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Monday, July 21, 2008

Warsaw, Poland, Part III

We were most curious about wartime Warsaw, in particular the Jewish Ghetto. Sadly, not much remains from this period in history, in part because few Jews returned to Warsaw. What a loss. Warsaw enjoyed a thriving Jewish community, numbering more than half a million people. In fact, after New York, it was the largest Jewish center in the world. Scant remains of the walls that went up to barricade the Jewish people into the ghetto are hard to find. We walked the area of the former ghetto and saw a few monuments pointing to the life that people endured inside the ghetto walls. We were fooled into thinking that the area of the ghetto was actually quite large when at one point we both realized that we were there on a beautiful sunny days, no brick walls hemming us in, and that the area was actually very small when you considered that 400,000 people had to make a life within that space. Most significant to the area is the monument of the Umschlagplatz, the place where thousands of Jews boarded the cattle cars that would take them to their death in the Nazi death camp, Treblinka. Also moving is the monument to the Heroes of the Ghetto Uprising which took place between April 19 and May 12, 1943. Sadly, the movement failed and the Nazis exported almost 100 percent of the inhabitants of the ghetto and completely flattened the area known as the ghetto. It was moving to walk the streets and remember the sad and difficult history that the Polish Jews experienced. We were surprised at how little of the story is told in the city.
One monument in the Old Town is the set of tank tracks tha
t are embedded into the side of the church. I thought that was a pretty amazing monument.
One new museum is dedicated to the Warsaw rising of 1944 when the Poles sought to establish independence from the Nazis during the period 1 August to 2 October 1944. This effort also failed but the end of the war was near. The monument that remembers the efforts of this event is interesting in that it shows soldiers coming up out of the sewers, which were a major transport system during the rising, along with a priest as participants in the effort for independence.
As we were walking away from the area, we stumbled upon a restaurant that had an amazing history. Apparently it was the former haunt of the Soviet Leaders and hence its name, Inn Under the Red Hog. The history of the restaurant is colorful and only partially believable but it was a great stop after wandering the streets of the Jewish Ghetto. I was often reminded of the film, The Pianist, and in the Rising Museum, the actual Pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, is mentioned. He was one of the few survivors of life in the Ghetto and I am anxious to see the film again. I think I shall view it with a new lens.