We arrived late into Warsaw after a 7 hour bus trip. I am blaming this for our little mistake with currency exchange where we got out $1000 worth of Polish zyoty instead of $300. We were using the Hungarian rate instead of Polish. So stupid!
After reading the Lonely Planet we were not really expecting much from Warsaw as Krakow seemed to be the jewel in the crown. We had war museums to see but other than that it didn’t seem to have much to offer. But we were pleasantly surprised by the place.
The walk into old town was lovely with the streets lined with different colored buildings and then into actual old town through the Barbican (tower like structure). A lot of the buildings have paintings on the facades or textured patterns. You soon hit the main square which would be the main attraction of old town. It’s called old town but really everything here was rebuilt after 1945. Warsaw was leveled in World War 2 but I will get to that soon. The buildings around the square were all different colours and designs which gave it a really cool eclectic feel. We soon discovered that the next day was Independence day for the Polish. It then hit home what day it was and the added significance of 11th of November for the people of Poland. We also discovered that we should also book our train for the next day as it would be full of people heading to Kraków our next destination for the long weekend. So we headed to the train station and did just that. Next up was the museums.
The first museum we entered was the Warsaw Uprising museum. We purchased our tickets and entered into a wall of school kids. There would have been at least 3 groups of 20 kids that entered when we did. On top of that there were people everywhere. To the point where it made it uncomfortable as people were jostling and passing while you were trying to read the exhibits. It was also the worst laid out museum where you had to search for the next exhibit in chronological order. But we still got some fantastic information out of it.
Poland was pretty much doomed from day 1 in the war. In previous posts we have mentioned the secret agreement in between Germany and USSR where they split up Eastern Europe, well Poland was split and to be the border between the two countries. So Germany invaded from the west and hit Warsaw hard and a few days later USSR hit from the right under the guise of helping the Polish against the Germans.
Warsaw surrendered to the Germans after about 16 days with massive casualties. The museum then took us through life in Warsaw. The exhibition was actually about the Home army who took up arms in 1944 and tried to expel the Germans from Warsaw. The fighting was horrific with Warsaw being heavily bombed again by the Germans. The Home Army didn’t have much help from the Allied forces as they had their own issues to deal with and Stalin was not helping or letting the Allied forces use his airfields to drop supplies. The Germans went on a free for all and killed anyone they could get their hands on including wounded, women and children. The home army eventually surrendered and to a man were deported to the concentration camps.
The next museum was the History of the Jewish population in Poland. This started as far back as the 14th century and detailed their history right up to present day. Interestingly Jewish people became involved in money lending due to the Christians in the day not being able to charge interest on a loan for fear of damnation. The Jewish people not having that issue became the lenders.
After the Germans invaded Warsaw and took over, things were equally as bad for the Poles and the Jews. Then slowly things changed. Jewish people had to wear the star arm band, their rations got cut, they had to live in a ghetto (an area of Warsaw that had been walled in) and not leave for fear of death. The jobs assigned to them were the hardest and most dangerous. Their homes were raided and valuables taken, their bank accounts frozen, their businesses shut down. Their rations were slowly cut to the point where thousands starved.
Those who survived this then got sent to the death camps. Each day for months between five and six thousand Jews were rounded up from the ghetto and sent via train to the camps. One day the Germans put out an announcement that those who came to the square would get double rations. That day 16,000 people were trained out. In total 300,000 were sent to death from Warsaw.
It really is incomprehensible. Those poor people. The atrocities performed on humans by humans makes you sick to the stomach. It really was a harrowing museum which we both left feeling like we needed a stiff drink afterwards. S
The walk into Old Town.
The entrance into Old Town.
Old town square.
These amazing old pumps were in the square for drinking water. Unfortunately they were not working.
Walking towards Central Station you can’t miss the Palace of Culture and Science. A gift of friendship from the Soviet Union in the 50’s.