Our last full day in Warsaw led us to several dead ends. Thankfully, we had been searching for them.
These walls served to delineate the Warsaw Jewish ghetto from the outside world, so much so that wooden footbridges were built to connect the two halves of the ghetto while keeeping their inhabitants off of the Aryan street below. Most somber of all: the Jewish Community not only had to suffer inside of these walls, but construct and pay for them, as well.
The history of the Jewish ghettos is long and arduous, dating back to medieval times. In the context of occupied Poland in WWII, circumstances were especially dire. The brick walls that seperated the entirety of the Warsaw Jewish community from other Polish citizens are among the last remnants of the ghetto. Our guide supplemented our brief visits with written testimonies pulled from diaries and survivors, each speaking of unfathomable conditions.
Walking through the non-ghetto streets of Warsaw, it is apparent that conditions weren’t much brighter; plaques in Polish are affixed to walls strewn with seventy-year old bullet holes, the sites of sporadic (and often mass) murders of Warsaw’s non-Jewish residents. Later that afternoon in a third-floor classroom, fourteen students listening intently to an elderly man speaking entirely in Polish. He waited patiently, beaming at Machek as he translated the epic saga. This man, a Major in the Polish resistance, had joined the movement at age thirteen. At fifteen he was selected to train with the Special Forces (who were smuggled via parachute back into the country), and at seventeen he commanded a platoon of young teenagers in the two month battle against the occupying Germans. He estimates that their forces were outnumbered approximately 1,000 to 1, but in his words “after two years of constant terror, we didn’t require much motivation to fight”. All of our self-worths took a major hit that hour, and righfully so.
Warsaw was a whirlwind, and Krakow has been gale-force. Tours upon tours have led us up, down and around the heritage sites of this gorgeous city.