KRAKOW TOURS: Krakow is now the best place in Europe to sample Polish craft beers, and brews from independent beer makers around the world, but just five years ago it was almost impossible to find anything on tap other a handful of bland, gassy lagers. It has been a lightning revolution that shows no sign of fizzling out.
In the years after the fall of Communism in Poland, multi-nationals such as Heineken and Carlsberg quickly gobbled up the few remaining national breweries. These companies used their marketing muscle and scale to convince Polish bar managers to stock the ‘must-have’ brands. Nearly all these beers were pasteurised lagers of similar strength and taste. For the discerning beer drinker in Krakow, the situation was dire.
About five years ago, a small number of entrepreneurial pub owners in Krakow decided to turn the accepted pub business model on its head. Instead of selling mainstream beers, they focused instead on providing beers from regional and independent breweries. Consumer response was overwhelmingly positive and, before long, these bars began to build loyal followings.
KRAKOW TOURS: Four weeks ago he was in Poland, fighting back tears as he gave the keynote address at Auschwitz-Birkenau in homage to his father who perished at the gates of the notorious death camp in 1944. Two weeks ago he was in Hungary, where his father disappeared, watching the grand final of Australia’s premier soccer league on his laptop.
Though seemingly unrelated, these two events are bittersweet bookends in the colossus life of Australia’s Frank Lowy.
Faith and soccer – two code words to unlock the heart of the 82-year-old co-founder of the Westfield shopping mall empire and chairman of Football Federation Australia.
His rags-to-riches fairytale has amassed a $5.3 billion fortune, according to Forbes magazine, after arriving in Australia in 1952 virtually penniless having surviving the Holocaust on the run before fighting in Israel’s War of Independence.
But his business instinct has not compromised his Jewish faith or his faith in soccer – both of which he learned from his father Hugo.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day Lowy told more than 10,000 people – including his wife, sons and one granddaughter – how his father had been beaten to death upon arrival in a cattle wagon because he refused to sacrifice his tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries).
“I never realized that he had strength – the spiritual strength – to take on the brutal guards here in Birkenau. No matter how hard they hit him, he protected the sanctity of his tallit and tefillin,” Lowy said, his voice cracking.
“They could break his body but they could not break his spirit. The tallit and tefillin were part of him, part of his personal relationship with God, and he was ready to die for them. And he did.”
At Auschwitz lies a cattle wagon used by the Nazis and restored by the Lowy family, dedicated to the memory of Hungarian Jews who perished there.
In 2009, at a private ceremony, Lowy placed a blue prayer bag inside the wagon as a symbol of his and his father’s faith. It brought to a close a 50-year search to discover his father’s fate that ended in 1991 when one of his sons had a chance encounter with an unrelated American man called Myer Lowy who had witnessed Hugo’s death.
“This has really, in a sense, defined his entire life,” Lowy’s rabbi, Levi Wolff, told Haaretz this week. “He’s been able to now appreciate the Yiddishkeit that his father lived for and died for.
A 93-year-old man who was deported from the U.S. for lying about his Nazi past was arrested by German authorities Monday on allegations he served as an Auschwitz death camp guard, Stuttgart prosecutors said.
Hans Lipschis was taken into custody after authorities concluded there was “compelling evidence” he was involved in crimes at Auschwitz while there from 1941 to 1945, prosecutor Claudia Krauth said.
Lipschis has acknowledged being assigned to an SS guard unit at Auschwitz but maintains he only served as a cook and was not involved in any war crimes.
Krauth said, however, that a judge upheld her office’s request for an arrest warrant after concluding there was enough evidence to hold him before charges on accessory to murder are brought. Bringing formal charges, a process similar to a U.S. grand jury indictment, would take another two months, she said.
In the meantime, Krauth said a doctor has confirmed Lipschis’ health remains good enough for him to be kept in detention.
Lipschis does not currently have an attorney, and a public defender has not yet been appointed, she said.
Lipschis was deported from the U.S. in 1983 for lying about his Nazi past when he immigrated to Chicago in the 1950s after the war.
With no evidence linking him to specific war crimes, however, it was impossible under previous German law to bring charges against him in Germany.
But the case is now being pursued on the same legal theory used to prosecute former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk, who died last year while appealing his 2011 conviction in Germany for accessory to murder on the grounds that he served as a guard at the Sobibor death camp.
Under the new line of thinking, even without proof of participation in a specific crime, a person who served at a death camp can be charged with accessory to murder because the camp’s sole function was to kill people.
Even though the Demjanjuk conviction is not considered legally binding because he died before his appeals were exhausted, the special German prosecutors’ office that deals with Nazi crimes has said that about 50 other people in the same category are being investigated.
Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi hunter with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called the arrest of Lipschis — who is No. 4 on his current list of “most wanted Nazi war criminals” — a good start.
“This is a very positive step, we welcome the arrest,” he said in a telephone interview from Israel. “I hope this will only be the first of many arrests, trials and convictions of death camp guards.”
In an interview last month with Die Welt newspaper at his home in southwestern Germany, Lipschis said he spent his entire time as a cook and had witnessed none of the atrocities. He did say, however, that he “heard about” what was going on.
About 1.5 million people, primarily Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz camp complex between 1940 and 1945.
KRAKOW TOURS: Holocaust Educational Trust gets £500,000 for Auschwitz visits.
More than £500,000 is to be awarded to a scheme which gives schoolchildren the chance to visit the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The Scottish government announced the funding for the Holocaust Educational Trust, which was set up in 1988.
‘Seeing Auschwitz with my own eyes made me appreciate how much people suffered”
Mhiara Mackenzie, Student
It will allow two youngsters from every school and college in Scotland to go to the site in Poland and hear the testimony of a Holocaust survivor.
More than 1,000 Scottish students have taken part in the project to date.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in modern day Poland was where more than a million people, most of them Jews, were killed by the Nazis during the course of World War II.
The Lessons from Auschwitz project aims to develop young people’s understanding of the possible consequences of prejudice and racism in society.
First Minister Alex Salmond said: “It is right that we continue to fund these learning opportunities to ensure that as a society we never become complacent when regarding the dangers of prejudice, intolerance, discrimination and hatred.”
The scheme will receive £510,000 of further funding over the next two years.
University student Mhiara Mackenzie took part in Lessons from Auschwitz in 2009.
She said: “Participating in the project was a life-changing experience, one that I will never forget.
“Seeing Auschwitz-Birkenau with my own eyes made me appreciate how much people suffered during the Holocaust.”
The chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Karen Pollock, said: “We are delighted that the Scottish government will continue to fund our Lessons from Auschwitz Project.
KRAKOW TOURS: British historian Professor Norman Davies has welcomed a decision by Krakow councillors to erect a statue of Wojtek the Bear, who ‘served’ with Polish soldiers during World War II.
“Polish history is very often tragic, it’s heavy on the emotions – people talk about it sometimes in sacred tones,” he told Polish Radio’s English Section on Thursday at a press conference at Krakow’s town hall.
“And this is a heart-warming, natural, human way into that whole subject.”
Wojtek was a Syrian bear who was adopted by the Polish Second Corps, a formation chiefly made up of men released from Soviet labour camps after Stalin was compelled to sign an amnesty in 1941.
“Wojtek is not just a nice story about a bear who became a soldier. He’s a symbol of a big group of people – 100,000 strong and more – who came out of Stalin’s Russia,” Davies reflected.
Cable network History UK has commissioned the World War II doc-series Heroes of War (pictured) from Sky Vision.
The five x 60-minutes series will focus on unsung heroes from wartime Poland such as Witold Pilecki, a man who intentionally got arrested and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in order to witness the atrocities there, and exiled Polish commandos who trained in Britain and returned to fight in their homeland.
Episodes will feature a mix of interviews with experts and eyewitnesses, re-enactments and archival footage. “Heroes of War will take us back to a time when ordinary people became extraordinary heroes, freedom fighters, spies and code-breakers, often in deadly battles with Nazi forces,” Sky Vision head of programming Danny Tipping said in a statement.
The series will premiere this year on H2 in the UK and on History in select European countries. It will be distributed by Sky Vision.
Relics of the communist era abound in this Krakow ‘suburb’ and, as David Whitley finds, some are coming back into fashion.
Java is in a state of near panic. “No! No! Not the red light!” our driver shouts at the road ahead of him. If he has to stop now, he might never start again.
The journey so far has been noisy, juddering and punctuated by exhortations to the shambolic red box we’re trapped inside to not give up the ghost just yet. We’re in a model S (“some say it means sport, some say it means super, most say it means shit”) Trabant. It’s the iconic Communist-era car across much of eastern Europe, and this one was built in 1989, the year the Iron Curtain collapsed. The engine, however, appears to be somewhat older – perhaps belonging to a neglected lawnmower from the 1950s.
That might not be too wide of the mark, actually. It has a 200cc, two-stroke engine and spits fumes out of the back like a flatulent dragon. There’s no fuel gauge – you have to open the bonnet and dip a plastic ruler in to check the level. Java admits that he usually cheats and just shakes the car to see how heavy it is.
Driving it is the motoring equivalent of dragging a seriously wounded colleague to safety across a bullet-ridden battlefield. It’s no wonder that Java lets out an ecstatic, gallows humour-drenched “Yee-es!” every time he manages to successfully change gear.
Once ubiquitous throughout Poland, the Trabant’s role is now one of novelty. Java says you can’t even buy them dirt cheap any more – the prices are being inflated by vintage-car collectors. But for the purposes of today’s trip, our hobbling red box on wheels is perfect.
KRAKOW TOURS: Few historical accounts evoke emotion like the Holocaust, and few expeditions epitomise the true meaning of the word ‘bravery’ like swapping uniforms with a Jewish inmate to break into Auschwitz.
Denis Avey, a veteran of World War II, claimed to do this in his moving memoir, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz (2011), which I have immersed myself in over the Easter holiday. When discovering that the integrity and accuracy of the account has been questioned by a number of publications, I felt robbed and cheated. Surely this masterpiece is not a cynical act of exaggeration?
Co-written by Rob Broomby, a journalist at the BBC, Avey writes of his experiences in the war; the hunger, pain, omnipresent fear of death and the thriftiness required to survive. It is thrillingly written, and done so with the clarity and poignancy of a man who waited 62 years to reveal the full account of his experience, after first being approached by American prosecutors in 1947. But the book, as suggested by its title, revolves around Avey’s astonishing break-in to Auschwitz III.
An obvious question is to ask why Avey only told his story in 2009. The man himself claims that authorities simply were not interested in hearing about his ordeal; instead, he became acclimatised to bottling up his emotions, channelling them through pernicious means. Avey describes screaming in the middle of the night alongside his first wife Irene, even throttling her in unmitigated terror at one point, as memories haunted him. Reticence is entirely understandable if he did indeed experience the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp.
KRAKOW TOURS: Seventy years ago today a Nazi train was stopped by resisters as it travelled from Flanders to Auschwitz.
Althea Williams tells the story of a survivor.
Kazerne Dossin, a former infantry barracks, during its use as a detention centre in 1942.On the night of April 19th, 1943 a train pulled out of Mechelen, a small town in Belgium. It carried 1,631 men, women and children and was the 20th convoy to leave the infamous Kazerne Dossin assembly camp for Auschwitz-Birkenau. Up to that point, of the 18,000 people who had already made the journey only a handful had escaped.
This time three young men, Youra Livschitz, Robert Maistriau and Jean Frankelmon, students at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, lay in wait for the train. Ten miles down the line, they flagged down the convoy using a lamp covered with red silk to resemble a warning light. Armed with just two pairs of pliers and a single pistol, they cut through the barbed wire that secured the heavy bolts on the outside of each cattle car. Two hundred and thirty-seven Jewish deportees took their chance, pushing themselves through tiny windows, or wrenching the doors aside, falling or leaping into the dark. The Germans fired upon the fleeing shadows and at the easier targets of those who waited for their loved ones to follow.
In one of the carriages were Channa Gronowski and her 11-year-old son, Simon. As the train accelerated again, escape seemed impossible. But the mood in the carriage had changed and men broke open the lock on the door. Channa lowered Simon by his shoulders onto the footrail. He remembers his mother hesitating, saying: ‘No, the train’s going too fast!’ But Simon had jumped, rolling down the embankment. He leapt to his feet unhurt and waited for his mother to follow. The train halted and shots rang out. Three people fell. After 20 minutes of shooting and searching, the train departed and with it Simon’s mother.
Simon ran all night, through woods and over fields. He intended to reach Brussels and find his father, Leon, absent when the Germans had raided their home. He knew he risked capture but he needed help so he knocked on a door. His clothes torn and covered in mud, he said he had been playing with friends and had got lost. He was taken to the local police officer; Simon was sure he would be arrested. Jan Aerts had indeed guessed Simon came from the train but he had no intention of betraying him. He took him home and his wife fed him and washed and mended his clothes. The policeman helped Simon catch a train back to Brussels and he was finally reunited with his father, although they spent the remaining years of the war hidden in separate locations. Channa Gronowski was sent to the gas chambers on arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Simon’s sister Ita, 18, was sent on a later convoy and was also killed at Auschwitz.
At the Liberation, Leon Gronowski wrote: ‘People flood the streets, wild with joy; crying, laughing, singing, embracing each other. But I am miserable … My loved ones are still in the camps … I wander through the streets aimlessly; my heart is bleeding’. Ignorant of his wife and daughter’s fate he died of pulmonary disease in June 1945.
A total of 25,833 Jews and over 352 Roma were deported from Kazerne Dossin. Of the 233 people who attempted escape from the 20th convoy, 26 were shot that night. One hundred and eighteen got away of whom 89 were recaptured, 79 of these were deported on later convoys and 153 survived Auschwitz-Birkenau.
As for the three who stopped the train, Youra Livschitz was captured and executed in February 1944 and Jean Frankelmon was arrested soon after and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was liberated in May 1945. He died in 1977. Robert Maistriau was arrested in March 1944. He was liberated from Bergen-Belsen in 1945 and lived until 2008.
Today Simon Gronowski lives in Brussels and practises as a lawyer. He has two children and four grand-children. For over 50 years he hardly talked about his past but, following a chance meeting between his daughter and Robert Maistriau’s son, he was persuaded to overcome his reluctance to speak publicly about his experience. He has now written a book and speaks regularly in schools.
In the context of the Belgian occupation, when the number of active resisters is thought to have amounted to only about six per cent of the population and helping escapees was punishable, Jan Aerts and his wife were unusual people. Simon Gronowski was fortunate to have encountered them.
Gronowski’s story and those of many others are related in the new Kazerne Dossin Museum and Documentation Centre of the Holocaust and Human Rights, one of the most ambitious in Europe. The Kazerne Dossin replaces a smaller museum about deportation and the Resistance; the Flemish government agreed to finance the 25 million euros necessary to renovate the previous museum on the condition that its scope and aims were completely revised. It cited the dwindling number of survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust and its wish to show that Flanders not only recognises its part in the Nazi period but intends to contribute to the study of the mechanisms of exclusion, intolerance and racism in today’s society. The new museum owes its growing reputation to its efforts to render the Holocaust relevant to a younger public, drawing attention to the underlying conditions that can lead to human rights’ violations.
Local councillors in Warsaw are pushing for a roundabout near the central railway station to be named after the late Lady Margaret Thatcher.
Wojciech Bartelski, mayor of the central Warsaw borough of Śródmieście and member of the centre-right Civic Platform, told Polish Radio that the best way for the capital to honour the late British prime minister who died on 8 April would be to name the roundabout at the junction of Chałubiński and John Paul II streets after her.
Local councillors from the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), however, want the roundabout to be named after Edward Gierek, who replaced Władysław Gomułka as communist party first secretary in Poland in 1970.
2013 marks 100 years since the birth of Gierek.
Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who is deputy leader of the ruling Civic Platform, has said he would like to see a statue of Lady Thatcher – whose funeral he attended on Wednesday – placed outside the Hala Mirowska market place, not far from the roundabout, which the British prime minister visited while in the Polish capital in 1988.
It’s been a busy few weeks for Justin Bieber.
His pet monkey was quarantined in Germany, he attacked a photographer, got kicked out of a Paris hotel and rolled up two hours late for his opening night at the London O2, leaving thousands of “Beliebers” to stagger home at midnight on a school night.
All in all, that’s pretty standard stuff for a pop star coping with adulation and adolescence. Teen idols, after all, occupy an entirely different universe. Shenanigans are in the script and colossal egos make them the entertainers they are. Stay tuned to see Justin shave his head, smoke a tropical cigarette and book into rehab.
But in the eyes of many, this once wholesome starlet has transformed from Cliff Richard to Keith Richards in under a year. Now, it seems, he can’t do good for doing bad.
The 19-year-old’s latest blunder took place in the unlikely setting of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam last Friday. After touring the museum for an hour, he wrote in the guestbook that he hoped the Jewish teenager (who died in 1945 at Bergen-Belsen, aged 15, from typhus and malnutrition after hiding from the Nazis with her family for two years) “would have been a Belieber” – a fan of his.
Cue the collective Twitter cringe.
Yes, it was a crass, silly, self-obsessed thing to write. Using Anne Frank’s memorial book to self-promote requires a rare brand of teenage arrogance. And yes, Justin probably deserves much of the stick he’s getting on Twitter (“Justin Bieber also believes Primo Levi would have really enjoyed ‘One Less Lonely Girl’… thanks @Jeffrey Goldberg).
Justin’s words may not have been particularly inspiring or sympathetic, but they certainly weren’t malicious. They were simply the clumsy thoughts of a young man lacking the eloquence to write or sing anything more profound than, “Baby, baby, baby, oh, like baby, baby, baby.”
Thanks to his 37 million devoted Twitter followers (he recently overtook Lady Gaga as the site’s most popular user), Justin has unintentionally become the best thing to happen to Holocaust awareness since Schindler’s List. Thanks to a self-centered teenager’s inane comment, 37,569,749 young people around the world are learning a little about the life of Anne Frank – a true teen idol if there ever was one. (Bieber’s Twitter following has increased by more than 10,000 in the hour I’ve been writing this).
Had she been born at the turn of this century, Anne may well have been a Belieber. She was certainly a pop culture fan, (“I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I am free”). Last month, aged 84, she may have been seen hurrying with her grandchildren to catch the last Jubilee Line train from the 02, thanks to Justin’s rock ‘n’ roll tardiness.
Sadly, all we are left with is her diary, which stands as a testament to what youthful spirit can overcome.
Perhaps, thanks to their hero’s silly words, a handful of Beliebers will download her diary and begin to appreciate how only time and good fortune separates them from Anne’s fate.
We’ll never know what Anne Frank would have thought of Justin Bieber. But today, 68 years after her death, young people are clearly still profoundly touched by her story – however ineloquently they express it.
Over 10,000 people are taking part in today’s March of the Living at the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The participants are chiefly Jewish students and schoolchildren from across the globe, as well as about 500 Holocaust survivors.
Ron Lauder, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, is among this year’s attendees, as is General Benny Gantz, Chief of the General Staff of the Israeli Army.
The educational programme for the young, which runs over a number of days, takes in visits to several Holocaust sites on the terrain of what was Nazi-occupied Poland.
Besides German war crimes, the participants also learn about Righteous Gentiles who endeavoured to save Jews.
It is estimated that about 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust.
About 2.6 million were gassed at the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno and Belzec. The majority of the remainder were shot at innumerable sites across Nazi-occupied Europe.
It is estimated that about 1.1 million people died at Auschwitz-Birkenau alone, including about 70,000 ethnic Poles, 21,000 Roma and 15,000 Soviet POWs.
The first March of the Living was held 25 years ago, with the route following the 3 km road between the former Auschwitz camp and Birkenau, where most of the gassings took place.
KRAKOW TOURS: A little internet access can be a dangerous thing. This became apparent while planning a trip to Poland’s second-largest city, Krakow. I email my father a link to a restaurant’s website with the message: “I booked us a table here on Saturday night.”
Three minutes later he replies: “I hope everyone likes pike stew.”
They don’t. I’m embarking on a weekend with a few fussy eaters and keeping the menu at this Polish TV chef-run restaurant a secret is proving difficult. I found rave reviews online, the same place my father is now accessing the menu and gagging about pike stew. Therein lies the rub of travel in our online age: you can take and you can give but you can’t please everyone.
We plan Krakow with military precision involving numerous emails before flights and apartments are booked. In the weeks before take-off, I copy and paste articles into my smartphone’s notepad. I email myself the names of bars and directions to the train station.