Tag Archives: World War II

One Side of Warsaw

The tourist information office of Warsaw proposes various trails you can follow in the Polish capital. Ingrid and I chose the theme of “Warsaw Judaica”, with three trails. Here are our highlights.

The ghetto of Warsaw

When the Germans invaded Poland, they treated the Jews of Warsaw in the same way as in other cities. They put them in a ghetto in October 1940. Traces of that awful event – with or without a memorial – can be found in various places. All you have to is to look around and to look down:

Pawiak

According to Wikipedia,

Pawiak (Polish pronunciation: [ˈpavjak]) was a prison built in 1835 in Warsaw, Poland.

During the January 1863 Uprising, it served as a transfer camp for Poles sentenced by Imperial Russia to deportation to Siberia.

During the World War IIGerman occupation of Poland, it became part of the Warsaw concentration camp. In 1944 it was destroyed by the Germans.

Not a happy place either… In summer 1942, the Germans started deporting Jews from the ghetto to concentration camps. Tens of thousands stayed behind, fighting against the Nazis during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. Pawiak became the place where the Germans fought back.

All that is left now is a memorial tree and the Museum of Independence (which was closed when we were there).

Umschlagplatz

Or what the Germans called the “transfer site”. It was here that tens of thousands of Jews were deported to the concentration camps. The monument has almost 450 names and a verse from the Bible, commemorating this event.

Monument to the Ghetto Heroes

This monument was unveiled at the 5th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In 1970, Willy Brand, Chancellor of Germany, knelt in front of it, thus asking forgiveness for the crimes of Germany against the (Polish) Jews.

By the way, the big building opposite the monument is the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

The Jewish Cemetery

Here I think the pictures speak for themselves… I only selected a few of them and later this weekend, I will upload all of them on Flickr.

Anne And The Hills

A couple of facts about Bergen – Belsen:

  • Originally, it was a prisoner of war camp. Near the end of World War II, it expanded into a concentration camp.
  • More than 100.000 people died here.
  • There were no gas chambers in this camp; most people died from illness, starvation or exhaustion.
  • Not only Jews ended up here, but also intellectuals, everyone who was against the Nazi regime, homosexuals and gypsies.

All of the buildings were destroyed during and after the liberation of the camp. Still, there is a heavy atmosphere; it is as if the ghosts from the past haven’t left the place yet…

Because there are still traces. When you are at the entrance for instance, you can see some lovely hills further away. Upon closer inspection, they turn out to be mass graves.

And there are graves and memorials with touching inscriptions. The most famous one is that of Anne and Margot Frank…

Entrance to the camp is free; you have to pay a small fee for the exhibition area.

Where Heroes Died …

When we came back to the hotel from the Wannsee, we passed a street called Stauffenbergstrasse. I wondered what the connection was between the man and the street… Back in the hotel, I googled the name of the street and found out that the Bendlerblock was located there.

The day afterwards, Lars and I had a look. The Bendlerblock was built in the beginning of the 20th century and was used by several department of the Wehrmacht during World War II. It is better known however as the headquarters of General Stauffenberg and his resistance group who tried to kill Hitler and create a new government. When Hitler discovered that Stauffenberg was one of the conspirators, he had him and his staff immediately executed in the courtyard of the Bendlerblock.

Nowadays this courtyard has been turned into the Memorial to the German Resistance. The place where the conspirators were shot is marked by the statue of a naked man and in front of it there is a plaque, embedded in the ground, with the following text:

You did not bear the shame.

You resisted.

You bestowed the eternally vigilant symbol of change

by sacrificing your impassioned lives for freedom, justice and honor. (translated from German)

Nearby there is a museum, which is not only dedicated to Stauffenberg and his men, but to other resistance groups as well.

Sachsenhausen – Part 1

For our last destination of day 2, Lars and I went to Oranienburg.

The city is located to the north of Berlin and is especially known for the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, whose remains have now been turned into a museum. It was built in 1936 and served initially as a camp for political prisoners. During the course of World War II, Sachsenhausen developed into an extermination camp, with living conditions comparable to those of for example Auschwitz.

In spring 1945, when the Russians were approaching Berlin, the Germans forced more than 30.000 inmates to a death march. Most of these people died of exhaustion or illness or were executed. About 3.000 inmates who had been left in the camp were liberated by the Polish and the Russians afterwards.

Unfortunately, after World War II, Oranienburg found itself in the Russian zone. The Russians turned the former concentration camp into a “special camp”; most prisoners were ex-Nazis, anti-communists and Russian collaborators. In total 60.000 prisoners stayed in the camp, which was closed in 1950. 12.ooo of them had died mainly because of the very bad living conditions.

Today I publish pictures in black and white.

 

The Controversial Memorial

I am referring to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. According to Wikipedia,

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe[1] (GermanDenkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas), also known as the Holocaust Memorial(German: Holocaust-Mahnmal), is a memorial in Berlin to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. It consists of a 19,000 square metres (4.7 acres) site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae“, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The stelae are 2.38 m (7 ft 10 in) long, 0.95 m (3 ft 1 in) wide and vary in height from 0.2 to 4.8 m (8 in to 15 ft 9 in). According to Eisenman’s project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. A 2005 copy of the Foundation for the Memorial’s official English tourist pamphlet, however, states that the design represents a radical approach to the traditional concept of a memorial, partly because Eisenman did not use any symbolism. However, observers have noted the memorial’s resemblance to a cemetery.[2][3][4] An attached underground “Place of Information” (GermanOrt der Information) holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from the IsraelimuseumYad Vashem.

Building began on April 1, 2003 and was finished on December 15, 2004. It was inaugurated on May 10, 2005, sixty years after the end of World War II, and opened to the public two days later. It is located one block south of the Brandenburg Gate, in the Friedrichstadt neighborhood. The cost of construction was approximately 25 million.

The memorial is controversial, and was described by Ignatz Bubis, the then leader of the German Jewish community, as unnecessary.[citation needed]

Lars and I were impressed. It’s not only the size of the memorial, it’s also the size of each of these stelae. Walking around them felt a bit like walking around in a labyrinth. You felt lost. Maybe I am wrong, but I had the feeling that this is what the artist tried to convey: the feeling of loss. That’s what all the victims had to endure: the loss of their possessions, their dignity and hope.

You can judge for yourself. I chose black and white again for the pictures.

The Roger Raveel Walk – The Monument and The Tree

Before we came to Machelen-aan-de-Leie, I had never heard about the place. And when you arrive there, it is hard to imagine that such a small village has a lot to offer when it comes to history, culture and nature.

One of the first interesting stops on the Roger Raveel Walk is situated in the Dorpsstraat.

In the middle of the street you can see a small square with a monument and a tree. The monument was erected in 1919 to commemorate the victims who had died in World War I and the tree, which stands for freedom, was planted then as well. After World War II the names of the victims of that war were added on the monument.

The sculpture refers to Hercules who frees himself from his shackles, just like Belgium did after two World Wars. And just like Hercules looks forward to a better future, Belgium did that too after two terrible wars.

Our first trip of 2013 – Having lunch in Westkapelle

The second weekend of January 2013 started with cold but sunny weather. Excellent conditions to go for a walk and Lars and I chose to explore the region of Vlissingen in the Netherlands.

I have the feeling that we are a bit cursed. When we started with our Ypres Salient Car Route, there were roadworks in Ypres; we had the same problem in Metz and now in Vlissingen … roadworks again. After 30 minutes of driving around we finally found a place to park the car and went to the Tourist Information Office (called VVV in the Netherlands).

We bought a cheap map where we could easily find the highlights of the area. To be honest, I have been in Zeeland lots of times before and I couldn’t wait to start exploring new villages and beautiful places.

Since we had left Belgium quite late in the morning, it was already time for lunch when we left Vlissingen for our first destination: Westkapelle.

This small town had a lot to endure during World War II. According to Wikipedia,

On 3 October 1944, the dyke to the south of town was destroyed by British bombers – an event still known in Westkapelle simply as “‘t Bombardement” (“the Bombardment”) – to flood the German occupation troops in Walcheren and so make liberation easier. 180 inhabitants were killed in the bombing and the village was all but wiped off the face of the earth by the bombs and the incoming sea. On 1 November 1944, Allied troops performed an amphibious landing on the northern and southern edges of the gap made in the dyke. During these landings, only six people remained in the village; the rest of the survivors had been evacuated to other villages nearby. It took until 12 October 1945, more than a year later, to finally close the gap in the dyke.

A visible reminder of the Second World War is the brackish lake formed by the inrushing flood when the dike was bombed. An M4 Sherman tank was placed on the dyke as a memorial to the war and to the village’s liberation. Behind the lighthouse, placed in a semicircle, are the graves of the war dead.

We found a place on the dyke where we could park the car and have lunch. In the meantime I took these pictures:

Last Trip of 2012 – The Aquatic Maginot Line

At the end of our drive we stumbled upon a sign which said “Maginot Aquatic Line”. I think the correct translation should be “Aquatic Maginot Line”. But what exactly is it? According to the text on the sign,

The Maginot aquatic Line in the sector Hoste to Sarralbe was built to establish a natural barrier against the advancing German forces during the Second World War. The water flow of the Mutterbach River being too weak and irregular, the retaining storage water ponds could feed in any event the flood gate thru a drainage system to submerge the entire area in 36 hours. Despite the numerical and material superiority of the first German Army, these water works caused considerable delays in their progression during the battles of June 14th, 1940 of the Saar breach campaign. Today, these ponds have brought about a remarkable conversion to fishing and tourism, thus contributing to the friendship between our two people.

I have the feeling that the original French text was literally translated to English, thus resulting in a text that sounds a bit awkward. Anyway, as far as I understand this, the French used the force of nature against the Germans. Anyway, this was the last post about our last trip of 2012. Let’s move on to 2013!