Warsaw Uprising

Unlike Krakow, Warsaw was not occupied by the Nazis with the intent of turning it into a German state.  Instead, 84% of the city was destroyed by German and Russian bombing raids, heavy artillery fire, and planned demolition campaigns during the course of World War II.  Approximately 1,150 sorties were flown by a wide variety of aircraft over the skies of Warsaw, effectively cutting the city off at the knees.  After the conclusion of the bombing campaigns, German troops planned to take over Warsaw, but they were met with resistance from the Polish Army.  Dubbed the “Warsaw Uprising”, the Home Army consisted of anywhere between 20,000 and 49,000 soldiers.  This constituted the largest single military effort taken by any European resistance movement of World War II.  Unfortunately, they received little help from the Allied Forces due to the fact they were surrounded by both German and Russian forces.  American and British planes did drop relief packages with arms, food, and warm clothing to try and help, but unfortunately, they were eventually put down.  Those that could, escaped, while tens of thousands of their fellow citizens perished under a ruthless Nazi campaign of reprisal.  … [Read More]

Occupying Krakow

Old City walls

Poland’s history forever changed on 1 September 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded its western border.  On 6 September, the troops of the Third Reich reached Krakow and the city was quickly established as the capital of the Nazi’s “General Government,” a colonial authority under the leadership of Hans Frank.  In less than a week, the city of Krakow was officially occupied.  The Germans dismantled many statues in Krakow’s historical center, they “Germanized” street names, set a curfew for the Poles, and within six months, created a Jewish Ghetto.  Today, most of Krakow has been returned to its former glory – street signs are once again in Polish and some of the important monuments were rebuilt, but pieces of Krakow’s brutal past still linger.  To commemorate the city’s history, a portion of the Ghetto wall still stands and nearby, the city commissioned a new memorial to honor the Jews who perished within its walls.  Oskar Schindler’s (from the famed movie Schindler’s List) factory still stands in the same place, although it now serves as a (wonderful!) museum explaining the occupation of Krakow.  Bobby and I spent three lovely days in this wonderful city – walking the streets, visiting its museums, and eating some pretty spectacular Polish fare.  … [Read More]

Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp

Train tracks dead-end in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Where to start?  Last year, Bobby and I visited Dachau Concentration Camp and it was a sobering experience.  However, our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau was even more horrifying. It is commonly said, due to the robust rail network built by Nazi Germany, “all roads led to Auschwitz.” It became the number one extermination camp for Jews, Poles, the Roma community, homosexuals, the elderly, young children, and political prisoners during World War II.  The Third Reich shipped the Jewish population, specifically, to Auschwitz from as far south as Corfu, Greece and as far north as Oslo, Norway.  80-100 prisoners were put on each boxcar with little room to sit, next-to-no food, and just a bucket to use the bathroom, for sometimes up to three weeks before reaching their final destination.  Many passengers died during the hellish journey.  For those that lived, the second they stepped off the train they were met by the head SS doctor.  In an interview lasting four seconds, he would give a simple “left” or “right” with the turn of his thumb, effectively granting life or death.  Those directed to the left were immediately put in the gas chamber.  Those put to the right, the “lucky” ones, were condemned to hard labor, until they were no longer fit or worked to death.  In all, 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz from 1940-1945; 1.1 million were Jews, 140-150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet POWs, and 25,000 prisoners from other ethnic groups.  An estimated 1.1 out of the 1.3 million people who entered Auschwitz died inside the gates and approximately 90% belonged to the Jewish community.  … [Read More]