In late 1940, the Germans built the Wolf’s Lair in the middle of a forest, far from major roads and urban areas, and close to the Soviet Union. Completed by June 1941, the complex housed 2,000 people, including Adolf Hitler himself. A failed assassination attempt is well documented here.
It was an eery feeling to be in a place from which so much hatred brought about millions of deaths throughout the world. Now overgrown with trees, the bombed out buildings like in piles of concrete rubble…a sign of the destruction that authoritarianism eventually brings about.
This church in Northern Poland is named for a wooden statue of Mary (Heiligelinde, which means Holy Linden tree) under which miracles took place. While the current church dates from the 1600s, a chapel was deeded in 1491 by the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights. Heiligelinde has been a pilgrimage site since then, but It was destroyed in 1525 during the Protestant Reformation, when the region became Lutheran.
Tthe Roman Catholic faith was again approved in East Prussia in 1605, after which the chapel was rebuilt by the Jesuits and consecrated in 1619. The current chapel became a popular pilgrimage site among the Roman Catholic populace of the surrounding counties as well as the Lutheran Masurians. The nave of the present church was finished in 1693 while the facade and the adjacent cloister were added by 1730.
When we stumbled on this church that appears to be in the middle of farms, we couldn’t believe how unique it looked on the outside. We waited for mass to let out (the mass had just begun), delaying other locations on the itinerary to have a close look. The baroque details and colorful interior were well worth the wait.
The Museum of the Second World War was established in 2008 in Gdańsk, Poland. It is devoted to the Second World War. The original concept of the museum was strongly criticized by national-conservatives as not focusing enough on Polish heroism and promoting "socialist-type pacifism". Newly appointed management of the museum has promoted re-nationalizing the museum and displaying Polish martyrology. The architectural team that designed the building won the architectural competition.
The High Tatras are the tallest range in the Carpathian Mountains. The range runs along the border of Poland and Slovakia. I wish I had taken more pictures of the towns that we drove through. Lots of ski resorts and unique looking buildings with high pitched roofs. Very beautiful place. And one town we drove through was Gronkow in Poland … could that be where Gronkowski’s family is from?
Today it is a museum housing the Crown Treasury & Armory, State Rooms, Royal and Private Apartments, Lost Wawel, and Exhibition of Oriental Art. We needed separate tickets for each of them, so we splurged and it was worth it!
The State Rooms and the Private Apartments were the best part. The Cathedral was consecrated in 1364! And the original was founded in the 11th century!
The first church built on the site of present day St Mary’s Basilica was built in the 1220s. The views from the tower are a real highlight and have amazing views of the whole city.
On every hour, a trumpet signal is played from the top of Saint Mary’s towers. The song ends mid-stream to commemorate a famous 13th century trumpeter, who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city.
Saint Mary’s Basilica also served as an architectural model for many of the Polish churches that were built abroad, particularly those like Saint Michael’s and Saint John Cantius in Chicago.
By far, this is one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever seen. It rivals Prague and Budapest, which are both extraordinary.
- Royal Wawel Castle and Cathedral – Today it is a museum housing the Crown Treasury & Armory, State Rooms, Royal and Private Apartments, Lost Wawel, and Exhibition of Oriental Art. We needed separate tickets for each of them, so we splurged and it was worth it! The State Rooms and the Private Apartments were the best part. The Cathedral was consecrated in 1364! And the original was founded in the 11th century!
- The main square is Rynek Glowny (main square) – Europe’s largest medieval town square (200m x 200m).
- Town Hall Tower – The Tower is the only remaining part of the old Kraków Town Hall (Ratusz,) demolished in 1820 as part of the city plan to open up the Main Square.
- St Mary’s Basilica – The first church was built in the 1220s. The views from the tower are a real highlight and have amazing views of the whole city.
- The Church of Saints Peter and Paul is a Roman Catholic, Polish Baroque church built between 1597–1619. It is the biggest of the historic Churches of Kraków.
- Florian’s Street is one of the main streets in the Old Town.
- On our way out of town, we visited Schindler’s factory, which housed the former enamel factory of Oskar Schindler, the Nazi who famously saved the lives of his Jewish labor force during the Holocaust.
In 2000, Kraków was named European Capital of Culture.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this 13th century historic center is a merchant’s town with Europe’s largest market square and numerous historical houses, palaces, and churches with their magnificent interiors. The town’s fascinating history also includes remnants of 14th century fortifications and the medieval site of Kazimierz with its ancient synagogues, Jegellonian University, and the Gothic Cathedral where the kings of Poland were buried.
Birkenau (Auschwitz II) is where most of the mass killings actually took place. The camp had more than 300 prison barracks. Still remaining are remnants of gas chambers and crematoria.
- At Birkenau from 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe.
- Jews were killed in large numbers using a pesticide called Zyklon B.
- About 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, and at least 1.1 million of them were executed.
- 90 percent of those killed were Jewish.
One of the last buildings I saw in Birkenau was the one that left the most lasting impression. It is a building where medical experiments were performed on pregnant mothers or new mothers and their newborn children. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the pit in my stomach I felt when I read that sign.
It is almost impossible or maybe even irresponsible to visit Krakow without taking a day trip to Auschwitz. We decided that we wanted to enjoy Krakow and ordered our trip to visit heartbreaking Auschwitz first.
Auschwitz (Auschwitz 1) is the main camp. Birkenau (Auschwitz II) is the larger camp about 2 km away.
Auschwitz I began as a polish military barracks, but the Nazis converted it into a death camp in 1940. You will see the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” in some of the pictures. This translates to “Through Work Freedom”.
It was a very depressing and moving exhibit with piles of shoes, glasses, luggage and other items heaped in never-ending piles with their rightful owners long-perished.
Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners, who began to arrive in May 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941.
Of those not killed in the gas chambers, many died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.
Prisoners remaining at the camp were liberated on 27 January 1945, a day now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In 1947, Poland founded the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, and in 1979, it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.