost.
This was a cop.
After the experience with the policeman, I told myself there was no way I was exploring this town after 7pm.
Which was a shame because Krakow is the intellectual and cultural heartbeat of Poland.
But I was spooked. Better be safe than sorry.
The third incidence was on the second day, my eagerly anticipated day of departure from Krakow. My flight from the Krakow-Balice International Airport to Amsterdam Schiphol was 7:30am. By 5:30 I was outside my hostel having hailed a Taxify.
Then along came this white dude. He was drunk somewhat. He walked past me and then walked back. He raised his hand and asked me to hi-five him. He was speaking Polish, or what I assume to be Polish. Could have been drunkenese.
I shook my head in the negative. I’m not hi-fiving you, mate. I mean, I don’t know the dude.
But he insisted and wouldn’t leave.
Where was this bloody Taxify!
As he stood there harassing me, a police patrol drove by. They parked on the other side of the road observing our exchange. Perplexed, I gestured to them that the dude was bothering me. Then two officers got down from the car and came to us.
They asked what the matter was. I explained to them what happened. They spoke to him in Polish and an argument ensued. They asked him to apologise to me but the fella refused (I suppose for my benefit, they spoke to him in faltering English). They then told him to be on his way but he was yet unyielding. They tried to shove him off but he was adamant. He kept talking to me.
One of the officers brought out a hand-cuff and was going to cuff him. Only then did the chap become sober and walked off. The police then got into their van and drove off.
But I was still alone on the streets. Where is the bloody Taxify!
Now, was the guy simply drunk and under the influence?
Should I have hi-fived him?
From what I saw in my less than 48-hour stay in Krakow, black people are as plenteous in the city as virgins are in a brothel. I was obviously an interesting sight to the guy. Not because he was drunk but because I was black.
But I forgive those lot.
Because of the Zupa Dnia and Pierogi.
The food accepted me for what I was – a hopeless and hungry food lover. No discrimination.
While I’m reluctant to generalise that Poles are racist, it was precisely because of discrimination that places like Auschwitz happened. Hatred, spreading one person at a time.
I did go to Auschwitz -Birkenau. Boy, it rends your heart.
How did man descend to such ignominy? How did our soul become this seared?
“All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, then we became the gravediggers.”
– Rod Serling.
I’ll tell you how man descended into such evil.
It happens the moment we remove God from the affairs of man. The moment we think we are a product of time and chance. Masters of our fate and the fate of others. It happens the moment we subscribe to moral relativism.
You never leave Auschwitz-Birkenau the same. The death camp vividly re-enacted all the Holocaust movies I had seen but not fully appreciated. The Pianist, The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas. Schindler’s List, Inglorious Basterds, Defiance and many more. You understand why the state of Israel is paranoid about the security of the Jewish state.
“Never again, you say? Maybe you want to explain what happened in the Rwandan genocide. 800,000 Tutsis killed in 100 days by the Hutus.”
Yet some people had the nerve to doubt if the Holocaust really happened. They ask how the world could have stood by and watched the annihilation of 6 million Jews. Scarily, the history is being forgotten.
This ends the account of my Holocaust jaunt. Thanks for journeying with me!
Off to the other side of the Atlantic. To Shake Shack burgers in NY and gumbo in The Big Easy!