Last month I spent 9 days in Poland. My mother, when she found out, could only say “Why Poland? All they have is concentration camps!”
I laugh now that the tables have turned a little between us. You see years ago she went to visit her sister in Oklahoma. When she came back I asked her if it was flat and dry and she looked at me like I had three heads and exclaimed “No!”
Well I am sorry but all those John Wayne movies set in Oklahoma showed flat and dry! How am I to know any better? How as a kid am I to know these were filmed in CA or UT or AZ? We never went on vacation anywhere but to Grandma’s house so I’m sorry I am ignorant but look in the mirror as to why. It isn’t like I didn’t beg to drive 6 hours in any other direction but north!
So why Poland? First off I live in a town (not a native…been here 20 years this month) that was founded by Poles and named after the area they came from. We are sister cities with this big city in Poland and sometimes I wonder what they think of our one bar, one post office and nothing else town.
Secondly I had gotten a postcard from Poland that showed mountains, a lake and an orange glow from the sun through the fog and it was mind blowing! Poland had mountains! And spots of beauty! I was intrigued.
Thirdly I found out an Auschwitz survivor takes tours over there and tells her story. The tour also includes the Jewish Quarter, Płaszów, Birkenau, Zakopane, a tour of the salt mine, a feast at the Jewish Museum and plenty of free time to wander freely through Krakow.
It was exceptional! A once in a lifetime experience. This was my first real vacation ever and I fell in love with Poland. I want to go back and explore the central and northern parts then go to the Czech Republic for starters. I have a deep yearning to explore eastern Europe and now that I realize I can maneuver myself, people in other countries are fun, interesting and helpful and life there is in full color (only kidding here but as a kid I used to think the world back then was in black and white!) I want to go back.
So that is my plan, to either find someone to travel with or go on my own and explore. In the meantime I am learning
simple basic Polish and saving my pennies. I need to return…
Above photo is of the train tracks outside of Birkenau. I found it disturbing that wildflowers were growing in the tracks and on the grounds of the camps. It is like a betrayal to the people who perished there. It shouldn’t be beautiful. But then I thought this is how they would like it. Not muddy and smelly and ash of their kinfolk floating in the air and covering everything in a fine dust. But it makes it unreal that such horrors happened there. Until you get off the beaten path and away from the people. Then hug that big tree that may have been there as a witness. Look at the old dried up rose woven around a strand of rusty barbed wire.
At the time, even as tears streamed down my face I didn’t realize what an impact these places had on me. I am still processing it and I find myself being a quieter and more thoughtful person who still can’t find the words to describe it. You have to experience it for yourself and most likely more than once.