Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Budapest: The City Of Lights

Architecturally, Budapest is a gem, with enough baroque, neoclassical, eclectic and art novae buildings to satisfy anyone’s appetite and thus, making Budapest is the most beautiful city in central Europe. Although founded, more than 800 years ago, its beauty still stands unparalleled, despite earthquakes, fires, sieges and world wars. The buildings themselves in Budapest bear tell-tale signs of recent and ancient history.
The Hungarian capital is a delight both by day and by night, with its parks, brimming with attractions, museums filled with treasures, pleasure boats sailing up and down the scenic Danube and Turkish-era thermal baths, and of course its food and wine.

The capital has two sides, Buda and Pest, stretching along the banks of the Danube, representing two different characters of the city. Suburban Buda and its historic castle district offer medieval streets and houses, museums, caves and Roman ruins. The dynamic Pest side boasts the largest parliament building in Europe, riverside promenades, flea markets, bookstores, antique stores and café houses.

The most visited site is Trinity Square, dominated by one of Budapest's most characteristic building, the Mathias Church, which is over 700 years old. Multicolored roof tiles cover the building some of which retained its original Gothic style.

Castle Hill (old town)- has been a cultural and strategic focal point of the city for centuries and was also the site of over 30 sieges. The inevitable damage resulted in several episodes of rebuilding, often re-using stones from the rubble and giving the district a fascinating mix of architectural styles. The showpieces are the spectacular Mátyás Church and the Buda Royal Palace to the south.

The views over Pest from the Fishermen's Bastion is simply breath taking.The Fishermen's Bastion (Halászbástya) is often the first stop for tourists visiting Budapest, the fairytale turrets offering an elevated vantage point from which to view the city. The minarets and walls look medieval, but they were actually built in 1902 by Frigyes Schulek to complement Mátyás Church.

The name of the church refers to King Matthias Corvinus who expanded and embellished the building in Renaissance style. He also added the southern high tower (60 m high) called Matthias bell tower that bears the Hunyadi-s coat of arms a raven holding a golden ring in its beak.
Matthias was a much revered ruler of the era and was one of the greatest kings of Hungary. He was very fond of the arts and sciences and invited famous artists from abroad to help establish Renaissance enlightenment in Hungary. His royal court was famous even in Western Europe and visitors often praised the magnificence of his royal palace.Visible from almost everywhere in Budapest, Gellért Hill (Gellért hegy), with the impressive Freedom Monument on its peak, is one of the city's memorable landmarks.
The royal castle visible  from the bridge,and from the river Danube  
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, Hungary was fully independent, and since then there has been no obstacle in its flowering into one of most beautiful and romantic country.
And what could be more romantic than an evening cruise on the blue river Danube. 
As the sun goes down, and as we sip our Champagne, and feast on the mighty bridges linking Buda and Pest, the mesmerising castle, the views of the glittering Parliament, the monuments of freedom, soaking into the Buda, soaking into the Pest, the "City of lights".................

The two B&W pictures were taken by me.

There is more to come about Budapest, stay tuned.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Nazi Machine Of Death: Auschwitz

Those entering its main gate were greeted with an infamous and ironic inscription: “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Makes You Free.”
The camp streets are horrible, they have been left as it was: imagine the inmates were given uncomfortable wooden shoes, and were forced to walk on these streets and work under inhuman conditions, even in harsh winters.

Hitler (1889-1945), the chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, implemented a policy that came to be known as the “Final Solution.” Hitler was determined not just to isolate Jews in Germany and countries annexed by the Nazis, subjecting them to dehumanizing regulations and random acts of violence, he also became convinced that his “Jewish problem” would be solved only with the elimination of every Jew in his domain, along with artists, educators, gypsies, communists, homosexuals, the mentally and physically handicapped and others deemed unfit for survival in Nazi Germany.

Auschwitz, the largest and arguably the most notorious of all the Nazi death camps, opened in the spring of 1940.

Not all those arriving at Auschwitz were immediately exterminated. Those deemed fit to work were employed as slave labor in the production of munitions, synthetic rubber and other products considered essential to Germany’s efforts in World War II.

At its peak of operation, Auschwitz consisted of several divisions. The original camp, known as Auschwitz I, housed between 15,000 and 20,000 political prisoners. Those entering its main gate were greeted with an infamous and ironic inscription: “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Makes You Free.” When we see it in person and know, that it was just an illusion, it really sends shivers down the spine.

Auschwitz II, located in the village of Birkenau, or Brzezinka, was constructed in 1941 on the order of Heinrich Himmler (1900-45),Birkenau, the biggest of the Auschwitz facilities, could hold some 90,000 prisoners. It also housed a group of bathhouses where countless people were gassed to death, and crematory ovens where bodies were burned. The majority of Auschwitz victims died at Birkenau.More than 40 smaller facilities, called subcamps, dotted the landscape and served as slave-labor camps. The largest of these subcamps, Monowitz, also known as Auschwitz III, began operating in 1942 and housed some 10,000 prison.

Entrance: the gate through which train loads of prisoners would arrive, not knowing what was in store for them

Birkenau: Remains of prisoner barracks

                                        The remains of the death factory, the barbed wire.









1940 - 1945

Eight hundred to a thousand people were crammed into the superimposed compartments of each barracks. Unable to stretch out completely, they slept there both lengthwise and crosswise, with one man's feet on another's head, neck, or chest.The prisoners slept in long rows of wooden bunks, lying in and on their clothes and shoes to prevent them from being stolen

                                                      Horrible Latrines for the inmates, they were allowed only 10 seconds to use it.

                                                     The dreaded Birkenau Death factory

             Jews were examined by a doctor here: those fit were asked to go the right, and those                      unfit (pregnant women, little children, handicapped people and old people were sent to the left). 
Though nobody had a clue, as to what was in store for them.
Upon arriving at the camp, detainees were examined by Nazi doctors. Those detainees considered unfit for work, including young children, the elderly, pregnant women and the infirm, were immediately ordered to take showers. However, the bathhouses to which they marched were disguised gas chambers. Once inside, the prisoners were exposed to Zyklon-B poison gas. Individuals marked as unfit for work were never officially registered as Auschwitz inmates. For this reason, it is impossible to calculate the number of lives lost in the camp.It is horrifying to see the marks made by thousands of hands trying to grip to the walls, unable to bear the poison gas. Although we have read and seen in many films, nothing can prepare you when you see it now, after so many years: the sight screams out at you, literally making you live through those horrors.
                                     Rollers used to level camp streets: you can imagine how heavy it  is

Some Auschwitz prisoners were subjected to inhumane medical experimentation. The chief perpetrator of this barbaric research was Josef Mengele (1911-79), a German physician who began working at Auschwitz in 1943. Mengele, who came to be known as the “Angel of Death,” performed a range of experiments on detainees. For example, in an effort to study eye color, he injected serum into the eyeballs of dozens of children, causing them excruciating pain. He also injected chloroform into the hearts of twins, to determine if both siblings would die at the same time and in the same manner. Young children were particularly targeted by the Nazis to be murdered during the Holocaust. They posed a unique threat because if they lived, they would grow up to parent a new generation of Jews. Many children suffocated in the crowded cattle cars on the way to the camps. Those who survived were immediately taken to the gas chambers.

                                                  Canisters  of Zykolon B pellets.
Shoes of so many people killed shoes of children and adults: it was so horrifying to see them lying there all piled up, each having a dreadful story behind them.

A replica of the gallows on which Rudolf Ross was hanged.
He was hanged on a short drop gallows constructed specifically for that purpose, at the location of the camp Gestapo. The message on the board that now marks the site reads:
"This is where the camp Gestapo was located. Prisoners suspected of involvement in the camp's underground resistance movement or of preparing to escape were interrogated here. Many prisoners died as a result of being beaten or tortured". The first commandant of Auschwitz, SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss, who was tried and sentenced to death after the war by the Polish Supreme National Tribunal, was hanged here on 16 April 1947. Source: Wikipedia

The Black Wall
This black wall was built so that the gun shots would not go and spoil the beauty of the brick wall behind. Thousands were asked to face the Black Wall tortured and shot mercilessly.
The windows here near the " Black Wall" was darkened, so that nobody inside would know what was happening here. There was a secrecy maintained always by the Germans. For years many who heard about such things happening, did not believe, even when some of those who had escaped came with evidence. 
"Death, death, death,
Death in the morning,
Death in the afternoon
We lived with Death
How could a human feel".
Pavel Stemin ( a Polish prisoner)

Those who survived Dr. Josef Mengele’s experiments were almost always murdered and dissected. Many children were maimed or paralyzed and hundreds died. He was known by children as “Onkel Mengele” and would bring them candy and toys before personally killing them. He later died in a drowning accident in Brazil in 1979.

Twins fascinated Nazi doctor Josef Mengele (known as the “Angel of Death”). According to one witness, he sewed together a set of twins named Guido and Ina, who were about 4 years old, from the back in an attempt to create Siamese twins. Their parents were able to get some morphine and kill them to end their suffering.

One observer, noticed that the dirt at the Treblinka (falls under Auschwitz3) concentration camp was not brown but gray. As he felt the dirt trickle through his fingers, he realized the earth was “coarse and sharp and filled with the fragments of human bone.”

As 1944 came to a close and the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allied forces seemed certain, the Auschwitz commandants began destroying evidence of the horror that had taken place there. Buildings were torn down, blown up or set on fire, and records were destroyed. The torn down building still remain, left as it was left by the Germans, most of the buildings, the various torture rooms, the cold and crowded dormitories etc., everything left as they were.

When the Soviet army entered Auschwitz on January 27, they found approximately 7,600 sick or emaciated detainees who had been left behind. The liberators also discovered mounds of corpses, hundreds of thousands of pieces of clothing and pairs of shoes and seven tons of human hair that had been shaved from detainees before their liquidation. 

The Nazis would process Holocaust victims’ hair into felt and thread. Hair was also used to make socks for submarine crews, ignition mechanisms in bombs, ropes and cords for ships, and stuffing for mattresses. Camp commanders were required to submit monthly reports on the amount of hair collected. There are even evidence to prove that human fat was used to make soaps. The Germans did not leave anything. There is a law suit going on against a tire company which was supposed to have used the inmates hair to make tires.
According to some estimates, between 1.1 million to 1.5 million people, the vast majority of them Jews, died at Auschwitz during its years of operation. An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 Poles perished at the camp, along with 19,000 to 20,000 Gypsies and smaller numbers of Soviet prisoners of war and other individuals.
The Jews were the main target, but others too, who were against Hitler, and all those he and his men thought unfit to live had to go to the gas chambers. When one reads about Hitler and how he turned out to be like this, one can understand his dislike for Jews, but to turn into a monster, and try to wipe out the entire community, for no fault of theirs is really unimaginable.
I still cannot understand how a whole lot  of people blindly followed every word said by their leader and went about committing such atrocities. Many even after they were caught and punished, never showed any remorse for the crimes committed by them. 
Auschwitz was surrounded by high electric barbed wire fences, which were guarded by SS soldiers armed with machine guns and rifles. Some Holocaust survivors have said that not only did the barbed-wire surrounding Auschwitz tremble and howl, but also the tortured earth itself moaned with the voices of the victims.
Despite visiting this place with so many tourist around, you somehow feel all alone here, and  you only feel totally connected to the thousand of souls, that have wandered here in extreme conditions, you really feel from the bottom of your heart, that wherever they are now, they are happy, and you can only be grateful to have somehow escaped this ordeal.
Also one would not like to see the same people inflict similar atrocities on certain people just because they don't like them. We have seen over the past few years, some countries are getting more and more intolerant towards other countries, they go for war for ulterior motives, under the guise of bringing democracy to these countries, creating a real mess in so many people's lives. Instead of restoring democracy as promised they have only left them with anarchy and chaos. It is really sad, that we have not evolved even after witnessing such horrors like Auschwitz.
I never thought I would ever get the opportunity of visiting this place, and I am really grateful, that, opportunity came my way, and provided me the chance to visit it, and see for myself with my own eyes, this Nazi factory of death.
I am sure if you are ever in Poland you would never miss it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Salt Mine in Wieliczka Poland: listed as a UNESCO Heritage site in 1978

The Salt Mine Wieliczka is the oldest salt enterprise on Polish land dating back to the Middle Ages. For centuries it was the source of the country’s wealth and the material foundation of its culture. Today it is the most popular Polish tourist attraction.
Magnificent chapels, captivating underground lakes, original tools and equipment, traces of mining works allow us to understand the human struggle against the elements, their work, their passion and their beliefs. The Wieliczka miners have left behind many salt carvings and murals.

Everything has been made out of salt, including the beautiful chandelier lights. The crystals of the chandeliers are made from rock salt that has been dissolved and reconstituted to achieve a clear, glass-like appearance. Everything there is made of salt and wood. The Polish people have for many centuries been devout Catholics and this was more than just a long term hobby to relieve the boredom of being underground. This was an act of worship.
Various types of social events are organised in the undergrounds of the Wieliczka Salt Mine such as conferences, banquets, weddings, the New Years Eve Ball, concerts, sport performances.
The Wieliczka mine functions also as a sanatorium, for the micro-climate in the underground spaces which is particularly beneficial in the treatment of upper respiratory disorders, asthma and allergy. In 1997, in the Teodor Wessel Chamber, on floor three (135 m underground) the Underground Rehabilitation and Medical Centre was opened. Owing to the active therapy in the Centre, the patients breathe in the air rich in sodium, calcium and magnesium chloride, and thus efficiently get rid of some disorders caused by civilisation.This Salt mine is definitely not to be missed, while in Poland. You would be absolutely amazed by everything you get to see there. I am told that it cannot be compared to other salt mines, because it is so unique. I am so glad we could visit this Salt Mine in Wieliczka.
It is always good to read about the places we are visiting and know beforehand itself, about the places that should not be missed at any cost.
If I had not read about it, we would have easily skipped it, since it was an optional tour, (we have to pay for taking optional tours).
There is an entire cathedral carved by miners out of the rock salt, including the statues and images on the walls. The Last Supper was the only one carved out by a professional artist and not by the miners.

Several hundreds of years of rock salt exploitation have shaped the spatial arrangement of its excavated structure. Lying on nine levels, concealed under the town, the mine reaches down to the depth of 327 metres. Subterranean Wieliczka consists of nearly 300 kilometres of corridors and almost 3,000 chambers. The tourist route accessible to visitors includes a 3.5-kilometres section located from 64 to 135 metres below ground level. The entire tour takes about 3 hours and remember to wear good walking shoes for we have to walk. It has restaurants, rest rooms, souvenir shops and a post office too.
As soon as we enter we find this writing in Polish:


“You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14)

Labour underground has always been associated with great danger hazardous to life. That is why miners used to build chapels underground in which they attended mass every morning.

The numerous underground chapels as well as customs and rites, verbal folklore, art, and especially sculpting in rock salt religious subjects testify to the fact that the cult of holy patrons was very important in the Wieliczka miners’ culture. The miners exposed to constant perils placed their health and wellbeing in the hands of the Almighty, the Holy Mother of God, and the holy patrons. Apart from the main patron, St. Kinga, there were other more prominent apostles celebrated by the miners’ cult, i.e. St. Anthony Padewski, St. Clemens, and St. Barbara. These traditions are continued today as well as the miners’ greeting “God Bless” with which the miners greet and say goodbye to people they meet underground. The first “God Bless” is said at the moment of descending into the mine, and the final “God Bless” resounds when exiting the mine to the surface, i.e. “the outside world” ( these are some extra facts gathered from the net).

So , incase you are in Krakow Poland, remember to visit this salt mine without fail.