By Sarah Friggieri, www.glutenfreefoodie.com.au
Seven years. 2555 days. 61,320 hours. That’s how long my husband and I have been talking about visiting Europe. Malta was always on the cards; it’s the birthplace of my mother and grandparents (not to mention the stunning coastline with waters so blue they’re almost blinding). England was also a ‘must’, as that’s where my husband’s convict ancestors lived prior to being sent to Australia for committing highway robbery and stealing tea. There was a lot of deliberating, however, about where we should spend the rest of our time.
It’s likely this would be our only trip to Europe, thanks to the 24-hour flight from Sydney and the tens of thousands of dollars a holiday like this costs, so we wanted to ensure everything on our bucket lists was ticked off. Strolling through Amsterdam’s Red Light District, soaring under the wings of an eagle in Switzerland’s Grindelwald region, standing in awe of Rome’s Colosseum and getting an envy-worthy tan on the Greek Islands. Then my husband revealed his yearning to visit Poland, a destination that had never even crossed my radar. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I found was a town as vibrant as Vanuatu, as friendly as Fiji, as cultured as Cannes, and luxury in the very place we’d booked our accommodation: Vienna House Andel’s Cracow.
STAY | Vienna House Andel’s Cracow
Since our long-awaited Euro trip began in London then Amsterdam, we’d started to assume all European hotels would have tiny rooms that would barely fit us, let alone the three large pieces of luggage we had in tow. Then we entered Vienna House’s newly revamped Junior Suite, and our eyes lit up. Separate bedroom and living areas, a huge bathroom with two sinks, two toilets, two televisions, a safe, under-floor heating (ideal in the winter months), a selection of snack and beverage options… We wouldn’t even have to leave the room if we didn’t want to – but we had plans.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, key locations of the most tragic human atrocities, and the very reason this country was on my husband’s bucket list. I wasn’t taught of the Holocaust in school; Australia is fairly separated, geographically, from the rest of the world, so educational institutions felt it was more important to teach local history. Once I’d heard about it, however, I did my own research, and couldn’t seem to get enough information to settle my mind.
How could humans do this to fellow humans? Why didn’t anybody from the Nazi side stand up for humanity? Why didn’t the Jews hold a mass revolt? Why do we only really hear about the Auschwitz camp?
In search of these answers, we booked a tour to Auschwitz-Birkenau with Auschwitz Tours, and, thanks to tour guide Michel, we found them. Auschwitz was smaller than I’d envisioned, but emotional nonetheless. Barbed-wire fences, a building with boarded windows where female sterilisation was performed, another where experiments were performed on children, a dungeon that kept prisoners (one room of which, with one small hole, that was used to slowly suffocate inmates as more and more entered).
Then there were the exhibits: mountains of reading glasses, shoes, suitcases, hairbrushes and combs, shoe polish, homewares, two tonnes of still-formed hair that was removed from victims’ heads. Jewish people were told to wear and pack their best belongings for their journey, not knowing the Nazis would steal their belongings as soon as they arrived and make them strip naked prior to their devastating end.
It is not the end of the story. PART II will be published soon.