Poland

Posted by Mason Allen Buskirk on July 14, 2016 in Study Abroad |

My night on the train to Warsaw was quiet for the most part, but early in the morning, after we had crossed the border into Poland, the engine driver was blowing the locomotive’s horn quite often and loudly, and my compartment was relatively close to the front of the train. Fortunately, as the train was comparatively not as full as usual, the night was otherwise uneventful.

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So, that morning, we pulled into Warsaw main station, and I parted ways with yet another traveling companion, a native of the land, who told me Poland had many beautiful girls after we stepped off the train. I made my way to the traveler’s center in the middle of the station, where I reserved a room to sleep in Warsaw for the night, and found a location to have breakfast that morning. Like in many other great cities in Europe, they are never in wanting of trams for some reliable rapid transit to save your legs a little, and it was a Godsend for me since I had to carry my backpack nearly everwhere. Fortunately the weather in Poland was somewhat cooler, and afforded less sweat on my brow.

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My first destination in Warsaw to explore that day was in the Old City, at the Old Town Market Square, considerably the portion of the city Warsaw can be known best for by visitors.

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It was painstakingly restored after World War II, and was the center of the public life of Warsaw until the 19th century, and is full of beautiful, tall, ornate, and colorfu houses, which lend the square its character.

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Nearby, and an even more impressive sight, lies St. John’s Cathedral, finished in the early part of the 15th century.

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I then slowly wandered along the Royal Route, one of Warsaw’s most historic and beautiful streets, situated along the Vistula river, and is where the social elite once built summer residences and town houses.

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Along the street lies some of the city’s most amazing churches, all of which I visited, including St. Anna’s, St. Joseph’s, and the Church of the Assumption.

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After a brief stop at an outdoor cafe for lunch, I ventured towards a stirring sight of the Monument to Those Fallen and Murdered in the East, when Poles were forced from their homes and sent by train into the depths of the Soviet Union. It was designed by Miroslaw Biskupski and was unveiled in 1995. It is a monument to the memory of the thousands of Poles carted off in cattle vans to the East, where they were murdered in Soviet Prison camps.

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Nearby was a beautiful view of the Town Hall, surround by lavish gardens, but the most lavish sight to behold in the greater part of Warsaw was a few metropolitain and tram stops away. It was Lazienki Park, a huge park, studded with palaces, temples, and monuments, and originally dates from the Middle Ages when it was of the Mazovian Dukes.

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It later fell into the hands of the Polish crown, and once was home to a royal menagerie. One of the most recognizable pavilions of the Palace, which late became known as the Palace on the Water, is today one of the finest examples of Neoclassical architecture in Poland.

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The Nazis planned to destroy it, but due to their lack of time during their withdrawal from Poland during the war, they merely set fire to it, and luckily it was restored by 1965. Duirng my visit to this magnificent Palace by the river, there were even, much to my confusion, peacocks, strutting around on the pavilion, to the enjoyment of the other visitors.

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These mysterious and beautiful birds were a sight to watch, and an unexpected end to my first day in Poland. I took the tram back to my room for the night, and slept well. The next morning, I enjoyed a lovely breakfast, courtesy of the innkeeper who made efforts to even bring sardines and other foods I enjoy for my morning meal. If you ever visit Warsaw, simply ask me the adress of the inn, and I’ll research it again, as they were so kind, and the private room was very cheap. Many things are cheaper in Poland, and other countries in Eastern Europe, by comparison with the rest of the Continent. After my breakfast, I took the tram back to the station, and reserved a bed on a train to take me to my next destination, as well as a ticket to take me to my last adventure during my time in Poland. So, I hopped off the platform, and once again onto another train taking me on another adventure. The weather was bright, adn warmer today, and might have belied in some minds what I was on my way to see before leaving Poland. I then changed trains in Cracow, and stepped onto a slower, local train.

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It was much older, and the ride was bumpier, but the view out of the open window captured my fancy, as I enjoyed more and more beautiful Polish countryside. That afternoon, I arrived in the station of a small Polish town called Osweiecim, and things were quiet as I soon discovered upon stepping out of the station. I then called for a cab, and to my advantage cabs in this nation were exceptionally inexpensive indeed. The cab ride answered my questions of as to how I would arrive and how I would come in time to the purpose of my being there. Sure enough, my efforts were not in vain. There I was standing under the entrance ”Arbeit Macht Frei”. The German name of this town is Auschwitz…

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I barely uttered a word while I slowly walked through the streets of the camp, and photographed as I was permitted to, and it was an honor to be able to do so.

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It was only an hour or two before closing time, but visitors were allowed to stay at least an hour after the doors shut. It was quiet, and there were not too many others during my visit.

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In every camp building, there was a quantity of exibits for a particular facet of the liquidation of Jewish communities from many countries in Europe, and the fight that the Polish Solider fought during the War.

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A plaque, in Polish and English, in memory of the unsung, and valiant Polish Army, and the longevity of their trial of battle in the War. I was unaware of their greater plight, by comparison with the Allies, until now.

I was especially captivated by the valiancy and the length of the battle the Solider of the Polish Army had to face, and the efforts made by other nations, and Gentiles, to help smuggle their Jewish brothers and Sisters to neutral countries like Sweden, where they could be safe.

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There also lay a notebook where travelers from around the world who had come to pay their respects wrote their words of condolence for those who had died on these grounds, and their commemoration for those who helped to keep the Jews from harm, at the risk and the loss of their own lives. I left my words as well, and set off my hat to the Polish army, and the long trek of wartime, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, they faced against the Third Reich, fighting at first on their own, then at the side of the Allies, in Europe, the Soviet Union, and even in Northern Africa.

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And, of course, I expressed my sorrows to the innocent lives killed here, who were forced to bear the Star of David, and were made a spectacle of mockery, before their demise.

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At the time of writing this, I am nearly on my way to visit another land in Europe, Denmark. The legend has it, when the Nazis gave word to Occupied Denmark they were to expect a liquidation of their Jewish peoples, the King encouraged all Danish citizens, Jew or not, to wear the Star of David, and the King Strode out on horseback bearing one himself, so as to confuse and befuddle the Germans when they arrived to drag them away!

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Of all efforts by nations occupied and attacked by Nazi Germany, Denmark managed to save the most of its Jewish population by size, and safely sent off thousands to Sweden. I ended my visit to the camp seeing the railway line entering the camp where the prisoners were unloaded out of goods vans, boiling in the summer, and freezing in winter, as the sun began to set. I then hired a cab one last time to take me back to the railway station, where I then quietly waited for the train, on which I would travel further…

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