Porta Polonica is a site (courtesy of the Westphalian State Museum of Industrial Heritage) devoted to the culture and history of Poles in Germany. Some examples of the dozens of articles therein: an account of the novelist Witold Gombrowicz’s year in Berlin; a biography of the pioneering harpsichordist, pianist and composer Wanda Landowska; a piece about Jan Łukasiewicz, who devised what was once known as ‘Reverse Polish Notation’; a brief account of Rosa Luxemburg’s career; an article about star of stage & (silent) screen Pola Negri; and a piece about the letter ‘P’ worn by the millions of Polish forced labourers in wartime Germany.
A Polish student of mine tells me they all see this documentary about photographer Julien Bryan in high school. He was an American who was in Warsaw at the beginning of the war. The four-part documentary (which includes his film Siege) is available on YouTube, dubbed into English. [more inside]
"Ida" (trailer: YouTube & Apple) is a black & white (and a Polish language) film from Poland by director Pavel Pawlikowski (this link contains spoilers). Hailed a film "masterpiece" by more than one critic, the film has now been recognized in America by not just one Oscar nomination (Foreign Language Film) but a 2nd in the broader category of Cinematography. For those interested in filmmaking, cinematography, and lighting, here is a look at three scenes from Ida. More? Here are another four scenes. The film is not without controversy, including Poles who are upset at the portrayal of their countrymen (and women) during the Nazi occupation and the Stalinism that followed WWII. Does 'Ida' misrepresent Poland's treatment of Jews?
What happens to a nation that's suffered a great crime? What happens when the wrong can't be made right?
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the largest organized rebellion by Jews during World War II. Marek Edelman, a leader of the uprising, recalls the ghetto and the revolt. [more inside]
"A farming town hid a Jewish-born teacher during the Holocaust. I went to dig up what it had buried."
Though I grew up in America, I have been visiting my family in Poland since I was a child. But it is only recently, since the great debate began two years ago between [Jan] Gross and [Timothy] Snyder over the causes and extent of Polish co-operation with the Nazis during the Holocaust, that I thought to ask the old people of my family village about what happened during the war. My grandparents mentioned bits and pieces of our family’s World War II history over the years, but it often seemed too painful for them to recall, or as though they wanted the memories to simply be forgotten. When I finally decided to broach the topic with them, my grandmother repeated that she didn’t understand why I cared to dig so deep into the past, why I cared so much about Wladyslaw and his story.[more inside]
Heavy Breeding. "In 1920, the brothers Lutz and Heinz Heck, directors of the Berlin and Munich zoos, respectively, began a two-decade breeding experiment. Working with domestic cattle sought out for their 'primitive' characteristics, they attempted to recreate 'in appearance and behavior' the living likeness of the animals’ extinct wild ancestor: the aurochs. 'Once found everywhere in Germany,' according to Lutz Heck, by the end of the Middle Ages the aurochs had largely succumbed to climate change, overhunting, and competition from domestic breeds." [more inside]
In a high profile gaffe President Barack Obama has recently caused anger in Poland by referring to a Nazi death camp as a "Polish death camp" during a ceremony honoring World War II hero Jan Karski with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “The White House will apologize for this outrageous error,” Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski tweeted. Sikorski said that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk “will make a statement in the morning. It’s a pity that this important ceremony was upstaged by ignorance and incompetence.” [more inside]
802 Prisoners attempted escape from Auschwitz. 144 were successful. Kazimierz Piechowski, a Polish boy scout, was one of them. Today, at age 91, he tells his story. [more inside]
Poetry in Hell contains a complete collection of poems recovered from the Warsaw Ghetto's Ringelblum Archives. The project, which took ten years to complete, gives English translations of poems that are shown in their original Yiddish. [more inside]
At dawn on September 1, 1939, the German Luftwaffe began the indiscriminate bombing of the Polish town of Wieluń and a German battleship, the SMS Schleswig-Holstein, shattered the dawn breaking over the Westerplatte by unleashing a barrage of 280mm and 170mm shells at a Polish fort. At Mokra, the Polish Calvary staved off two Panzer Divisions. A day of commemorations has begun in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. [more inside]
Do you, or an older relative of yours, recognize any of these children? More than 70 children separated from their families during WWII, now all elderly men and women, are using the Internet to try to find some answers about their pasts, their families, and sometimes even their own names. They are soliciting help and suggestions in the comments sections on each story. [more inside]
Upon the Nazi invasion of Poland, pediatrician Eugeniusz Łazowski and his friend Stanisław Matulewicz fabricated a fake typhus epidemic to save Polish Jews from the Nazis. Knowing that typhus-infected Jews would be summarily executed, non-Jews were injected with the harmless Proteus OX19, which would generate false positives for typhus. [more inside]
In 1945-46, some of the (very few) Polish Jews who had survived the Final Solution returned -- sick, poor, wounded -- to Poland. In Elie Wiesel's words, "they had thought all too naively that antisemitism, discredited 6 million times over, had died at Auschwitz with its victims. They were wrong." In 2001 Princeton professor Jan T Gross published the story of the 1941 destruction of the Jewish community at Jedwabne, Poland, and proved how Jews were rounded up, clubbed, drowned, gutted or burned to death not by German forces as previously believed but by mobs of their own non-Jewish neighbors. Now professor Gross tells the story of the Kielce pogrom in his new book, "Fear". Of course, the Kielce butchery took place in 1946 -- more than a year after the end of WWII and defeat of Nazism. More inside.
"They are demanding that I kill the children of my people with my own hands"On October 4, 1939, a few days after Warsaw's surrender to the Nazis, Adam Czerniaków was made head of the 24 member Judenrat, the Jewish Council (write "Czerniakow" in the linked page's search box) responsible for implementing German orders in the Jewish community (interactive map of the Warsaw ghetto). On July 22, 1942 -- Tisha B'Av, the "saddest day in Jewish history" -- the Judenrat received instructions that all Warsaw Jews were to be deported to the East (exceptions were to be made for Jews working in German factories, Jewish hospital staff, members of the Judenrat and their families, and members of the Jewish police force and their families. Czerniaków tried to convince the Germans at least not to deport the Jewish orphans). Czerniaków kept a diary from September 6, 1939, until the day of his death. It was published in 1979 in the English language as the "The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniaków: Prelude to Doom", edited by one of the most prominent Holocaust scholars, Raul Hilberg. More inside.
Eroica. Film director Andrzej Munk’s tragic death at age thirty-nine might have formed the plot for one of his own darkly sardonic works: a Polish Jew and an active resistance worker during the war, he was returning home from shooting his film Passenger at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1961 when an oncoming truck struck his car. He left behind only four feature films, but his influence was prodigious. As one of the key figures of the postwar “Polish School” of filmmaking, along with Wajda and Kawalerowicz, he helped to shape a vision that broke with the official social realist optimism of Eastern-bloc dogma and cast a skeptical eye on official notions of heroism, nationalism, and life in the Stalinist-occupied state. Mentor to Roman Polanski and Jerzy Skolimowski, his influence can be felt even in the films of a later generation of Polish filmmakers — directors like Zanussi and Kieslowski. More inside.
Poland's Class of 1936 - A WWII Survivor's Quest. 'There were twenty-five proud graduates in 1936 from Krzemieniec High School, famous as Poland's Eton. From their graduation photo they smiled confidently -- university and illustrious careers awaited them in a Poland that had recently arisen from the ashes of World War One. A Nobel Prize in their chosen field was a legitimate ambition ... ' [more inside]