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.
"In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply cannot build up my hopes on a foundation of confusion misery and death… I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if they look up to the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty will end, and that peace and tranquillity will return".
Day 1 - Depart.
Fly London to Warsaw. Check-in to our central hotel for two nights.
Day 2 - Warsaw.
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.
Day 3 - Treblinka & Lublin.
Visit the death camp of Treblinka before driving to Lublin, with its imposing castle/prison which served as a Nazi processing centre. Check-in to our hotel for one night.
Day 4 - Majdanek.
Drive to Krakow via the
concentration camp of Majdanek, where the
barracks, guard towers, the only remaining
gas chamber that is completely intact and
long lines of (formerly) electrified double barbed wire remain just as they were over fifty years ago. Check-in to our hotel for four nights.
Day 5 - Krakow.
A change of pace and emphasis 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 where its cathedral houses the last resting place of many of Poland's monarchs whilst the castle plays host to the legendary Wawel Dragon.
Day 6 - Auschwitz and Birkenau.
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.
Day 7 - Kazimierz and Wieliczka.
Before WW2, some 70,000 Jews lived in Krakow, mostly in the suburb of Kazimierz. We explore this tiny area including the Old Synagogue Museum and the 'Schindler's Factory' museum. This afternoon we visit the awesome 700 year old salt mine at Wieliczka, its labyrinth of 300km of tunnels revealing chapels, underground lakes and a museum.
Day 8 - Home.
Some free time in Krakow before we catch our return flight from Krakow to London.