Sunday, September 15, 2013

Visiting Warsaw

After the festival, I decided to tag along with someone to Warsaw. They accepted this with only a sigh of mild exasperation. I had never heard anything about Poland beyond that it was the first country Hitler invaded. In my defense, my history classes were Washington State History, 20th Century US History, and US history. 

In my prosecution, The Iron Curtain, the Crushing of Eastern Europe was a selection of my book club. My own selection, to be exact. Had I read more than 15% of it (thanks Kindle for keeping track), perhaps I would have heard of the Warsaw Uprising before. 

In any case, this what I learned from the Warsaw Uprising Museum:

In 1944, the people of occupied Warsaw decided that they had had enough, and revolted against the Nazi’s. Unfortunately, they counted on Stalin being somewhat human, a mistake. Stalin considered the Polish revolution was dangerously nationalist, which did not suit his post-war plans (starts with c, ends with ummunism). Not only did he not lift a finger to help the Polish people, but he also forbad the other Allied forces to help.

Churchill, a decent guy, decided to airdrop food and supplies against Stalin’s wishes. However, without access to the Soviet’s airfields, the planes could only carry limited cargo to allow for the fuel necessary for the long flight to and from English airbases.  Roosevelt never got involved, replying to Churchill's request for assistance with "I do not consider it advantageous to the long-range general war prospect for me to join you". It’s always a little jarring how cold and calculating even the supposed good guys can be in these situations. 

So when the enemies of their enemies mostly stood idly by, the Polish troops fought a hopeless battle. With the lack of food and arms, they quickly were trapped in their own barricades. In two districts, the Nazi troops went systemically house to house and killed absolutely everyone. After the official surrender, the Nazi’s continued to demolish the city, Only 15% of the city remained standing in the end, and the Polish death toll was about 200,000 people. I think the saddest thing in the museum were pictures of the rebels after they've been captured and are entering the concentration camps. Some of the women are politely smiling for their identification photo.

Next year, for the 70th anniversary of the uprising, the museum will release a movie made from real footage of the war. The trailer is incredible, you should watch it.

Now the city has been rebuilt, with massive buildings and sidewalks, supposedly because Stalin liked to make people feel insignificant. I quite liked the city, including the sidewalks. The people were friendly, especially Martyna and Axelle; the food was cheap and good, especially the pierogi; and the national museum had beautiful paintings, especially this one by Malzceski:

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