You just couldn’t make it up! I go away on holiday to Kraków with my son and what is the first thing that greets us on our arrival at the hotel? A march and rally in favour of the EU!
Apart from the Polish national flags, the presence of the EU flag and plenty of others like the rainbow flag representing the LGBT community, it made it feel like something back home outside of Westminster.
They want to stay in and we want out; how surreal a moment was that?
The next day Wawel Castle with bullet holes from drunken Nazi occupiers still visible in its ceilings. Apparently they really did shoot into the roof for sport after downing a few beers and spirits, but the solemn message for the day is here we are in a country that was occupied by the Nazis then the Soviet Union, who’s own people were needlessly slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands, who’s actual identity as a sovereign state is relatively recent, who’s recent Government was all but destroyed in a tragic plane crash not too long ago and whose Trade Union Solidarnosc movement germinating from the Gdansk Shipyards really did spark the beginnings of the downfall of the iron curtain.
The Poles are brave, conscientious folk who, dare we say in light of Brexit, actually played a very important and significant role in defending Britain in the Second World War; certainly in the Battle of Britain itself and later in the fight to take Monte Casino, but they are also sadly witnessing, for whatever perverse reason, a rise in far right ideology; something which hasn’t escaped my attention because my postbag bizarrely of late has been flooded with messages to free the former EDL Leader Tommy Robinson, the majority of which have been from Poland.
A visit to Auschwitz – Birkenau is a visit that everyone should undertake, if at all possible. It is a stark reminder of man’s inhumanity to man and what shocks you about the place is that it’s history is only around two generations or 70 years old.
It is very difficult to speak about it I must admit, but what I will say from a humble perspective is that the wisdom of young people, more often than we wish to acknowledge, is spot on.
After observing so called grown up tourists taking grinning ‘selfies’ in front of the gas chambers and witnessing the 21st century equivalent of ‘Dave woz here’ carved into the interior of one of the barracks open to the public, Daniel simply said ‘How disrespectful is that?’
Simple words but they resonated with me and in a place that immortalised utter darkness, despair and, let’s face it, industrialised murder, those words counted because I have read the books, seen the documentaries and learnt the history of the genocide, and at long last had fulfilled a long term desire to go see for myself, but my expectations were from a lifetime of understanding; his were not.
His knowledge, thank goodness, was straight from school and his reactions gave me faith in the hope that the memory of what went on will continue on for generations to come. He had the decency and respect to call out those who treated this place of slaughter as yet another tourist attraction and I’m proud of him for doing so. As for my own reaction? Words for once fail me.
A trip to the salt mines at Wieliczka, with memorable carvings by the miners, including an underground cathedral, ended a superb and memorable week away in Kraków and I would recommend it to anybody as a busy, vibrant place to go. I do respect the fact that not everybody is blessed with the ability to do so, more so in Hartlepool right now, but one thing I do pledge is I will work with the Holocaust Memorial Trust to make sure as many of our children and young people get to go visit Auschwitz – Birkenau for themselves so that they can experience the truth first hand and carry that memory forward.