When I arrived at my hostel in Warsaw (Dream Hostel – best freaking hostel ever, seriously), I was informed that there was a pierogi making class that night in the hostel’s kitchen. I’ve never been one to partake in group events at hostels, but since it was cold and getting late, I decided WTH and signed up. Fifteen zloty later, I was signed up, and after a couple of hours walking around Castle Square and the Old Town, I headed back to the hostel, put on my yoga pants, and got ready to learn how to make pierogies.
It was actually stupid easy. The most work involved is probably the preparation of the fillings (which we didn’t do). We made potato-filled pierogi and meat-filled pierogi. We rolled out the dough, cut circles using a glass jar, further rolled out the circular dough, filled the centers, and then wrapped them up.
As per usual, appearance of food isn’t my concern or forte, so mine looked a little weird, but they all still tasted good. The most fun part of the evening were my pierogi-making comrades. In the group was a mother who was traveling with her young son and daughter from France, a guy probably around my age from Brazil, and a guy who was around the same age, I believe, from Germany. I thought it was so cool that the French mother was traveling with her children in hostels instead of, you know, Grand Hyatts.
The class was totally fun and worth it. We were all stuffed and happy by the end of it. I’m planning on making pierogi on my own very soon.
After America voted Hitler v. 2.0 into office, today seemed like an appropriate day to write about my experience traveling to the Auschwitz concentration camp and Birkenau-Auschwitz II extermination camp while I was in Krakow last month. I hopped on a bus outside the city walls early one morning and made the trip an hour and forty five minutes to Oświęcim, Poland, with a tour group and guide. It seemed appropriate that it was pouring rain, and freezing, that day.
In Auschwitz, there are various brick buildings, former SS buildings, that have different exhibits about who was brought to the camp, when the camp was built and why, how many people died, among many other things. There’s one haunting room with a glass case the size of my apartment filled with human hair of some of the 1.5 million victims. The Nazis sold this hair to companies to make stockings and socks, and this was the hair that hadn’t been sold after the camp was liberated. We walked through the barracks, seeing the claustrophobic bunks where political prisoners were kept before being executed, and then we viewed the execution wall, which is adorned still with flowers all these years later. We also walked through a gas chamber that was reconstructed with the remains from a gas chamber at Birkenau, since the Nazis started trying to cover up all the evidence of their actions once they knew the war was the lost and the Allies were coming.
Afterwards we were bused a mile or so down the road to Birkenau-Auschwitz II extermination camp. This camp was built, obviously, after Auschwitz and it was an extermination camp more than a work camp. Eight to ninety percent of the prisoners who exited the trains at Birkenau went straight to the gas chambers. Birkenau was mostly destroyed by the Nazis so a lot of the camp is eerily quiet with grass, barbed wire, and wooden guard stations along the train tracks.
At Birkenau stands the International Monument, in memory of the 1.5 million victims who perished there. The monument is black stones of various shapes (I don’t remember what the meaning is of them) with plaques in many different languages that say, “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and child, mainly Jews, from various countries in Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945.” It’s located in between the ruins of the second and third crematorium at the end of the train tracks where most people disembarked the train to die.
For our last stop, we walked through one of the prisoner’s quarters that several hundred Jews were packed into at a time. They were dark, damp, cold, and dirt floored.
When we exited the brick gates of Birkenau, our tour guide told us that now that we’d visited the camps we were witnesses of the crimes and atrocities that were committed during the Holocaust. He was very passionate, pressing us not to let anyone try to lie and deny that the Holocaust happened because if we forget, or deny, history has a way of repeating itself. That said, let’s have other’s backs as the new president elect comes to power next year. If his cronies start coming for one group, your group will be soon after. Let’s be better than this. Let’s be nice to one another and prepare to stand up, if need be.
If you ever have the change to visit Auschwitz, I highly encourage it. Let’s remember so history doesn’t repeat itself. Photos after the jump.
Eye glasses that were collected from prisons before they were killed.
Barbed wire covered path
A crematorium reconstructed from the remains of a crematorium at Birkenau.
The brick entrance way to Birkenau-Auschwitz II
The end of the train tracks where most prisoners walked from to their deaths in the gas chambers.
The International Monument at Birkenau-Auschwitz II
The remains of a demolished crematorium.
The chimneys still stand even though the wooden houses where prisoners lived were destroyed.
A prisoners house that’s still standing.
Along the train tracks in Birkenau, an original train car that used to transport Jews to the camp sits on the tracks.
Shot glasses. Those little cylindrical glass houses for shots of alcohol. One of the most cliche collections a person can have, IMO, and I say that as someone whose been collecting shot glasses for almost 10 years, sadly. But (un)sadly, I’ve finally stopped. In Gdansk, the moment presented itself for me to obtain a third Polish shot glass and I said no. Part of me is afraid that I’ll look back someday and be sad that my shot glass collection is incomplete from the time I spent in Poland.
In reality, I know that I’ll probably never use the two that I bought and in a few months (or weeks, or days) I won’t care, at all. In fact, I’ll be happy that I didn’t buy another souvenir to clutter up my cabinet. I have too many already.
I have shot glasses from London, Oslo, Krakow, Warsaw, Tallinn, Rome, Venice, Jamaica, Miami, Puerto Rico, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hollywood, San Diego, San Francisco, Prague, Portland, Seattle… among other places.
The way I look at it is that when I didn’t buy a shot glass in Gdansk, I officially ended my collection. It’s been a good run though, but I can count on one hand how many times they’ve been used, so it’s not worth it in the long run. Anyone have any good ideas for displaying shot glasses though? I’d be open to hearing them for sure!