In an interesting coincidence, our last European trip was to Malta, an island nation that the Nazis bombed almost daily for 2 ½ years, leaving horrible devastation behind. But after the courageous but short-livedWarsaw uprising of 1944, Hitler completely leveled the city. Earlier, 300,000 Polish Jews were loaded into boxcars and shipped to Treblinka, where the great majority was gassed. The remaining Jews were herded into the walled Ghetto, where they were systematically starved to death. After the Ghetto Uprising of 1943, the Germans executed the rest.
The Warsaw Uprising (in Poland it is simply called “The Rising”) took place in 1944. The Russian army was advancing into Poland, providing the hope that Russian troops and air support would aid the effort. These hopes were in vain, as Stalin’s troops essentially watched the devastation take place from a nearby ridge. A few numbers: before the war, Warsaw’s population was about 1.3 million, dropping to 900 thousand after the extermination of the Jews. After Germany leveled the city in 1944, fewer than 1,000 persons lived in the ruins of the city (many others fled into the nearby forests). When the war ended, the newly-democratic Poland considered creating a new capital elsewhere, but Warsaw carried too many memories. It was rebuilt brick-by-brick, with women and children passing bricks and stones hand-to-hand. Our friend Kasia’s Nanny, Dada (pictured) was among the women who participated.
So with but one free day available to us, we decided to visit the Warsaw Rising Museum, one of the most emotionally draining days we have ever spent. In a small theatre, we watched a brief, 3D film taken with a
Throughout the city are monuments and reminders, including simple markers that define where the walls of the Ghetto once stood. Every year there is a solemn processional from marker to marker, and Ghetto tours are conducted daily.
Poland is now marking its 25th year as a democracy, founded in the remarkable year of 1989, when the Iron Curtin fell so dramatically. That makes it a very young democracy, but conversations with our Polish friends suggest it is both stable and healthy, as is its economy. They are still sorting out their relationship with Russia (their second president died in a plane crash, and conspiracy theories pointing to Russia still circulate, even as we still speculate on who killed JFK) and, to a much lesser extent, with Germany. It is a city, and a nation, that has suffered terribly, but is now a vibrant and hopeful culture.