14th January 2015

Historical Krakow Written by Adaptable Travel Educational Consultant Ricky Behan 

For a student looking to gain an insight into the atrocities committed by the Nazi’s during World War II, there is no other destination better suited for a school trip than Krakow. Once capital of Germany’s General Government, Krakow played a pivotal role during World War II and bore witness to some of the most shocking events ever taken place by human kind. Acting now as a poignant reminder that we cannot let history repeat itself, the city of Krakow has laid bare its haunting past for all to see under the notion that “the one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again” (George Santanyana)

With this in mind we visited Auschwitz on our first full day in Krakow to gain a deeper understanding of the severity of events that took place here during World War II. Standing as a symbol of terror, murder and genocide, Auschwitz is a daunting visit for anyone but is an important right of passage for any student looking to understand the horrific nature of the Holocaust. On entering Auschwitz I you pass under the gate bearing the motto of “Arbeit Macht Frei” translated as “Work Makes One Free” and quickly come to understand that this was not the case. As you are guided around the camp, the exhibitions, signs and personal belongings left behind by the victims speak for themselves and hold your attention like nothing else. The gruesome facts and figures become a reality and the stories behind them are clear to see in agonising detail.

This is further amplified when you visit the second part of the camp Auschwitz II with the sheer size and scale of the camp laid out before you. It was here where deportees and prisoners arrived at the railway platform from their arduous journey to find out their fate. A large majority were sent immediately upon arrival to death in the gas chambers which sit at the end of the camp lying in ruins after the Nazi’s destroyed them as the war turned. The rest of the camp is comprised of the remaining structures that once made up the camp. On closer inspection the houses which were originally used to accommodate horses are far uninhabitable and one cannot imagine the pain and suffering which must have existed inside of them. Our visit to Auschwitz was a very sobering one but an educational experience of the highest level.

Despite Krakow’s recent turbulent past it is still very much a city steeped in tradition and medieval architecture that overwhelms the senses. With every turn of a corner there is a pebble lined street with an architectural gem to gaze and marvel at. Like something out of a set from Game of Thrones, the medieval Royal Castle of Wawel dominates the Krakow skyline overlooking the Vistula River and the Wawel Dragon which sits on its embankment breathing fire. The main market square is a hive of activity surrounded by grandiose buildings with small markets selling traditional local food, drinks and tourist goods in the centre. It is here where one can see the "real" Krakow and get a feeling of what the city is all about.

From the main market square one can visit the Jewish district which has now been rebuilt to celebrate its culture rather than it be vilified by its past occupiers. This makes for another interesting part of city to explore adding to Krakow’s uniqueness and individuality. For anyone who has seen the film Schindlers List, a lot will be recognisable as this was the setting of where Steven Spielberg filmed his critically acclaimed film. Sitting in the Jewish district of Kazimierz is the Galicia Jewish Museum which commemorates the Holocaust and celebrates the Jewish Culture of Polish Galicia. Housed in a recently renovated building the museum is a photo exhibition divided into five sections documenting the remnants of Jewish culture and life in Polish Galicia. The photos are truly moving and tell a story of Jewish culture and life that could have been forgotten about if it was not for the founders of the museum and their work.

Further to the moving exhibition at the Galicia Jewish Museum is the exhibition “Krakow under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945” located in the former enamel factory of Oskar Schindler, immortalised in the film Schindler’s List. Primarily telling the story of Krakow and its inhabitants during World War II, it focuses on how the Nazi’s brutally disrupted Krakow’s centuries long history of Polish Jewish relations with devastating effect. The exhibition is well organised and innovative making for an interesting and interactive visit that one shouldn’t miss when visiting Krakow.

Krakow is a magnificent setting for a school trip with a rich and varied history that will help students put into context what they have learnt in the classroom and inspire them to learn more about their particular subject area. If you are interested in organising a school trip to Krakow please contact us Adaptable Travel for further information.

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