Poland Part 1: Warsaw

Now that it’s May, I thought that if I was ever going to see it snow whilst in Europe, I had long missed my opportunity. But as our plane landed in Warsaw last Tuesday night, I saw out the little window what I thought were snowflakes coming down. And I was right. Unfortunately, by the time we got out of the airport, it wasn’t snowing anymore – it was just very cold. But there was snow on the cars and on the street, so that was something.

The purpose of this trip to Poland wasn’t to have a holiday, but rather a trip to discover some family heritage. As a boy, my paternal grandfather lived in Czestochowa until he was sent away to a concentration camp in Germany. And my maternal grandmother’s family came from Warsaw. They left because of anti-Semitism, and fortunately did so before the war began. Beyond my own family history, Poland of course offers a look at the traumatic history of the Jews prior to and during World War II.

On Wednesday morning, we met our young Polish tour-guide, who took us around Jewish Warsaw. It was pleasing to see memorials scattered across the city, marking key places, commemorating important people, and acknowledging lives lost. Of course, it is little consolation for the unfathomable devastation that occurred.

For the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

She was very knowledgeable, and was able to show us part of the ghetto wall which is still standing. We also visited the only Synagogue in Warsaw which was left after World War II.

The Ghetto wall

Inside the Synagogue. It is operational today.

We walked through the streets where thousands of Jews used to thrive, here and there encountering remnants of war time. For example, bullet holes in the walls. Pertinent among our various stops was walking through the street that my great grandparents lived in.

An interesting reminder of the Jews who once lived there

In the afternoon, we were left to our own devices, and decided to visit the Warsaw Rising Museum. It is a really well done museum which is dedicated to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. The exhibits display photos, testimonies, artefacts and more, all which give an insight into the topic.

Another thing we did, which became a theme of the trip, (see upcoming posts) was to visit the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. 200 years old with over 100,000 gravestones, the size of it is unbelievable. It’s set in a rich green forest-type area, giving it a kind of serenity – when you manage to distance yourself from the numerous tour groups visiting.

Unlike anything I’d ever seen before

For the most part, the city itself isn’t aesthetically pleasing. Many areas are dominated by Communist-era concrete blocks – not really anyone’s taste. However, the Old Town was reconstructed after having being destroyed in the War, and is surely the most attractive part of the city.

The main square of the Old Town

More to come.

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