Poland and the death camps
Some six million Poles died during the Second World War, half of whom were Jews murdered in the forests in the east of the country or the death camps set up after the German occupation of their country. By far the largest of these was Auschwitz-Birkenau which was the site of over one million deaths, mainly Jews brought here from all over Europe. The smaller, purpose built 'killing' camp of Treblinka where Warsaw’s Jews were taken, was said by its commandant SS-Obersturmfuhrer Franz Stangl to be able to murder over 1000 people per hour at its peak. With the positioning of the Majdanek camp on the outskirts of Lublin, the Germans made no effort to disguise the killings, its gas chambers and crematorium being plainly visible to passers-by. The overarching narrative of the tour is about the shift from Polish Jews to European Jews and the evolution of policy from concentration camps to death camps.
In this, an eight-day tour to Poland, we visit the sites of the former ghettos in Warsaw, Lublin and Krakow alongside three of the concentration and death camps – Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau - that played such a significant role in this genocide. We look at the struggle of both the Jews and the Poles against their oppressors, visiting the scenes of the Ghetto Uprising in 1943 and the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. You will see the shift from complete physical destruction of ghetto and camp to the actual remnants due to the rapid advance of the Soviets. We will also visit Oscar Schindler's factory in Krakow. However the tour is not limited to the serious and emotive history of the Holocaust – with its clear message for future generations. We also enjoy expert guided tours of Warsaw and Krakow, sample much of the local culture and visit the world famous salt mine at Wieliczka. Each evening we will dine in a different local restaurant to sample a wealth of diverse local cuisine.
"So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are; for blood it defileth the land; and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it".
Bible: Numbers 35;33
Fly London to Warsaw. Check into our hotel for two nights before a guided visit of Warsaw's Old Town.
Today we take a guided tour around Warsaw including the Warsaw Rising monument, '44 Rising Museum, Nozyk Synagogue, and the Jewish Cemetery. We walk the 'memorial route to the struggle & martyrdom of the Jews' in the site of the former ghetto.
This morning we drive out to the death camp of Treblinka. We continue to the city of Lublin, with its imposing castle/prison which served as a Nazi processing centre through which 100,000 of the city's Jewish population passed. Check in to our hotel for one night.
Drive to Krakow via the concentration camp of Majdanek, where the barracks, guard towers and long lines of (formerly) electrified double barbed wire remain just as they were over fifty years ago. Here you will find the only remaining gas chamber that is completely intact. Check in to our hotel for four nights.
"I told you earlier that only two million were gassed. The others died of other causes".
Rudolf Höss, German Commander, Auschwitz
Today take a day off from the harrowing history of the Holocaust and explore some of Poland's culture with a guided tour of the architectural wealth of Krakow's Old Town with its busy street life. In the afternoon we will visit the Wawel, the very symbol of Poland. Its cathedral has seen the coronation and funeral of nearly all of Poland's monarchs and is the last resting place of many of them. We will explore the castle and go in search of the legendary Wawel Dragon.
We travel out to the concentration and death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. To enter the camp of Auschwitz, one passes under the infamous inscription 'Arbeit Macht Frei' mounted upon its main gate, before visiting the exhibitions in the surviving prison blocks. In the afternoon we visit Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II, the purpose-built camp that had hundreds of barracks and 4 massive gas chambers and functioned as the epicentre of the Holocaust during 1943 and 1944.
Before WW2, some 70,000 Jews lived in Krakow, mostly in the suburb of Kazimierz. Today the Jewish Quarter is slowly transforming itself from its sorry dilapidated post-war state thanks to the profile that Krakow received after the success of the film, 'Schindler's List'. We explore this tiny area visiting the Old Synagogue Museum and the recently opened museum in ‘Schindler's Factory’ across the river close to where the wartime Jewish ghetto was. In the afternoon, by way of contrast, we visit the awesome 700 year old salt mine at Wieliczka. Within its labyrinth of 300km of tunnels we will discover its chapels, underground lakes and museum.
Check out of our hotel and catch the express train traveling first class to Warsaw where we transfer to the airport for our return flight to London.