Day 29 – Warsaw
For our first day in Warsaw we decided to go to the Warsaw Uprising Museum and Pawiak Prison.
The Warsaw Uprising started on the 1st of August 1944 and was the largest resistance movement against the Nazi’s during World War 2. This museum takes you through what happened during those 63 days with sights, smells and sounds.
A few days after it started the Nazi’s send a message to the insurgents by rounding up 30,000 people and executed them, men, women and children included. They also used civilians as human shields on the German tanks to try and stop the attacks. The Polish utilised the sewage system in the city in order to get across to all of the different sections of the city they still had control of, and the museum has recreated some of the sewers in the basement of the museum.
There was an amazing amount of artefacts that had been collected despite that fact that the entire city was bombed to the ground.
This picture below is of furniture that had been found that had a specific purpose of hiding letters. One of the tables even had a hidden compartment that was unknown to the museum until 2 years ago. The walking stick hanging off the back of the chair alone had about 8 different letters within it when it was found. There were also some threads rolls that had been used by some of the post girls during the uprising so that should they be caught, the letters were likely to go undiscovered.
At the beginning of 1939 there were 1.3 million people living in Warsaw, 30% were Jewish. By the beginning of the Uprising there were 900,000 people left. At the end of 1945 there were 1,000. Upon orders of Himmler, 85% of the city was destroyed in order to set an example to the rest of Europe.
In between our two main stops we also visited the Jewish Ghetto Memorial as well as Umschlagplatz which is the square in Warsaw where the Jews were gathered for deportation to Treblinka extermination camp.
Second on our museum list was Pawiak Prison. It was used originally by the Russians as a transfer prison before deporting people to Siberia, then was used by Polish after independence as a male prison, followed by the Gestapo during Nazi occupation. After the entire of Warsaw was bombed all that remained of the prison was one half of the gate outside and a tree which stood tall among the rubble. The bottom half of some of the jail cells inside Pawiak survived and have now been rebuilt into what you can see today. The tree outside died but because of the obituaries nailed to it dating from 1944, they had it recasted in bronze and it stands back in its original place with the obituaries.
The prison inside takes you through the Nazi occupation of the prison, showing you all sorts of things that they had found in the rubble as well as a small amount of information on each of the camps that people were sent to from Pawiak. They have also collected a large amount of items from prisoners who lived through the war, as well as asking families of those who died during Nazi occupation for information on their person.
They had also fully reconstructed some of the original cells and had found a full original cell door that they used to reconstruct the rest.There was an amazing amount of art drawn by some of the inmates including some caricatures of Gestapo officers and other inmates. My favourite piece though was this one below. Some told some really harrowing stories themselves of what it must have been like to be in the prison at that time.
We ended our day going for a general wander around the city and stopped for some weird ice cream. It was a mistake, don’t do it! They look hilarious but taste disgusting!
On the way we came across another monument to the fallen and murdered in the East. It mixes a range of Catholic and Orthodox crosses, alongside Jewish and other religious symbols to commemorate anyone who was murdered by the Soviet occupation. I don’t think many monuments or statues mix all religions in like this and it was almost nice to see.
Day 30 – Warsaw
Day 2 of our treck around Warsaw was slightly more relaxed and we had managed to pack it a lot yesterday. First up was this little museum of photos called Photoplasticon. It was basically a giant revolving picture booth and you sat and looked at all the pictures of old Warsaw. It was amazing to see just how similar some of the buildings are now. As the majority of the city was bombed to the ground, it was decided that it should be rebuilded the way it was. It still amazes me how smartly people used to dress of a daily basis, with even the young boys wearing hats.
One of the things I wanted to go and see was the Jewish Ghetto wall. Even though we didn’t have time to go to the Jewish Museum, some of the other museums had shown a lot of photos and even videos from life inside the walls. There is only one small section that remains, which is literally in the parking spots for one of the blocks of apartments. It was the largest Jewish Ghetto in Nazi occupied Germany, and we’ve read lots of stories about people helping out the Jews on the inside. Over 400,000 Jews lived within these walls, with at least 300,000 being transported from Umschlagplatz which we saw the day before. Many died in the Ghetto itself as food rations were so small. Warsaw are starting to do that same as Berlin and draw out the original lines of the Ghetto wall where possible.
There are so many memorials across the entire city of Warsaw it’s actually quite amazing. Our last monument stop was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where an eternal flame is lit and guarded alongside soil from every battlefield Poles have fought in. It’s at the end of Saxon Garden which is a really pretty park. We were lucky enough to time it correctly to see a changing of the guard happen. These happen on the hour every hour.
It was then time to do something a little more jolly and wander around the pretty little reconstructed old town. We even managed to find a random food festival and enjoyed an amazing BBQ’d Polish late lunch.