Just had breakfast – cocoa puffs again, and the strange Poland milk. The bunks last night weren’t too pleasant, and I half-jokingly recall hearing distant gunfire through our windows last night.
Probably just my imagination.
Tamara is handing out tickets for the shows: La Menzogna and Caligula. She also tells us that it’s going to be hot and humid for the next few days. Oh well, at least there isn’t a garbage strike to stink it up.
Just got my official program for the Malta! Festival. Wow! Lots of big names in this festival – and not just theatre, but bands too!
Nine Inch Nails! Jane’s Addiction! Snow Patrol! Radiohead! Unfortunately, we’re not saying long enough to see Radiohead or Jane’s, and we’ve already missed NIN – but Snow Patrol is on tonight. I’ll bet that the tickets for them will have been sold out far in advance, but it still might be worth checking out.
Just finished eating a nice, simple, spaghetti and tortellini meal at a pasta bar.
We found a spaghetti bar….mmmmmm…26-Jun-2009 07:09, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.81, 5.8mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 64
My throat is getting worse. Bleh. I think I’m going to go back to the hostel and take a nap.
Just woke up from my nap. Skipped this Guerilla Walk thing that we had the option of doing today. Not sure what that is, but Tamara and Peter are raving about it. Anyhow, glad I took the nap. I’m feeling a bit better.
Just had some, you guessed it, pirogies! Pretty good – very filling!
Our next stop is our first show in Poznan, called La Menzogna. The theatre is a 20 minute hike from the hostel.
The cigarette smoke from the crowd outside the theatre isn’t helping my throat much. Cough cough cough.
LA MENZOGNA by PIPPO DELBONO
The theatre space was cavernous – it reminded me of either a large gymnasium, or a small aircraft hanger. There were bleachers, and cushions on the ground in front of the bleachers to face the stage.
Initially, I sat on the cushions but eventually decided to migrate to the bleachers – it was going to be a long show, and I’d need the back support.
As usual, I’m a bit at a loss to describe this show.
First off, I went in (and came out) not really knowing what it was talking about or trying to say.
And that’s not only because it wasn’t in English.
Months later, with the help of the Internet, I am able to tell you what they were trying to do:
In December 2007, on Thyssen Krupp’s steel factory in Turin, a fire takes the lives of seven factory workers. From this tragic work accident, Pippo Delbono draws a theatrical, political and spiritual journey, in the line of his work, which combines theatre, dance, music and poetry, producing a unique stage language, which has brought him recognition from all over Europe. Delbono’s theatre is contaminated by life, raising questions he wants to share with the spectators, and a place of encounter and reflection on the nature of human being. La Menzogna aims to question human life’s dignity of and its place among our society.
As usual, reactions from my comrades were mixed. I found the whole thing rather silly. I believe the main character was supposed to be some sort of frightening ringmaster. He did “edgy” things like coming into the audience, waving a lead pipe around, and snapping pictures of us…invading our space. I found him rather boring and impotent.
And then there was the nudity. At this point in the trip, I’d seen a lot of nudity on stage – both male, and female.
And you know what? I get it. I see what you did there. You got all vulnerable for me. Thanks.
The lead character got all naked, and it was almost as if he was saying to me, “Look! Look how vulnerable I just became for you! Look at what I’m giving you! BASK IN IT!”.
And…again, I just thought it was silly. And it had so much promise! The set was absolutely gorgeous. Ah well. A disappointment. I’d certainly choose it over Cleansed or Medea, though.
After the show, we walked back towards the hostel. We stopped by a restaurant for a late dinner – it was Peter’s last night with us (he would be taking a train to Warsaw at 6AM the next morning and flying back to Toronto to prepare the Playhouse for the Fringe festival), so we all hung out with him to say our farewells.
The whole time, my throat was getting worse and worse. The restaurant was engulfed in cigarette smoke.
I eventually left, and went back to the hostel to sleep.
It seems like we just got to Krakow, and now we’re leaving again. We’re taking a 7 hour bus ride today to Poznan for the 2009 Malta Festival.
Originally, the plan was to wake up around 8:30AM this morning and go on a walking tour of Krakow. But when 8:30AM rolled around, and people started getting up, my throat was absolutely killing me. I was getting sick. It wasn’t a surprise – Ryan and Jiv had been sick the night before, and all of the second-hand cigarette smoke I was inhaling probably wasn’t helping either.
So I thought it’d be best if I sacrificed seeing more of Krakow for my health. I went back to bed.
I woke up just after 11AM. It turns out that Una and Linn opted out too, and now we’re sitting outside of the hostel at the first floor restaurant. We’re about to get breakfast, and then it’s 7 hours to Poznan.
Still sitting outside the restaurant. We’re really taking it easy this morning…I had a “Polish Breakfast” (bread, ham, cheese, scrambled eggs), orange juice, and a lemon sorbet for my throat. It looks like either Linn or Una got pirogies:
We’re on our way to Poznan. We left about 40 minutes ago. I’m trying to read Guns, Germs and Steel. Even by itself, it’s a pretty hard book to read. Now try doing it on a bumpy bus with people talking all over the place. Not exactly ideal. I found myself rereading paragraphs over and over again without really absorbing anything. Eventually I gave up and just looked at the countryside.
More Polish countryside…25-Jun-2009 10:10, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 4.7, 17.4mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 64
You can barely see them in the second shot, but there are wind turbines in the background. Wind turbines seem to be pretty common out here. It’d probably be more common in Southern Ontario if we didn’t have the Hydro system to rely on.
Still en route to Poznan. Apparently another hour and a half to go. We’ve driven through a pretty brutal thunder/rain storm. Rain flooded an entire section of the street, but our bus driver, Pan (Mr.) Stephan, just plowed right on through it.
Now the sun is setting, and it’s overcast, but at least the rain has stopped. We’re all getting pretty stir-crazy in the bus. We’ve all been reading, sleeping, playing word games, making jokes, telling stories… this long trip has reminded us of how brutal our flight home will be (20+ hours!!). We also joked about the garbage strike (which was still on at that point).
We’ve been eating chips, popcorn, and other junkfood from gas stations and rest stops along the way. I feel pretty trashy. Everybody is restless.
We’ve arrived at the hostel. Feeling like trash. We couldn’t find the place at first, and then found out we had to walk down a sketchy alleyway to get there.
To top it off, between us and the door was a veritable lake of foul smelling liquid. We grit our teeth, and Tamara visibly shuddered as we walked through our personal oasis of filth to the hostel door.
This hostel really doesn’t feel secure at all. And the shower doesn’t drain. And the bathroom door doesn’t close properly. The beds aren’t comfy. A whole host of complaints. Our long journey probably didn’t help our mood.
And I was hungry. So after dumping my stuff at the hostel, I walked back through the putrid lake, and found an all-night grocery. I got some fruit, some yogurt, and some soup. I showered (most unpleasant, with the soapy water not draining), and then I went to sleep on my lumpy mattress on the creaky bunkbed in the sketchy hostel.
My notes for the day end there, but I imagine I eventually headed back to the hostel and went to sleep.
It turns out that my notes for the next day start with a recap on what happened the night before. So I can fill in a few blanks here.
Back to the Hostel
I got back to the hostel and found it mostly empty. Most of the others must have been out doing something else. Chantelle was there in the common room though, and we filled each other in on what we’d done that day.
After that, we brewed some tea, and played a version of Scrabble where we can make up words, so long as we can define them in a funny way. It was good times. As we were playing, more people started to come back and fill up the common room.
I had some jam on bread as a snack, and talked with Peter, Alex, Tara, and Tom about politics (mainly US foreign policy). Somehow, Sonia convinced me to put some cheese on my jam sandwich. I noted in my journal that I didn’t think it added much in the way of good flavouring.
It turns out that Chantelle and I hadn’t been the only ones in the hostel – Ryan and Jiv had been there sleeping. They were both feeling pretty sick. There was some kind of illness going around, and my throat was starting to get sore, too.
It’s been about 5 – 6 months since my last Poland entry. There are a myriad of excuses for this: tough school year, busy Xmas holiday, relentless work load…
But I have to say I’ve kind of been avoiding writing this one on purpose. Why?
Well, for starters, I don’t have any photos. Long story short, before we got off the bus at Auschwitz, we were told there was no photography, so I left my camera on the bus. Then it turned out that there was no photography in the buildings, so I missed out on getting some snaps outside.
I’ve been able to get my hands on some photos. A big thanks to Alex Rubin and Anj Mulligan for letting me use theirs. I’m not entirely sure how using someone else’s photos will affect my narrative, but we’ll see.
The other reason I’ve been avoiding this one is because I wrote so damn much about it. 39 pages from my journal were devoted to this day.
Why so much? Well, to be honest, it was a pretty emotionally charged day. A lot of people were crying during the tour. My reaction was just to write down everything I could see and hear, as fast as I could. I hope I got everything right. Please correct me if I’ve gotten something wrong.
Anyhow, enough stalling. Here we go.
June 24, 7:45AM
It was an early morning. I showered, shaved, sent some email, and then hung out in the kitchen/common area with Yev, eating some cocoa-puffs while she boiled water for tea.
The breakfast lady was in a foul mood that morning. She stormed in to the kitchen and started rearranging things with a violent efficiency, clicking her heels. Yev and I were silent. Finally, I said “Dzien dobry” (good morning) to break the tension.
Wow. That was the last straw, I guess. The breakfast lady flew into a huge Polish rant as she stormed around us. We couldn’t understand a word, but she was clearly upset.
Yev said she reminded her of one of her Soviet schoolmasters.
I didn’t wait to see how the fury played out. I got out of there. Yev stayed behind.
Yev later told me that, after making a sandwich (which the breakfast lady saw her do), she made a super-quick pit-stop at the washroom, only to come back and find that her sandwich had been thrown in the garbage. Presumably by the breakfast lady.
We boarded the bus and were en route.
It was a tense morning. Tamara told us that the Auschwitz trip was optional, and so a few of us had stayed back. The bus ride was unusually quiet.
I think everybody was preparing themselves.
I wasn’t allowed to bring my camera (or so I thought), so I left it on the bus.
After getting off the bus, we read a multi-lingual sign that set the behavioural tone for the rest of the tour:
Througout the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust. The German forces occupying Poland during the Second World War established a concentration camp, on the outskirts of the town of Oswiecim. In 1940, the Germans called the town Auschwitz and that is the name by which the camp was known. Over the next years it was expanded into three main camps: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz and more than forty subcamps.
The first people to be brought to Auschwitz as prisoners and murdered here were Poles. They were followed by Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies and deporters of many other nationalities. Beginning in 1942, however, Auschwitz became the settling for the most massive murder campaign in history, when the Nazis put into operation their plan to destroy the entire Jewish population of Europe. The great majority of Jews who were deported to Auschwitz – men, women, and children – were sent immediately upon arrival to death in the gas chambers of Birkenau.
When the SS realised that the end of war was near, they attempted to remove the evidence of the atrocities committed here. They dismantled the gas chambers, crematoria, and other buildings, burned documents, and evacuated all those prisoners who could walk to the interior of Germany. Those who were not evacuated were liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945.
On July 2, 1947, the Polish Parliament established the State Museum of Oswiecim – Brzezinka on the sites of the former camps at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. In 1979, these camps were formally recognized by UNESCO by their inclusion on its World Heritage List.
PLEASE BEHAVE APPROPRIATELY RESPECTING THE MEMORY OF THOSE WHO SUFFERED AND DIED HERE.
Next to this was a map of the compound. Again, no photos, so something like this will have to do.
Looking at the map, my eyes were drawn to the familiar word “Canada”. It turns out that, when new arrivals came to the camps, their belongings were stripped from them and sent to a special area of the camp called Canada for sorting and searching. It was called Canada, because at the time, Canada was considered the land of plenty. Here’s Wikipedia’s take on it.
Near the signs were, of all things, gift and souvenir shops, called the “informatory”. Postcards, books, videos, photos… seemed a bit in bad taste. After seeing the gift shops, I noticed all of the smiling tourists around me, and I found that quite macabre.
It was particularly disturbing because of how quiet it was. There were also “keep silence” signs all over the place. So yeah, it was quiet. Really quiet.
As we approached the entrance, we heard birds chirping. It was overcast – the grass was still wet from the morning dew.
As we were reading the signs, Tamara had gone off to get the tour guide. On her way back, her face was covered in tears. She’d visited Auschwitz for a tour several times before, and firmly stated to us that she couldn’t bring herself to do it again. So she went off to go wait in the bus. It was an ominous moment.
All of the tour guides were dressed in black. Ours was no exception. After a brief, quiet hello, she gave us each a set of earphones and receiver. This is how she would communicate with us during the tour. This way, she wouldn’t have to yell for us all to hear her. Instead, the tour became very personal, and she was able to speak softly to each of us individually. I wrote in my journal that her voice was incredibly soft, caring, and soothing – and that she reminded me more of a nurse than a tour guide. I really think part of her job was to soothe, as well as to educate.
The buildings of Auschwitz I were military barracks, originally constructed by and for the Polish army. In the late 1930’s, Poland had been invaded, split up, and annexed to the Nazis and the Soviets. So technically, Poland ceased to exist. The Nazis saw the barracks in their new territory as “very convenient” for housing the growing number of Polish prisoners, especially considering the railroad junctions that led to it. The Nazis set up shop, and the land and buildings became Auschwitz I.
The camp orchestra, composed entirely of prisoners, would play lively German marches as the prisoners were led into the camp. It was humiliating and dehumanizing. This also made it easier for the guards to count and keep the prisoners in step.
The men and women were then separated, and sent to different barracks. There would be 800-1000 prisoners assigned per barrack, which only had 2 stories. The prisoners in Auschwitz I were cramped to the extreme.
The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.
Auschwitz was almost in the center of occupied Europe. With the already-established railroad system, the Nazis were able to send over 1,000,000 prisoners to Auschwitz. The majority of those prisoners were Jewish.
It didn’t start out that way, but at some point during 1942-1943, Auschwitz became an extermination camp.
A sign on the wall broke down the prisoners as follows:
1,300,000 sent to Auschwitz
140,000 – 150,000 Poles
23,000 – Roma / Gipsy’s
15,000 – Soviet Prisoners
25,000 – Other
A large, glass, transparent urn in the barracks held human ashes in rememberence.
During the original invasion of Poland, the Nazis focused on capturing/executing as many Polish monks, priests, lawyers, leaders, and educated people as possible. This was their method of “destroying” Poland’s culture and identity. After an uprising in Warsaw, 13,000 Poles were sent to Auschwitz I as punishment.
Many photos were taken at Auschwitz by the SS for their own use. Those black and white photos lined the walls of the museum. We weren’t allowed to take photographs, so I can’t show them to you, but I can describe some of them. Imagine black and white, blurry photos of extremely thin, extremely gaunt, bald people, wearing prisoner garb. Imagine seeing photos of them digging graves for themselves, or jumping to a particular height for a guard’s amusement, or running at top speed in a big circle “just because”, so the guards could watch.
SS “doctors” were always present at prisoner arrival to “conduct selections” on who could work and who could be executed immediately. There were photos on the wall of women, children, and old people, being sent to their death. They look calm, because they didn’t know.
The Jews who weren’t executed immediately were put to work. Some were sent to Auschwitz III, which was a work and manufacturing camp. Prisoners were forced to make things there for the Nazis.
Other prisoners became Sonderkommandos, which means they assisted in the execution of other prisoners. Sonderkommandos would work in the crematoriums and gas chambers, and were forced to witness and commit various horrible atrocities against other prisoners.
Gassing of prisoners took place underground. A single gas chamber would have 2000 prisoners crammed inside of it at one time. Prisoners who entered the gas chambers were told that they were taking showers. Fake faucets in the ceilings and walls helped sell the illusion.
After the doors were shut, crystals of Cyclone B were dropped in through openings in the ceiling. After 20 minutes, all were dead. Sonderkommandos would then go in and carry the bodies to the crematorium.
Before the bodies were cremated, Sonderkommandos had to cut off the hair from the women. The hair was packed into bags, and sent elsewhere to be turned into hair-cloth and other textiles. The ashes of the prisoners were used as fertilizer. Everything was reused.
At one point, we entered a room in the museum, where behind a large pane of glass, we saw mounds of human hair that had been found at the camp. Massive quantities of dead prisoners hair.
This was the point in the tour that most people started to lose it. Lots of tears. Lots of crying. I kept scribbling.
Any belongings or valuables brought by the prisoners into the camp were sent to the camps called Canada I and Canada II for processing. The plunder ended up being part of the evidence that was used to prove the atrocities that had happened at the camp. Like the piles of hair, we saw piles of glasses, piles of shoes, piles of Jewish prayer shawls, combs, brushes, suitcases, clothing, prosthetics, crutches, pottery, bowls, cutlery… everything was sorted. The quantity was simply horrifying.
In my journal, I noted that the lighting in the barracks was quite muted, but that the exhibits (the hair, combs, etc) were under bright flourescents. It was really macabre – like seeing a body at a morgue.
The next part of the exhibit was even more horrifying. It turns out that 20% of the victims of the camp had been children (90% Jewish). There was a room, absolutely packed to the brim, with children’s shoes. So many shoes.
And that’s the thing – I noted this in my journal: it’s not just the atrocity itself, but the sheer size of the atrocity that is so horrifying. The piles of shoes and the hair really gave us a sense of that size.
Of the prisoners that weren’t immediately executed, 50% were Jewish. Many were Polish. All were treated like property.
There were some prisoners who were given some of the responsibilities of the guards – for example, being in charge of work units. These prisoners were always German criminals.
The prisoners were deprived of all of their human characteristics. No names. Just numbers. Photos were originally used for identification, but this was eventually changed to tattoos because a prisoner’s appearence would change too much.
The Nazis were meticulous record-keepers. Prisoner IDs were linked to prisoner files that held details such as education, age, and history.
Hunger was rampant among the prisoners. There wasn’t nearly enough food for all of them.
One sign we saw gave us a breakdown of the daily life of a prisoner. I couldn’t get it all down, but the pattern was obvious: prisoners were slowly killed with work. They were punished and beaten. Most lasted less than a year.
All non-Jewish children became prisoners. These children were also often subject to horrific “scientific” experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele.
Among other things, Mengele apparently wanted to find ways of creating twins and triplets, so that German “Aryans” could reproduce quickly.
Other atrocities were performed by Dr. Carl Clauberg who tortured Jewish women, in an attempt at finding ways of sterilizing them.
Prisoners, often naked, were shot in the back of their heads. It is estimated that 10,000 prisoners were shot at this wall. There were also posts were prisoners could have their arms strung up behind them for hours, as torture, and as punishment.
There were also starvation cells. In one of those cells, Saint Maximilian Kolbe was starved to death with 9 other men.
Eventually, we entered a building where the first experimental mass killings took place. There were suffocation cells. There were cells where prisoners were forced to stand all night. Pretty horrific.
The “camp hospital” existed for propaganda, to keep the purpose of the extermination camp a secret. The hospital was really the “crematorium waiting room”, since selections would often happen there.
Roll call was also used as prisoner punishment. If a prisoner escaped, or it was suspected that a prisoner had escaped, the remaining prisoners would be punished. They’d be lined up and counted outside of their barracks, again and again. Sometimes they’d be out there for 20 hours straight.
Only 144 prisoners successfully escaped Auschwitz. Captured escapees were tortured for information on their escape, and then executed.
Crematorium I was originally an ammo bunker. The crematorium was dark…stone…dusty…gritty. It was all so much monstrous efficiency.
The first part of the tour was over. We handed back our headsets and took a 10 minute break.
I wrote that the sun was warm, and that some of us were hungry.
We just got a small snack. We’re all sitting outside. Everybody is quiet. Some of us are eating. Some of us are drinking coffee. Some of us are smoking. Some of us are crying. It’s pretty rough. It’s hard to be an optimist here – hard to feel good, anyhow. Just…devestated.
We’re late. Our 10 minute break went on too long, and we’re late getting back on the bus. We’re heading to the next camp.
The bus really has never been so quiet. But what do we say to one another? This is no place for joking around…no place for making quips. What’s the first thing you say?
There are storm clouds in the distance.
It’s a 3km drive to the next camp. Tamara says that there are no exhibits…just the barracks and other buildings, the railroad tracks, and the gas chambers.
We’re here. I recognize where I am – I think I had seen it in Schindler’s List.
The barracks reminded me of stables for horses. Wooden bunks, and a single stone oven for heating. At least 400 people per barrack. No toilets inside. No washrooms. Just buckets and ditches in the ground, and barrels of water outside.
There were “toilets” outside, which were really just holes in the ground with wood frames built over them.
Members of the prison resistance would meet by the ditches/toilets, since the guards would never go near them (due to the smell, and disease).
In November, 1944, Heinrich Himmler ordered the crematoria destroyed before the Red Army could reach the camp. Nazi soldiers began destroying the evidence of what had happened at the camp, starting with the gas chambers.
In January, 1945, with the Red Army getting closer, SS command ordered that all prisoners at Auschwitz be executed. This order was never carried out. Instead, the camp was evacuated, and the prisoners were sent on death marches to another camp in Wodzisław Śląski. Prisoners who were too sick or weak to march were left behind. Those 7,500 prisoners were still there when the Red Army came to liberate them.
According to Wikipedia:
Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945.
Some of the buildings and ruins in Auschwitz II are sinking, and the museum is working hard to restore them.
Just past the last gas chamber is a large stone monument. Large, Easter Island-like heads and monoliths.
At the base of the monument are numerous plaques, all in different languages. Here’s the English one:
Just got off the phone with Em. Told her all about Auschwitz. Missing her a lot. I decided to try to make myself feel better by getting some lemon sorbet. It’s a pretty good deal at 4z. I found Alexi and Yev drinking coffee in the square, and joined them while I finished my cone.
I think Yev borrowed my camera and took these photos:
And I think I hear a dulcimer being played somewhere.
The street I strolled down is called Florianska. At some earlier point, I had gotten the urge to check out some of the local music scene, and the girl at the hostel told me to walk down this street. She said there was an indie rock bar around here called The Lizard, but I haven’t found it yet. And I’m slowly approaching the end of the street.
The square seems pretty busy for a Wednesday night. I imagine the place gets absolutely packed on weekends.
It’s a whole spectrum of age groups out this evening. I’m also hearing a variety of languages. Polish, English, and German for starters. Italian too. Mostly white people. One or two exceptions. Some rollerbladers.
An ambulance raced by, driving through the crowded square. As it passed, I heard a trumpet playing a tune from the top of the cathedral, and then abruptly stop.
The three men playing on the accordions are still there, and now that crowd is starting to move. I guess the cathedral was acting like some big meeting point for a tour group. The accordion players are doing the William Tell Overture again – they seem to have a repetoire of about 5 songs.
My notes for the day end there, but I imagine I eventually headed back to the hostel and went to sleep.
My research proposal is going through ethics review, in order to make sure that I’m not going to blow things up (or hurt anybody if I do)
While my paperwork is reviewed, I’m refining my procedure and apparatus. Better and better.
I’ve been accepted into Google Summer of Code this year – I’ll be working on Review Board. Details about my project will be the subject of an upcoming post, which I will toss up shortly.
I may or may not be co-directing a radio play. I’ll let you know.
The MarkUs team is about to release version 0.7, and a fresh batch of Summer students will soon be here at UofT to work on it!
I have not forgotten about the UCDPtrip to Poland. I still have to tell you what we saw and did at Auschwitz. Cripes – it’s almost a year since I returned, and I’m only half-way through the whole story. And there’s a ton more to tell. Coming soon.