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Black Lady Queen of Poland Sanctuary & Auschwitz-Birkenau

Day of extreme contrasts

overcast 14 °C

Saturday May 20, 2017 Day 10

Off to church again this morning. Czestochowa is the home of Poland’s biggest monastery and considered the religious capital of Poland. The monastery is particularly famous for 13th century painting known as the Black Madonna.


We headed off up the street expecting another large cathedral. What we found was the beginnings of a crowd that was expected to reach 100,000 by the end of the day. Apparently religious groups from all over the world and especially Poland have pilgrimages to the cathedral continually from spring to fall. Today’s group were Evangelical Christians, who are apparently a spirited group as evidenced by the loud Christian rock that started about 7:30 a.m.


Our tour guide was a monk who had lived in the monastery for 40 years. Fortunately his robes were white as following him through the crowds was quite a challenge. He took us to the back entry of the chapel with the Black Madonna where we squeezed through the crowd. Hundreds and hundreds of people were lined up at the front entry waiting to get into the chapel to receive Holy Communion. Popping out the other side we headed over to the main cathedral. It was a spectacular baroque display of angels and other religious figures and of course, gold. Carrying on we went through the Monastery’s treasury where gifts, including a ring from JFK, to the Madonna going back 100’s of years and from all over the world were kept.


At the end of the tour three of us decided to take the option of climbing up the tower to get a view of the city. We stared into the darkness through an obscure door that we were directed to. As our eyes adjusted to the light we saw a spiral staircase that corkscrewed up into the tower eventually widening out along the square sides of the tower. After about 200 stairs we reached the view over the complex and the city.


We then drove for about 1 ½ hrs to Oswiecim where one of the most famous WWII death camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau is located. (On purpose, I did not take many photos and will only post a few on the page out of respect for what occurred there) Most of the German records were destroyed towards the end of the war but it is estimated that 1.5+ million people were killed in the camp. I was surprised at the huge number of people visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau while we were there and was told it gets in excess of 2 million visitors per year.


Auschwitz was originally a Polish army camp that was converted to hold Polish political prisoners, who began to arrive in May 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941. Birkenau, which is considerably larger and close by, was then constructed using camp detainees and materials from surrounding villages whose populations were completely removed. The combined camps became a major site of the Nazi Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

Around 90 percent of those killed were Jewish. Others deported to Auschwitz included Poles, Romani, Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war (Soviets were not protected by the Geneva Convention), Jehovah's Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of homosexuals.


In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), approximately 12 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. The Allied Powers refused to believe early reports of the atrocities at the camp, and their failure to bomb the camp or its railways remains controversial.


As Soviet troops approached Auschwitz in January 1945, most of its population was sent west on a death march. The prisoners remaining at the camp were liberated on January 27, 1945 a day now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 1947, Poland founded the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau and in 1979 it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Visiting this place was difficult.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 12:45 Archived in Poland

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Great reporting, you two. What an interesting day.

by DeborahE

Yes, it would be difficult to visit this place. Must have been depressing.

by Heather Jones

That looks like a difficult day. I'm sure it radiates sadness and death :( I met a holocaust survivor in high school at a big event and he spoke about how all of his family died. Very sad.

by Eva

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