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Wojtek the Bear to get Krakow Statue

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.

The Bear That Went To War

“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.

via Krakow votes for WWII soldier bear statue – National.

April 28, 2013 Posted by | News | , , , | Leave a comment

History UK orders “Heroes of War”

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.

April 25, 2013 Posted by | News | | Leave a comment

Krakow In Your Pocket

KIP cover

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Events, News, Recommendations, Tour Information | Leave a comment

Do the time warp again in Nowa Huta

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.

via Do the time warp again.

April 21, 2013 Posted by | Krakow Travel Advice, Recommendations, Tour Information | , , , , | Leave a comment

Denis Avey: To believe, or not to believe?

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.

The Man Who Broke Into AuschwitzDenis 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.

via Denis Avey: To believe, or not to believe? — Books — The Boar.

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz | , , , | Leave a comment

Krakow: The Magical City

April 20, 2013 Posted by | News | | Leave a comment

Surviving Auschwitz

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.

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.

April 19, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Margaret Thatcher roundabout’ in Warsaw?

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.

April 18, 2013 Posted by | News | , , | Leave a comment

Justin Bieber: the best thing to happen to Holocaust awareness since Schindler’s List

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.

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz, News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

March of the Living held at Auschwitz

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.

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | | Leave a comment

Krakow: Small but perfectly formed

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.

via Krakow: Small but perfectly formed for a long weekend – Travel News | Ireland & World Travel Advice & Tips | The Irish Tim – Sat, Apr 06, 2013.

April 7, 2013 Posted by | Krakow Travel Advice, Recommendations | , , | Leave a comment

Germany ‘tracks down 50 suspected Auschwitz guards’

KRAKOW TOURS: Fifty alleged former Auschwitz guards may face prison terms in Germany, sixty-eight years after the end of World War II, local media have reported.

The former Auschwitz guards, who’ve never faced prosecution for their posts, were tracked down by the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in Ludwigsburg.

The suspects may be charged with accessory to murder. The investigators possess the names and location details of the suspects, men in their 90s, who originate from all over Germany, the chief prosecutor Kurt Schrimm confirmed on Friday.

He did not specify where the suspects are, but said some possibly moved to South America with the help of the Catholic Church. The federal law enforcement body is set to launch a preliminary investigation into the issue in the coming weeks.

The sentencing in 2011 of John Demjanjuk, a former guard at Sobibor concentration camp, set a precedent that allows authorities to bring proceedings against former concentration camp guards, even if the investigators cannot prove their direct involvement in the crime due to lack of witnesses.

“From now on, any activity in a concentration camp is enough to stand trial for complicity in murder,” the chief prosecutor said.

Demjanjuk, a native of Ukraine, lived in the United States after the war, but was stripped of citizenship and deported to Germany, where he was convicted of accessory to murder of about 28,000 people who died at Sobibor concentration camp based in occupied Poland. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison in May 2011.

The Munich Court then held that, although Demjanjuk cannot be imputed to any specific criminal acts, he “was part of the machine of destruction,” according to the verdict. He died in March last year in before the ruling came into effect.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau camp operated by the Third Reich in occupied Poland was the largest Nazi concentration camp during WWII. It was established by Third Reich’s Minister of the Interior Heinrich Himmler as the place of the “final solution” in the policy to annihilate the Jewish people in Europe.

There the Nazis killed about 1.3 million people of diverse nationalities, around 90 percent of whom were Jewish, according to data given by the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau. Those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.

The center for solving crimes of National Socialism in Ludwigsburg was founded in 1958. Since then it has tracked down a total of 7,485 Nazi criminals, according to Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz | , , , | Leave a comment

Franz Ferdinand booked for Krakow festival

KRAKOW TOURS: Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand will play at this summer’s Coke Live Festival in Krakow.

The Glasgow band’s confirmation puts them on the same bill as Florence and the Machine, promising plenty of interest from music fans both from Poland and beyond.

Franz Ferdinand, who take their name from the ill-starred Habsburg archduke whose assassination sparked the First World War, blazed to fame in 2004 with hit single “Take Me Out.”

The group is currently immersed in rustling up their fourth studio album, meaning that fans should be able to savour some fresh material at the festival.

Also newly confirmed are fellow Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro, whose last album Opposites topped the UK charts.

Krakow’s annual Coke Live Festival was first held in 2006, and previous guests have included Kanye West, Kaiser Chiefs, Jay Z, Placebo, The Prodigy and Snoop Lion (formerly known as Snoop Dogg).

This year’s edition runs from 9-10 August, and will be held within the grounds of the city’s Aviation Museum.

via Franz Ferdinand booked for Krakow festival – :: News from Poland.

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Events, News | , , | Leave a comment

Auschwitz survivor, Slave of Siemens.

KRAKOW TOURS: I was 23 when I first met my cousin Gilbert Michlin. He was sitting at a brasserie near his office in Paris wearing a dark suit with a folded handkerchief poking out of the breast pocket. His short, dark hair was perfectly combed.

He said, in charmingly accented English, “There is one thing I must tell you: I was in Auschwitz.”

Of course, I already knew. But I had never met a survivor before, let alone our French cousin, who had been a slave laborer for Siemens at the death camp.

via For one Holocaust survivor, Siemens was a roadblock to his story | JTA – Jewish & Israel News.

April 1, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz | , , | Leave a comment


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