80 Years Ago Today–A Dark Day in History

On September 17, 1939, Poland’s fate and freedom were sealed. While Germany invaded on September 1st, it was the Soviet Invasion on the 17th that sealed Poland’s fate. Stalin and Hitler had one goal–to wipe Poland off the face of the earth forever. Never forget that.

Just a week before the war started, Hitler told his military commanders, “The object of the war is … physically to destroy the enemy. That is why I have prepared, for the moment only in the East, my ‘Death’s Head’ formations with orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language. Only in this way can we obtain the living space we need.”

Stalin had no less “lofty” goal. He approved the NKVD requested order to murder over 22,000 Polish intellectuals and military officers (Katyń Massacre) and the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Poles to Siberia. He, too, wished to wipe Poland off the face of the earth.

To this day, modern Russian history falsely portrays the Soviets as liberators of Poland in World War II. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, with the complicity of the allies, after the war Poland was handed over to the Soviets and the legitimate government of Poland no longer recognized. This situation lasted until 1989 when at last Lech Wałęsa and Solidarność, the influence of Pope John Paul II, that of President Ronald Regan, and others were able to bring about the demise of Communism–that fall of Soviet power began in Poland and quickly spread. But it all started in Poland.

But all of this began 80 years ago today, when a greedy Germany and the Soviet Union carved up Poland, and Poland’s allies did nothing to reach out a helping hand. Never forget.

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Poland 2019 — Day 04

Well, the wedding is over, and in a later post I’ll explain why we went to bed at 2:30, well before the party ended about 4 AM, and why I got up about 10 AM this morning. But once we got going, we headed up to a nice breakfast at the wedding venue, and saw a few of the folks we’d spent the evening with. Eventually, we headed into Gdańsk and easily found our hotel for the next two nights.

We used our afternoon wisely. We went to the museum of the Baltic and were truly amazed. The museum itself is a great review of Gdańsk’s maritime history, with lots of historic exhibits, models of ships throughout history, and many old artifacts. As a part of the exhibit, we for to tour a freight ship, built here in 1949.

But then we took the water taxi across the Motława River, and had the opportunity to walk up into the iconic Gdańsk Crane. Wow, what a great experience. Originally built in the 1300’s, it was rebuilt in 1444, and is just amazing. If you want to learn more, check here: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:%C5%BBuraw_in_Gda%C5%84sk.

The iconic Gdańsk Crane, which we got to tour

Later, we went to Grabiny-Zameczek and had diner with Alicja and more family, but that’s a a post for another time.

Once back in Gdańsk, we walked around a while, hat some “happy hour” at a few places, enjoyed the fresh evening air and then called it a night.

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Poland 2019 — Day 13

Today was our last full day in Poland, but we made the most of it with a full day in Poland’s largest city and its capital, Warszawa (Warsaw). In the course of the day, we logged nearly 9 miles of walking, but we sure did a lot and saw a lot. We started out with a half-hour walk to the iconic Palace of Culture and Science, a building that was a “gift” to the Polish people from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, built in 1955. We headed to the 30th floor of Poland’s tallest building to enjoy the view. Of course, Poles have mixed feeling about this “gift” from the tyrant who stole their country (with complicity of the Allies: Britain, France, and the USA), and kept it under Soviet domination for 45 years. But Poles take it all in stride. Some colloquially and irreverently refer to it as Chuj Stalina (“Stalin’s Dick”). it’s also said to have the best view in Warsaw—because you can’t see it when you’re in it! Nonetheless, I think that today it’s accepted for what it is, an interesting piece of architecture . Poles know how to give and take a joke, but the view from on top is indeed spectacular, and so worth it.

Our next stop was a walk which included parts of the old Jewish Ghetto from World War II, and a visit to the relatively new and award winning POLIN–Museum of the History of Jews in Poland. Wow! It is a really well done, modern, interactive experience. We chose to do the self-guided tour. It was superb. The history of the Jews in Poland is nothing short of amazing. While so many countries in history shunned and persecuted the Jews, Poland actually welcomed them and protected them, along with other religious minorities. There has always been some tensions between ethnic groups, but nowhere else in the Western world was such tolerance seen and even mandated by law.

But then came Hitler, the Nazis, and World War II. Hitler found his Jews there to kill, nearly 3 million, as well as millions of Poles and others. We all know (and should remember, and never forget) that story. The museum is very well done, and well worth a visit.

Then we headed back the old town, but first had a stop at a Monte Cassino monument, and then at one commemorating the Warsaw Uprising. Never forget.

Finally, we were back to old town. We entered via the Barbican and toured that and the old wall, and spent the rest of our afternoon/evening in and around the old square, with some drinks and then a fine Polish dinner. Warszawa is really a great city, in so many ways. In future posts I’ll reflect more on different aspects of our rip to Poland. It had indeed been amazing. And I’m anxious to return, sooner rather than later.

I will be back!

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Poland 2019 — Day 12

Today we left Kraków and headed to our vacation’s starting point, Warsaw. It’d rained overnight in Kraków, though stopped about the time we were ready to leave.

The trip to Warsaw was uneventful, mostly on good roads, expressway, but a lot of rain along the way. But about 4 hours later we were in Warsaw, at our hotel for the next two nights. Once checked in, we relaxed for a bit, a bit tired from the 4-hour trip. But soon enough we took off for some adventure.

We took a long walk, through the lower part of the old town, across the Wisła (Vistula) River, to the Praga district, to see a magnificent, beautiful piece of architecture, the baroque church, the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel and St. Florian the Martyr. It was quite the walk, but so cool to see. And to be in Praga, too.

Then we headed back to the old town and were just tourists there. We had drinks on the square by the old king’s Palace. Then walked around a bit. Eventually we settled on a place for dinner and had a good, traditional, Polish dinner. Tommy hade a potato pancake with goulash that was very good. I started with a clear barszcz with mushroom uszki. Then I had some fried sauerkraut as a side with two sausages, one smoked, one white (not smoked). All was fantastic, very good. We walked around a bit more, enjoying the old town. Some Buskers were out and they were very good. There was also a Polish country music-style group playing, also very good. Warsaw was sure alive and well tonight.

Eventually we made out way back to our hotel. I posted some pics and video on Facebook but can’t wait to get home and really post some good pics. Are you enjoying my blog? Leave a comment!

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Poland 2019 — Day 11

We had a full day to spend in Kraków, and we made the most of it. Kraków is, and remains, my favorite city in the world [though I will admit that Gdańsk is a very close second now, too].

We started our morning with a self-guided tour of Wawel, the castle and ancient capital of Poland. First off was a view of the statue of the Wawel dragon and his cave, right along the Wisła (Vistula) River. The castle is a wonderful edifice, with lots and lots of history. We did the self-guided tour of the magnificent chapel, which is truly amazing itself. To think, many kings of Poland were crowned and worshipped here. It’s really a moving experience. We walked around a bit, then moved on to the palace itself and the chambers there. The area is currently undergoing a renovation, but it’s very impressive.

After wandering around a while and taking lots of photos, we took off walking to our next destination, a trendy spot where young locals go to party at night. It’s an old factory complex, said to be slated for future demolition and remade into luxury apartments or townhomes but currently a trendy night hot spot of restaurants and clubs. We had lunch at one of the cool restaurants there, and it was very avante garde cuisine, and very good.

Eventually we headed back to the old town. Our next stop was the marvelous National Art Museum on the second floor of the Sukiennice. We got the English audio guide and I’m glad we did. We saw some fantastic art by Polish artists, it was truly amazing.

Our next stop was the Mariacki, the fantastic Cathedral that is right on the square. It is amazing, very ornate, and very historic. No trip to Kraków would be complete without a visit to this magnificent, historic church.

Our next stop was Kazimierz, the old, historic Jewish quarter of Kraków—actually, our apartment/hotel is in Kazimierz. We walked around a bit and enjoyed the old buildings, then stopped and had a few drinks along the way.

While weather now was a bit wet, we headed back to the old town and found a place for dinner—Italian food! It was just OK, though.

Later, on the way back, we stopped at a very cool underground restaurant and had dessert and drinks.

Wow, what a day we had in Kraków. I still love this beautiful, historic city a lot. I’ll be sad to leave tomorrow, but hope to return for an extended stay next year…

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Poland 2019 — Day 10

Our time in Poland is winding down, but in some ways, we’ve saved the best for the last, because today we headed to my favorite city, Kraków. But, it was not our first stop after leaving Zakopane about 9 AM.

Our first stop of the day was a Basilica, the Sanctuary of Mary the Mother of God, Queen of the Podhale, in Ludźmierz. My great-grandmother was born in Ludźmierz, and I’m sure I have many relatives there to this day.

The parish is very old and dates from the 1400’s, but the current church was built about 1869 and is magnificent.

We spent a bit of time visiting the church and the grounds. Pope St. John Paul II visited in 1997, too. After lots of pictures, we hit the road again.

The next hour or two took us through some very scenic areas, from the steep roads of the foothills of The Carpathians to the gently rolling hills south of Kraków. Our next goal was the salt mine at Wieliczka.

We got to Wieliczka about noon and got tickets for a 1 PM guided tour. We had a bit of time to relax, but at 1 our tour started. It’s a beautiful place, and our pictures cannot do it justice, but it was a great time. Absolutely stunning.

Afterward, we headed to our apartment/hotel in Kraków. Once settled in, we headed to the old city, mere blocks away. Our apartment is about 2-3 blocks from Wawel Castle, talk about location. After getting situated, we headed into the old city.

Wow! Yes, all I can say is wow! We walked the route of the Kings into the square, Grodzka Street, into the main square. We walked around and took many pictures, and we eventually decided on dinner at Wesele. It was a good choice, the food was excellent.

Afterward, we walked down Florinańska Street to the famous Florianańska Gate and the Barbican. We came back, walked through the Sukiennice, then stopped along the way to have a nightcap. What a marvelous end to the day.

It was a great day, a great start to our visit in Kraków, we are having a great tIme here.

Pictures on Facebook.. And more will be posted later, after we return.

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Poland 2019 — Day 09

Another fun day in Poland. Though I wrote that there were some highs yesterday, today we got really high—literally.

We started the day with coffee and breakfast in our apartment, but our breakfast was a shared pączek. It was so, so good. We’d purchased it the night before at a little shop on Krupówki Street, and it was fantastic, just like Mom used to make.

Soon we headed out to our goal for the day, to visit Morskie Oko. It is a large lake high in the Tatra mountains, a range that is part of the Carpathians. It’s elevation is 1,395 meters. Several nearby mountain peaks rise over 1000 meters higher. It’s visited by more than 50,000 people annually, many of whom park and then hike about 6-8 km to it (about a 2 hour walk).

Or, if you’re older, you can do as we did and take a horse carriage up to it. You still need to hike the final 1.5 km up to the lake, though. However you go, once there, the view is stunning. We spent some time there, taking photos and enjoying a near perfect, sunny day with the temps about 17 degrees centigrade.

Eventually, we got a few snacks for fuel, and then headed back. The walk to and from our parking space was another 1-2 km, but so worth it. If you ever have the chance to visit Morskie Oko, do it, you will not regret it.

The rest of our day was pleasant as well. We went back up to Gubałówka and enjoyed the view and had a few more drinks. Later we ventured back down Krupówki Street and enjoyed the ambiance, and found a place to eat. Zakopane is a very nice city, and we really have enjoyed our time here.

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Poland 2019 — Day 08

This was a day filled with high highs, and low lows. 

We started the day with breakfast at our hotel in Katowice—and a very nice breakfast at that. But then we got on the road early to our first destination.

This was a place I was not sure I wanted to visit—no, in reality I WAS SURE that I did NOT want to visit it—but I also knew that I needed to visit it. Auschwitz. Yes, the infamous Nazi concentration camp. Originally set up by the Nazis to hold Polish political prisoners after Germany invaded Poland and started World War II, eventually it was expanded to include Birkenau and was responsible for the cruel and tragic deaths of oh, so many people, including oh, so many Jews, but also so many others as well. What I saw today defies comprehension. I saw a wall at which condemned prisoners were routinely shot. I saw the so-called “hospital” which was the site of unbearable Nazi experiments on living beings, many of them children, and many of which resulted In their deaths, often intentionally. I saw the room where Zyklon B (cyanide gas) was first tested, and the crematorium where the bodies were burned. I walked on ground soaked with the blood of so many. I’ve read many of the stories about the dead, but they were mostly written by the very few survivors. It’s so hard to grasp the cruelty that went on there, and the vast numbers of those killed directly, or worked or starved to death, or who died of diseases or mistreatment. Unfathomable. I had one small bit of satisfaction—I saw the spot where former camp commandant Rudolph Hess was executed for his crime—but he got off way too easy for what he did, and I admit I wish he’d died a long, slow and tortuous death….. 

After the low of Auschwitz, it was time for a high. So now we travelled mostly cross-country, but this time entering the Podhale, the mountain region of southern Poland. We journeyed through some absolutely spectacular scenic areas, the foothills of the Carpathian Tatra Mountains. We went up and down and saw some spectacular views until we eventually arrived at the little hamlet of Chochołów. We walked around Chochołów a bit to see its famous Górale architecture, spectacular buildings made with only wood, no nails, even. It is quite picturesque. Eventually we made our way to our apartment in Zakopane.

Once settled in, we made our way to the train station, got our tickets, and took the funicular (incline railway) to the top of Gubałówka, 1,126 meters above sea level. From the top, you have a great view of the Tatras, part of the Carpathian Mountains with several peaks over 2,400 meters, and a great view of Zakopane in the valley below, as well as Slovakia in the distance. After the day’s earlier lows lows at Auschwitz, this was the perfect high high for the day. We enjoyed a drink and the scenery on Gubałówka, then descended to enjoy the tourist pace of Krupówki street, ending our day with yet another great dinner in Poland.

A day of highs. A day of lows. And another day in my beloved Poland!

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Poland 2019 — Day 07

We began the day at our hotel in Gniezno with a nice breakfast. And soon enough, it was time to get on the road. Our first objective was Jasna Góra, which turned out to be a good 4+ hour drive. We had good roads along the way, and bad roads. We had some smooth sailing, a some 30+ minutes of construction delays and backlogged traffic. But eventually we made it!

Jasna Góra is the home to one of the most famous symbols and icons of Poland, the icon of the Black Madonna, Czarna Madonna. As luck would have it, we got to the church where it is kept covered (with silver and jewels) about 10 minutes before it was uncovered, so we were near the front of the line. After a bit of a wait, it was slowly uncovered with great fanfare. After that, we were near the first to get inside and get a good look. It really is something to behold, and it had a rich history—it is even credited with saving the monastery from the siege by the Swedes during the

Great Deluge (c. 1655). Before heading to the battle of Vienna (1683)—which saved Europe and Western Christendom from the Ottomans, King Jan III Sobieski prayed there. And many Polish kings also venerated it. It’s a very holy object and has played an important part in Polish culture and history, along with the veneration of Mary as the mother of God. It’s part of the Polish soul and consciousness. 

Afterward, we toured other parts of the monastery, including the very opulent Basilica/Cathedral there. Quite impressive. We saw many ancient and historic artifacts as well, some dating back to the 14th century founding of the monastery. It was very impressive. Most impressive were the faithful people, praying, kneeling, some even “walking “ in front of the icon on their knees, a sign of great devotion. But eventually, it was time to head to our next destination.

Our trek to Zamek Ogrodzieniec was literally cross-country, on lots of back roads. But Google maps came through for us. My, what an impressive castle, even though it is but a ruin now. It is huge, the largest castle on what was a series of about 25 castles that stretch from Kraków to Częstochowa and date back to the 14th century. They are all along a chain of high limestone cliffs. You can actually walk the 163 km (101 mile) trail connecting them all. Zamek Ogrodzienic was the largest and most opulent, at one time, and was often called the “little Wawel,” which makes sense as it was built by the designer of the famous Wawel castle in Kraków. We got to walk a good bit of the ruins, the view from the top was awesome. But eventually, we had to go.

We arrived a good hour later—after another mostly cross-country drive, at our hotel in Katowice, hungry, thirsty, and tired. It was a good day. Pictures, though, will have to wait until we return home….

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Poland 2019 — Day 06

Day six started innocuously enough—another fine Polish breakfast at our hotel. Bot soon we were on the road to the first of our objectives for the day, the city of Bydgoszcz.

Why Bydgoszcz? Why not—I’d never been there. It’s a fantastic old city with a lot of history and has a nice city square. We parked nearby and walked around for about an hour. There is a sobering plaque on the town square, a memorial to the local citizens murdered there by the Germans in 1939, and a big memorial that has lots of flowers by it, remembering the victims of World War II from 1939-1945.

Eventually we took off and headed to Biskupin. It is an archeological site that has remains of human activity dating back to the 8th century BCE. On the site there are some reconstructions of the buildings that were erected by the Lusatians around 800 BCE, as well as some Slavic buildings (reconstructions) from around 500-800 CE (AD). It was very educational to see this historically significant site and the reconstructions.

Finall, we headed to our evening destination, Gniezno. Often considered the first (ancient) capital of Poland, we visited the Cathedral there, said to house the relics of St. Adalbert, patron saint of Poland. It was quite impressive. We also enjoyed the square and the old town, it’s a very cool place, when I get back, I’ll post some photos.

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