Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Auschwitz: A Look at the Russian Exposition

Soviet troops fought their way into Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. They first learned about the death camp weeks earlier when liberating Krakow, Poland an hour east.

In the 70 years since, the Auschwitz site has been carefully preserved. The memorial and museum are a high-priority visit for travelers to central Europe. I'd been to Auschwitz, myself, in 2004, part of a large conference group and soon realized it was so emotionally intense, I'd need to make another trip: There's a limit to what one person can absorb in an afternoon.

April of 2010, happened that I was in Warsaw waiting for my Russian visa ~ the perfect opportunity to revisit Auschwitz. Dear friends in Warsaw, Lukasz and Nicole led the way. Say, care to join us and see what we saw?

We left Warsaw before dawn that Saturday and headed south on a high-speed train to Krakow. As the sun came up, we were zipping through forested areas of southern Poland.

Deep in thought, fellow traveler in our compartment.(Click to enlarge.)

Zipping through rural areas, heading south from Warsaw.

Several hours later, after a train-to-bus transfer, we arrived in Auschwitz. This time, it was The Russian Exhibition that caught my attention, a work-in-progress at the time of our visit. Since then, it has been finished and dedicated.

Liberation: From RIANOVOSTI, Russian News Service. At the RIANOVOSTI site, a slide show of the exhibition's dedication. (The site is in Russian, but photos are photos!)
But oh, mercy ~  I'm getting ahead of myself. First, at the camp entrance, we meet the orchestra that sent prisoners off to work and then welcomed them home each day.

Imagine playing in the Auschwitz Orchestra. When a trainload of new arrivals pulled in, they were welcomed with folk music from their homeland. The orchestra also performed at the most gruesome times and also on Sundays for the Auschwitz staff and their families.

Under the sign, Work Makes You Free, in German, likely the most photographed site at Auschwitz.

Once inside, fences, barbed wire and barracks.

Well, okay: We won't even think about going there. . .

Auschwitz is near a small town and has a rural feel even now. It's so quiet and peaceful. What a contrast to 70-some years ago when thousands of people were packed together and the air was rank with smoke from the crematoria.

Nowadays, the air at Auschwitz is so fresh, songbirds abound and tiny violets grow.

Insightful video from Rick Steves, Seattle-based travel expert and author.

Billed as America's leading authority on European travel, Rick Steves pretty much wrote the book.

Star of David in wrought iron.

Wall of Execution: In the early days of Auschwitz, it was here that prisoners faced firing squads. But the faces staring back at them so haunted the Nazi solders, that camp switched to mass cremation. 

Visitors to Auschwitz. The gentleman standing, far right intrigues me. Perhaps he's overcome with emotion. Perhaps he's just checking his phone.

Now, on to the Russian Exhibition which opened in 2014. Renovation was in process when we visited in 2010.
Exhibition of the Liberation of Auschwitz. Sponsored by the Russian Federation.

Soviet military leader, V. Sokolovskiy, who planned the Auschwitz liberation.

Precious innocents: Keeping warm in cast-off clothing.

Soviet soldiers visit with Auschwitz prisoners.

Soviet physician examines a prisoner.

Children of Auschwitz: Taken to an orphanage somewhere. . .

Funeral service, attended by Polish church dignitaries and Soviet military leaders.

Yours Truly

Lukasz and Nicole manage an early-morning smile.This dear couple were my hosts. Lukasz made it all happen: He's a Polish national, the ultimate resource on such trip. 

This high-speed train from Warsaw to Krakow.  

Our Auschwitz trip included a side-trip to the nearby Birkenau camp and took a full day. I need to return and take in the Russia Exhibition, completed since my last visit. I'm so grateful to those who liberated the camp. Grateful to those who brought to justice the perpetrators of these horrors. And a bow of deepest respect to those whose lives were shattered by what happened at Auschwitz. May they somehow find strength to move on. May they find peace.