Sorry that these last few posts are coming so fast, but so much is happening every day and it’s hard to find the Internet on lots of days. We finally had three hours on a train in Sweden today to catch up and who knows when we’ll have the Internet again and my “set post date” doesn’t work so hang on…here you go:
I LOVE history! In school I thought I didn’t care for it…just a bunch of facts and dates BUT as soon as I began to travel, and I saw history before my very eyes, it was been a whole new world. Even though World War II was truly a world war, to me, Eastern Europe is the cradle of that war. The learning curve for me has been off the charts for the past week as we have been standing in the very spots where much of the war took place. And I was pretty much oblivious to what happened after the war.
Bullet holes still in the stone columns at the top of Wenceslaus Square in Prague is just a tiny reminder of what happened there. From the exportation of Jews to camps all over Europe to the “rescuers”, the Soviets, who took over after the war and were, in many ways worse than the Germans to The Velvet Revolution led by Baclav Havel in 1989 when these Eastern block countries began to move toward Democracy is of endless interest to me! This gave me a whole new appreciation for what was going on in Eastern Europe during the time Saren and Shawni were on their missions in Bulgaria and Romania from the beginning of 1993 to mid-1994.
We had met a terrific couple when we were in Warsaw in March who live in Krakow and invited us to a fascinating tour of the city and a lovely dinner in the Old Town Square. As a graduate of the Wharton Business School, he was asked to come to Poland just after The Velvet Revolution in 1991 to help restore capitalism to Poland. He settled in Krakow and met his darling wife there. They have two beautiful children and are making a difference in Poland!
They told us that the Poles were especially feared and hated by the Soviets (as well as the Germans). When the Russians took over Krakow after the Germans left they marched 22,000 professors, doctors and other members of the upper class into the woods at a place called Katyn and shot them in the back of their heads. The thought was that it would be much easier to control the country if only the peasants were left! They then ruled with terror and an iron hand for the next 35 years! She said that during the Russian occupation, food was very scarce and only occasionally people received coupons for shoes. As a child she remembers getting a pair of shoes that were handed to her and going home to try to trade them with someone who had her size. It never occurred to her that there were places where you could buy shoes that actually fit.
Of course Krakow is brimming with love and remebrances of Pope Paul II. During communism the beloved Pope would come to his home town, Krakow and be greeted by a million passionate followers in The Old Town Square. In his youth he was a common laborer there and was a thespian, thus a wonderful story teller with a common touch. The children adored him and were instructed to call him “uncle” instead of “father” because that was crossing the line for the communist rulers. Hundreds of children would gather in a small square while the Pope told them stories from a window above where they sat:
Skipping ahead in time for a moment: This couple said that the Polish people love Americans. Immediately after the tragedy of 911 in the US, literally thousands of flower memorials were placed on the street in front of the US Consulate. In recent times they aren’t too happy with our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan as many Poles were sucked into that conflict and lost their lives there.
The city is overflowing with history as well as the amazing Prague Castle with a fire-breathing dragon in front:
Good King Wenceslaus lived here, the king of the kingdom of Bohemia. At that time Krakow was the center of the slave trade. He was so violently opposed to slavery that he bought many slaves so that he could set them free.
Of course Pope John Paul II has a presence here as he lived here off and on for many years.
The city of Krakow has at least 30 Catholic churches, all stunning….
The Church of The Twelve Apostles:
And the beautiful Old Town Square:
And a gorgeous “green belt” with stately old trees.
And the seminary where John Paul studied:
The next post is our day at Auschwitz which was a devastating experience but we did drive by the new thriving Jewish Quarter as well as the area of the Ghetto where 80,000 Jews had been rounded up and crammed into a very small space before being sent off to the gas chambers. Here is a portion of the wall around the ghetto. Such a sad memory!
And not far from here is Schindler’s factory which is the basis of the amazing movie Schindler’s List. These are the gates to the factory and the pictures of those he was able to save from the holocaust!
What a horrific part of Krakow History. For maybe more than you want to know, see the next post and our visit to Auschwitz.