Sunday, January 27, is Holocaust Memorial Day.
JO HENWOOD talks to Frodsham’s Phil Clark, who now lives in Poland, about his tour company which offers in-depth walking tours of Auschwitz
PHIL Clark’s first visit to Poland was in 2007 to watch a friend’s son canoeing for Great Britain. It was there that he met his wife Marta and, 37 trips and two years later, the couple got married.
The former Manor Junior School and Helsby Grammar School pupil helped 35 friends and family make the journey for the wedding, which inspired him to set up his own tour company.
He said: “I arranged most of their flights, hotels, gave them walking tours of Krakow, took them to Auschwitz and the Wieliczka salt mine and arranged all their transport. Many of them suggested that as everything had worked so well for their week in Krakow, I should look to set up a business doing the same for other tourists and that’s how the idea of Krakow Tours was born.
“Having been on a tour of Auschwitz, with a museum guide on a couple of occasions, I knew it wasn’t the best way to see the museum.
“Their tours of Birkenau are cursory to say the least, so I set about learning as much as I could about the camps with a view to being able to give a more in-depth visit to my guests. My tours today allow guests to visit the museum without a guide, I then show them around the best preserved parts of Birkenau, and also other sites in the area not covered by any other tour company.
“It’s now approaching three years since I started the tours and, in that time, I have take more than 3,200 people to Auschwitz, from 45 different countries.
“I have taken children and other family members of Auschwitz victims and survivors, and have been lucky enough to meet quite a few survivors myself.”
One such survivor was the now late Kazimierz Smolen, former director and co-founder of The Auschwitz-Birkenau museum. He died, aged 91, on January 27 last year, the 67th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. Another was Stella Muller-Madej, author of the book A Girl from Schindler’s List.
The vast majority of Phil’s guests are individual tourists, though he and his two employees do arrange tours for larger groups including schools, older students and adult learning organisations.
Neil Benson, of Gresford, visited Krakow last October with his wife Jo.
He said: “Being on the very spot where the worst atrocities in history happened is a bit overwhelming, and we were still absorbing it all several weeks later.
“Phil's knowledge of the camp, and about the wartime period generally, added a lot to our trip. It's an experience we will never forget.”
Phil divides visitors to Auschwitz into two categories – large tourist groups who rush around the museum, seeing half of what is available, and those with more than a passing interest in the history of the Nazi camp..
Phil said: “Many people have been with me to Auschwitz twice and two people have been three times.
“It’s almost impossible to take in the atrocities that occurred at Auschwitz, and it is a very difficult place to describe after a visit, but suffice to say to a man everyone that visits is glad they did. I believe it is a place that every person who has the opportunity, should visit.”