Travel Thursday 26/05/2011 – The Worst Place You Have Visited

The Worst/Most Disappointing Place You Have Ever Visited

Auschwitz, Poland

I have to say I have been very lucky on my travels, in that I have never wound up stuck in anywhere horrible. Probably because I tend to plan things in considerable detail before I set out!

So my choice is not worst in that sense, but for reasons that I hope are obvious from the name alone.

In my first year as a tour guide in Europe, I did several two-week tours of Central and Eastern Europe that included a number of days in Poland.  The itinerary for those tours included a visit to the concentration camps at Auschwitz, so my job was to take my groups (tourists from all over the English-speaking world, mainly Americans) to the site.  Thankfully, they had the services of a site guide to actually guide them around the exhibits.

Needless to say, it is a chilling experience visiting Auschwitz.  It sounds silly, but I swear it is true, there is a sombre, heavy atmosphere that seems to hang over the camps, even on a warm, sunny day.  As if looking around the “accommodation”, prison cells, torture rooms, gas chambers and crematoria is not enough, the most disturbing part is the displays of items left by victims of the holocaust – suitcases with names and home towns chalked on them, clothing, passports and ID cards, dolls, walking sticks and, most sickening of all, an entire room filled to a height of around six feet with human hair stripped from the dead.

As I have a genuine interest in modern German history, especially the Third Reich period, I was actually keen to visit the place – once.  However, unfortunately for me, that was not to be.  The first time, when learning the tour, I joined the group on their visit, intending to stay on the coach or just go for a coffee on subsequent trips.  But my next Poland tour was unexpectedly to support another guide, who had a blind man travelling on his own as part of the group and needed a separate person to look after him, while the main guide looked after the group.  So everywhere we went, I had to accompany the blind man, explain things to him about where we were, and generally preventing him from injuring or killing himself.  This task also applied at Auschwitz, and this is really why it is my selection today.  Because not only did I have to go around the whole place a second time, when once is really enough for anyone, I had to describe everything that was there in minute detail for the blind man.  Taking in Auschwitz is difficult enough, having to give voice to the chilling stuff that is exhibited there takes it to a whole other level.

No photographs this week, it seemed disrespectful to take pictures there, although it is permitted.

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4 Responses to Travel Thursday 26/05/2011 – The Worst Place You Have Visited

  1. Han says:

    There is something about that period of time that is kinda interesting – it’s hard to describe because – why would you want to know about how a guy from Germany decided to kill off a nation but at the same time there were so many stories of bravery and perseverance. In the last few years I’ve read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom – now that starts in Holland and then moves to Germany – Corrie didn’t go to Auschwitz she was at Ravenbruck, I also bought a copy of Anne Frank’s Diary when I was in Amsterdam (I was trying to cram read it before we went to AnneFrankHuis but we didn’t make it in the end because of how long the queue was).

    I went to Vimy Ridge in France which was kinda strange – it’s the trenches when the Canadian front line was during the war – it’s strange walking round the trenches remembering what happened near by.

  2. ianbraisby says:

    Not petty, it’s all about experiences and spending a precious day of a holiday in a frustratingly dull place is never good, especially on honeymoon.

    As for the Nazi era, it is a strange and rather macabre subject to be interested in. I studied it as part of modern German history at university so I can always blame my course! To be honest, I am most fascinated with the Nazi rise to power, how they manipulated politics, the media, industry etc. to win support. It is an amazing story of political skill and propaganda, and I find myself admiring that, even though their political convictions are obviously abhorrent. What I find most interesting about the concentration camps and Holocaust is the role of ordinary German people – how much they knew, how in favour of getting rid of Jews they were, that kind of thing. Another book recommendation for you – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which is set in this era and shows some of the impact of Nazi government on ordinary people.

  3. Pingback: {The Friday Read: No 2} | The Scribbles of GirltaristHan

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