The last couple of days have been pretty exhausting. We have left Poland and are not in Vilnius, Lithuania. We took an overnight bus to get here so most of us are pretty tired. However, we saw quite a bit today (luckily we didn’t have to walk all over and had a bus to drive us). First we went and saw the old town of Vilnius, and our guide Victoria described some of the history of the city for us. Next, we drove to St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, which was incredible inside. I will post a picture of the inside because it is too intricate to describe. Finally, we drove to the Gedimina’s Castle. The views from the top of the only remaining tower were beautiful, and definitely worth the climb.
After soaking in all of the amazing views and art I began to think about my research question. Victoria did not mention the Germans very much, but she did say there was a street named German street because back before the World Wars each ‘nationality’ would each have their own section of the city. This allowed to concur that at least before the World Wars relations with the German population were good in Vilnius. As for after the World Wars I am not sure about, but I intend to find out.
We walked all around Warsaw and saw many things. First, we visited the remains of the walls that surrounded the Jewish ghetto. Then we visited the last remaining synagogue in Warsaw after the war and we watched a 30 minute video about how life was in the Warsaw ghetto. Along the way we saw many memorials for Janusza Korezaka; this man ran an orphanage and when the Nazi’s came to take the children to Treblinka (a death camp) he went with them to calm them down and perished along with 200 children in the gas chambers. This may not seem very significant, but Januza was given a pardon and would have been saved, yet he sacrificed his life to keep the children calm and happy.
The story I just mentioned relates to my topic because it shows how many people were affected by the German occupation. This man, who was essentially free, gave his life for those children, and the Nazi’s killed him anyone. Also, our tour guide in Warsaw mentioned a few times how the Nazi’s didn’t follow the rules of war. For example, they would bomb hospitals; this is clearly unethical, but they did it anyways. This shows me that my guide here in Warsaw, who was a young boy during the time of the war, does not think highly about the Germans, and often talked negatively of the way they acted in regards to the rules of war and ethical issues. Overall, the view of the Nazi’s/Germans in Poland is not a positive one.
Today we had the opportunity to visit the Jewish cemetery. Not many people get to do this and we were very fortunate that our guide had the means and trust of the Jewish community to be able to show us this treasure. When first entering it felt like a different world; It was very peaceful with trees and stone pathways. However, once I started to look at the tombstones I started to see the damage.
This relates to my topic because the lengths that the Jewish community are going through to preserve what is left of the tombstones is amazing. During World War II the Nazis destroyed the tombstones that were there. There was one that was still standing that had a bullet hole through it. This shows me the negative feelings the Jews of Lublin had for the Nazis; which of course they have every right to feel that way.
Today we did many things; they involved visiting the Majdanek concentration camp, Belzec death camp memorial, the Krefnekretski memorial, and a synagogue in Zamosc. I felt like I have a new understanding of how the death/concentration camps work from visiting Majdank and Belzec. The most interesting part, for me, was that everything in Majdanek was original. I feel like this made the horrific events seem more real rather than something you just hear about. It also made me incredibly sad to be in a place where so many people perished.
Relating to my research topic; the visit the the Krefnekretski memorial showed how the Polish regard themselves as being superior to other groups of people, such as a the Germans. This shows me that they are very biased in their opinion of their nation. Also, the fact that if you were Jewish meant that you could not be Polish even if you were born and lived in Poland your entire life.
The last couple of days have been filled with a lot of activity and an extreme amount of walking. Yesterday I visited the museum of the underground ruins the are located beneath the old square. Some of the exhibits go as deep as 16 feet and date back to the 13th century. After that we toured one of the first churches of Krakow and the very first college of Krakow, which was established in the 14th century. Then once I thought I was done for the day I remembered that I still had to tour the salt mines. The mines were amazing and went down over 300 feet. It is something that you definitely have to experience to understand how truly amazing it is.
Today we went to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II. It was a very somber day, with overcast skies and an overall gloomy feeling. It was very eye opening to actually see and be where the victims of the Holocaust lived, and sadly most of them died.
As I have stated before my research project is to discover what kind of perspective or thoughts the Polish have about the Germans. Obviously, going to Auschwitz the overall feeling was hatred towards the Germans for all of the horrendous crimes they committed during World War II. Also, I have noticed, with very careful observation, that many of my tour guides subtly insult the Germans. It is often hard to notice that it is even an insult, but I believe that it is just their way of thinking about the Germans so they don’t even realize they are insulting them. I have a couple examples of times where I noticed the subtle insults:
- When I was in the underground ruins the guide made a comment something along the lines of, “And the Germans whined saying it couldn’t be done, but of course, the Polish figured out a way to do it.” — He was talking about a time before WWII, but from that comment I got the feeling that he felt the Germans were weak or inferior and the Polish were the ones who were superior.
- Next, when I was going through my salt mine tour the guide was telling us a story about how the Germans had occupied the mine during WWII and they were in a boat trying to get to the other side of one the lakes. She said something along the lines of,”They were not smart enough to figure out that you cannot swim in these lake because of the brine. So when they capsized they all drowned. In my opinion, she was insinuating that the Germans were not very smart people.
- Lastly, during our tour of Auschwitz, one of the other people in my group had asked a question about how someone could doubt that the Holocaust actually happened, especially with all of the evidence laid out in front of them. The guide responded with, “Usually the only people that doubt the Holocaust actually happened speak German.” This allows me to concur that he had negative thoughts towards the Germans, and possible was blaming them for still trying to cover up the horrible crimes they committed.
I plan to use this evidence I have collected along with other research articles I find to draw a consensus on what the Polish perspective of the Germans really is today, and then compare it to there perspective during WWII.
Today we visited the Wawel Castle, which is where the Polish kings used to reside. The most recent king lives in Warsaw. It was a very beautiful and interesting place; it had a lot of tapestries and paintings from the 16th century, and most of the ceilings were original from when the castle was built. I did not learn much about the German presence in Poland from this trip, however, it was mentioned that the Nazi’s used this castle as a communication center/headquarters. During that time the Polish took all of the valuable things from the castle and transferred them to a safe place in Canada because they were afraid of what the Germans would do with all of those artifacts. This allows me to concur that they did not think highly of them at this time.
I created this blog to document my trip to Poland and Lithuania, as well as to work through the research I will be doing there. My research topic: The portrayal of Germans; I will compare/contrast how they were portrayed during World War II and present day. During my adventure to Poland/Lithuania I will look at the language and images used when talking about the German population. I will be looking at this in past and modern day papers, in museums, and during my tours around the cities I will be visiting. My main goal: to discover how Germans are perceived by the Polish population.