glorious ruins | Krakow, Poland

Today was a beautiful, sunny day in Krakow. Not a single breeze, not a cloud in the sky. It was a cool, spring morning that turned into a gorgeous warm afternoon. But there was something un-easy about today. A quietness in the air that resonated within all of us. Today we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

We awoke early to ride the bus to the camps. We were up before many of the others in the city. So early that there weren’t the normal city noises – cars, horns, sirens, etc. It was a perfect set up to what we were about to see and the feelings we were about to feel.

We started at Auschwitz. Here we got to walk through the infamous arch that reads, “Arbeit Macht Frei.” This camp started as a concentration camp in the ‘30s for Polish prisoners that fought against the German Reich in any way. It wasn’t until the ‘40s that it became a death camp. 

Words are used to describe, that’s what words are for but I don’t know if there’s a real and true way to describe how one feels walking around where so much evil happened. Realizing that everything you’ve learned about in almost every history class you’ve ever taken throughout your life, happened where your feet now stand. You want to cry, you want to be angry, you want to stand still, you want to scream, you want ask God, “Why, how?!”… But all you can do is keep walking, keep remembering, keep the same numb feeling throughout your body. 

We got to walk through many different blocks or buildings within the camp. Auschwitz is mainly a museum now and covers all the history that took place not only here, but at Birkekau and other concentration and death camps. If you are American, you know about the Holocaust or a better word for it, the Shoah. We’ve all learned about it but believe me when I say, our history books are skewed, only tell us what they want us to know and just skim the surface of a dark history that has depth beyond comprehension. I saw things I didn’t want to see today but I’m so glad that I did. I’m thankful that it is forever burned into my head what I saw and that I got to walk where the millions of innocent people once walked so that I may never forget the evil and forget those who fought for their lives. I’m thankful that we got to be here today so that we can know first hand why history can never, EVER, repeat itself.

I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. and I teared up seeing all the shoes, the gold teeth, the wedding rings, clothes, suitcases, pictures, etc. But when walking through one block, we turned a corner and saw all the hair from the women whose heads were shaved before they were murdered. That was the moment that made it personal, the moment when many of us had to let the tears fall. We walked through rooms of smuggled pictures, pots and pans, baby clothes, clothes of “inmates,” shoes, glasses, suitcases, artificial legs, the 4x4 foot jail cell where those who were sentenced to starvation would have to crawl on their hands and knees to barely fit through a whole only to stand where three other already starving people were standing, for days. Suffocation rooms, interrogation rooms, rooms where people had to sleep on the floor… and then the gas chamber. Granted this infirmary room had been remodeled, the gas chamber was original. As were the floors, ceilings, changing rooms.. I couldn’t stand in there for very long.  
After walking through Auschwitz, we bused over to Birkenau. Birkenau is what you see in all the movies. The train cars full of people, the train going under the brick archway and into a field of buildings that you could see for miles. We walked along the platforms where the innocent would arrive and a German guard would decide if they deserved to live a few more days or if they would die instantly.

Every building in this area was build by the inmates, all of them. I have no idea how many there were/are but I know many of the wooden ones were dismantled after the war by the Poles who moved back to Poland to build houses because it was the only timber they could find. That’s why you see brick “skeletons” of buildings throughout my pictures. 

We walked to the end of tracks where two infirmaries used to stand, where most people would enter directly into the gas chambers. These two gas chambers were destroyed right before the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau but the rubble still remains exactly where it was left. Auschwitz had one gas chamber and Birkenau had five or six. There were many houses that were close by that were used as temporary gas chambers because the disgusting men killing these innocent people didn’t think they were killing them fast enough.

We only got to walk through one of the barracks in Birkenau, the kids barracks. Three levels of “beds,” more or less planks of wood, that line the seamlessly never-ending halls. These barracks were considered “good” because instead of dirt floor they had brick floor. You can see the grooves within the brick where people have walked.. Whether that’s from the tourists or those who were held there I’m not sure, but it still makes you wonder. There were carvings all over the walls and I even happened to spot the Star of David above where one little one had once laid and it broke my heart all over again. There’s a reason that’s the barracks they take you in, you don’t leave without feeling something. 

We ended our tour by walking back toward the front of the camp where Dane and I walked down the track in front of the camp. It was a place to stand and reflect what all we just encountered. I still felt numb. I couldn’t cry, though I wanted to, and many of us tried to talk about it but found it hard to. It was a long bus ride back to Krakow and an even longer one back to Olomouc. We tried to laugh, talk to each other, but many of us slept, took it all in and tried to watch something happy or listen to good music. I couldn’t wait to call my parents as I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I as actually there….

Today was our third day in Krakow as we arrived Saturday morning and toured the Wieliczka Salt Mine. It was all underground and pretty surreal as well! I couldn’t think about the fact that I was 135 meters below ground without having a panic attack… Call it gross, but the whole thing is made of salt so we took our try at licking the walls, all salt, don’t worry! 

Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath and since we were staying in the Jewish Quarter, we walked all around and found the most adorable rail yard that was turned into a large outdoor patio/bar. We saw many shops, old buildings and cemeteries that had been refurbished after the war. It was truly a beautiful place even though we couldn’t go into much. 
Sunday brought a tour of Schindler’s Factory. If you haven’t seen the movie, you definitely need to watch it. Liam Neeson is the lead role and Steven Spielberg produced it sssoooooo you really can’t go wrong. Unless you’re short on time, you need three and a half hours, but it’s definitely worth your time. The whole building was turned into a museum and told about his life, how he came to Krakow, how he was born in the Czech (TOO COOL!), all the trouble he made/caused/got himself into and how he saved 1,600 Jews from the death camps. It told of the German occupation of Poland and as you walked throughout the museum, you entered into the different eras of the war. 

All in all, Krakow is the one place I would tell everyone and anyone to visit (or Poland in general). You need to see the places that hard to see and step foot in places no one should have ever been. It’s not easy, it’s hard, it sucks, what happened in Poland and this part of Europe should have never happened. Some say, “Why, God?!” and the only way I can consciously fathom what happened, is this world is not God’s. This world is owned by the enemy and he maliciously tried to kill God’s own people through others he manipulated. We need to remember what happened in WWII so that history shall never repeat itself. So that we can rise up with God on our sides and Jesus in our hearts and say with power, “Never again. The devil does not own us. We are one with Jesus and we rest solely in Him!” It’s the only way that I can explain why I felt numb walking around these camps today.. because I know that everyone who died there, whether they were believers before they entered into the camps or not, left being welcomed into their Father’s arms. Jesus welcomed them home from horror they should have never endured. He understands going through torture that was not rightfully his to go through. By blaming God and Christians for what happened in the Holocaust is only to let Hitler win beyond the grave. It is only creating a larger gap between Christians and Jews and allowing Hitler to win. Jesus died to save us all, whether you are a Jew, Christian or not, He died to save your soul. He loves us all, not just one group of people. I hope you can find comfort in that as much as I do. 

“To forget the Holocaust is to kill it twice.” Elie Wiesel

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16

"But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control."  Philippians 3:20-21

All the stairs we had to walk down to get to the salt mine

Trying the brine from all the salt

Made out of salt crystals

All I can think of here is from National Treasure when they're stuck underground and Riley says, "Oh look, stairs." lol

Our hostel in Krakow, we stayed in the Jewish Quarter, so cool.


Gas chamber


"Tribute to all those who fought or gave their lives for the continuity of the Jewish people."


  1. What an amazing experience you are having! I would love to know more about the logistics of how this semester abroad came to be, so I can tell Sage for the future. What this all through UNK? Hints/tips on studying abroad, what to do/not to do..... :)


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