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© Milan Boers
Auschwitz and Birkenau
After the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, much of the country was incorporated into the realm of the Third Reich. Auschwitz became the largest Nazi concentration camp in the world and it now serves as a museum to remember the horrors and atrocities that took place there. Originally, it was set-up as a prison camp for political Nazi dissidents, but in the Spring of 1942, it became the site used by the Nazis to exterminate as many Jews as possible: a total of 1.1million Jewish men, women and children all lost there lives there. The Museum of Martyrdom includes a moving fifteen-minute film taken by the Soviets when the camp was liberated. It is located 60km west of Krakow and you require at least 3.5 hours to complete the tour. Children under 13 are not allowed.
© Lars K Jensen
Plaszow was designed to be a forced labour camp, but it later developed into a concentration camp. In 1944, as the Soviet Army approached the site of Plaszow, Germans prepared to dismantle the whole operation. The SS transferred prisoners to other concentration camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau where they were murdered. The Germans wanted to cover up all traces of the crimes that had been committed there, so they even exhumed the mass graves to burn the bodies. In January 1945, the last prisoners were sent from Plaszow to Auschwitz for further evacuation west.
Wawel Castle, situated on Wawel hill in Krakow, is the 'Camelot of Poland'. It was built under the commission of Kazimierez III the Great in the14th century, after Krakow became Poland's royal seat, and since then has had a rather bumpy history. In 1499, much of the castle was destroyed by a fire but it was considerably rebuilt during the Renaissance period when a beautiful courtyard was built. However, during World War II the castle became the home of Nazi Governor, Hans Frank. The State Rooms are a good place to start your tour and from there you can move onto the Treasury and Armoury. Finish the excursion with a look into Wawel's mythical past, by passing down to the cave on Wawel Hill where the legendary Wawel dragon was supposedly slain by Krakus, a Polish Prince, who, according to the plaque, founded the city.
© Contando Estrelas
The Galicia Museum tells the unforgivable story of the Holocaust and the history of Polish Jews before the 20th century. It challenges the stereotypes that both Jews and non-Jews formulate about Jewish history, and brings to life the culture, customs and traditions of the Polish Galicia Jews through time. Its permanent exhibition, 'Traces of Memory', is an internationally acclaimed photographic featuring photos by the late Chris Schwartz who, together with Jonathan Webber, spent twelve years gathering material which offers a new way of looking at the Jewish past that was previously destroyed in Poland. Go to the website to download educational materials that might be interesting for your students to use whilst touring the museum.
© Harald Groven
Old Town Square and Cloth Hall
Europe’s largest medieval square dating back to the 13th Century, is home to one of Europe's most magnificent and magical buildings, the Cloth Hall, also known as The Sukiennice. It is one of Krakow's most distinctive buildings and is best approached from Florianska Street (the Royal Way). Some have been known to describe it as a giant sleigh that has come to a triumphant halt in the middle of the Square. It was once the focal point of Krakow's trade, but after a while, political ineptitude led to its gradual decline. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century, the hall was renovated and reopened. Since then it has been host to a number of important dignitaries from around the world including Prince Charles in 2002.
© David Berkowitz
Jewish Quarter, Krakow
In 1495 King Jan I Olbracht transferred Jews from Krakow to the royal city of Kazimierz, which became a bustling centre for Jews over the next three centuries. It eventually established itself as a virtually self-governing state of 34 acres, and by 1630 it had a population of 4,500. It is located in the Kazimierz district and a walk through the area will take you past the Museum of Judaism (24 Szeroka Street) and the Old Synagogue, which dates back to the 15th century, among many other interesting sites. During World War II, the Jewish Ghetto Quarter was home to 500,000 Jews.
© David Berkowitz
The Barbican is the last remaining fortification in the Old Town and in summer it opens as a concert hall and/or theatre. When it was built, in the early 17th century, it was one of Europe's strongest fortifications. It surrounds a space which is 24.4 metres in diameter and its upper walls are three metres thick. The structure, topped with seven turrets has 130 loopholes: the lower ones were used for artillery and the upper ones were used by archers and riflemen.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Wieliczka Salt mines operated for 900 years and was once one of the world's biggest and most profitable industrial stations, when common salt was the equivalent of today's oil in value. As a result there are 200 km of passages and 2,040 caverns of varied size. It is now a popular tourist destination where visitors can walk into some of the oldest parts of the mine. At the 135 metre point there is a museum dedicated to the salt mining industry and its history in Krakow. You can trace the progress of mining techniques and equipment through the ages. The visit takes about three hours and there are medical facilities for those who suffer from asthma and/or allergic reactions.
4-day history school trip to Krakow
- Depart from UK airport
- Arrive in Krakow
- Guided tour of Wieliczka Salt Mine
- Guided tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial & Museum
- Polish folklore evening meal and performance
- Visit the Galicia Jewish Museum
- Meet and have a discussion with a Holocaust survivor
- Guided tour of Schindler's Factory
- Free time for shopping
- Return flight home