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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Three: Czestochowa

Michael Palin - New EuropeWe're taken for lunch in a beautiful refectory with a curved stuccoed ceiling. Here we meet Father Tomon's superior, Father Simon, the senior man in the monastery's slick public affairs department.

He's enthusiastic and energetic and talks unstoppably. He stems the flow briefly, to offer us some wine.

Then he looks expectantly towards me.

'I hear you are a comedian.'

I always dread moments like this and mutter apologetically about never being able to remember jokes.

Father Simon's face widens.

'Jokes?' He beams with satisfaction. 'I have 300 of them.'

At that moment a mobile phone rings and he hoicks up his habit and begins to rifle around in voluminous white robes. No-one mentions divine intervention, but there are certainly some sighs of relief.

Two hours south of Czestochowa the small farms and featureless fields give way to a man-made mess of a landscape as we skirt the heavy industrial conurbations of Silesia, which sit on top of huge coalfields, said by some to contain one-tenth of the world's known reserves, and bitterly fought over in the past by Poles and Germans.

We follow the railway, down a side road, and across the River Wisla, which we've followed across Poland all the way from Gdansk and Warsaw. It's getting towards the end of the day as we reach a threadbare little town, with a BP filling station, five-storey pre-fab housing blocks, a dry-cleaner's, a football pitch, some tennis courts, and a park by the willow-lined banks of a small river through which parents are bringing children home from school. This is Oswiecim, our home for the night.

It's better known by its German name. Auschwitz.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Three: Czestochowa
  • Country/sea: Poland
  • Place: Częstochowa
  • Book page no: 242

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