17 November 2009
I love Poland. It only took about six hours but I am in love with the country, the food and the incredible people. We arrived in Warsaw after another grueling overnight bus ride. Following a much-needed morning nap I headed to what was billed as “one of the best museums in Europe.” For whatever reason it is known as “The Occupation Museum” in English despite it actually being dedicated to the The Warsaw Uprising against their Nazi oppressors in 1944. How that got lost in translation I will never know.
Now begins the part of the story where I realize I am incredibly ignorant. It turns out that on August 1st of 1944 the residents of Warsaw launched a full-on armed offensive against their Nazi occupiers that lasted 63 days during the course of which they retook nearly the entire city while the Nazis bombed and destroyed 83 of all buildings. For 63 days men, women and children said “enough is enough,” took to the streets and defended their very right to exist. Why, might you ask, weren’t they successful?
After 63 days they were completely out of ammunition, heavy artillery and food. Why, might you ask, did they run out of these things? Because the US and Britain refused to acknowledge the Polish army as part of the Allied Forces in an effort to appease Stalin since Poland would become part of the Soviet Union at the end of the war. In short, we sold them up the river for reasons I cannot comprehend. Of course the Soviets put on a good show pretending to help. They dropped heaps of supplies over the city, there was just one problem - they didn’t attach parachutes so in the end, food and ammunition became bomb-like boxes falling from the sky and hurtling towards the earth. In fact, most drops either destroyed existing buildings or actually killed people. Good one Stalin. Good one.
Following the Uprising the Nazis cleared the entire city of every living soul. That’s right, it became almost completely deserted. This is, of course, after an additional uprising in the Jewish ghetto where the Nazis forced Jews to live 10 people to a room in an area populated with 250,000 people per square mile. While they sent the non-Jewish Poles to work in German labour camps, they just killed all the Jews. All 400,000 Jews that were living in Warsaw before WWII were killed. Today there are just 500 Jews living in the entire city.
And yet, through it all, the city and the country trumpet on. This year Poland is Europe’s only economy to grow. The entire city center has been rebuilt to look and feel as it did before the Nazi and Soviet bombardment. The streets are bustling and the nightlife is happening. There in an energy and a spirit in the air that I can’t quite describe. People have hope for a better future and a better life and they should. After all, the Warsaw Uprising was probably the single greatest act of defiance in World War II. It’s a shame I never learned about THAT in history class.