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November 30, 2015 Posted by | Events, Recommendations | , , , , , | Leave a comment

25th Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków

A jubilee edition of the 25th Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków began on Thursday, bringing thousands of visitors to the city.

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This year’s edition will see as many as 300 events, led by artists and speakers from countries including Israel, the US, Hungary, Germany, Austria and Poland.

Concerts, lectures, workshops, exhibitions, guided tours and film screenings (among the latter special showings of Oscar-winning Polish movie ‘Ida’) are all in store.

The programme is divided into four sections: Classic, Off (Offbeat), Ideas and Art.

This year, organisers are placing a special emphasis on Kraków’s Kazimierz quarter, the district that for many centuries was the centre of Jewish life in the city.

As always, the ‘Shalom on Szeroka’ open-air concert will help wrap up the festival on Saturday 4 July, although there will also be some events on Sunday 5 July.

For the full programme, see the festival’s official Jewish Cultural festival website.

June 26, 2015 Posted by | Events, Krakow Travel Advice, News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Kraków edition of Monopoly in the pipeline

A Kraków edition of the classic game Monopoly is due to be released this autumn, and the most expensive and cheapest properties have already been decided in a public vote.11043409_946767118675102_9127463680525827262_o

Over the last few days, listeners of Radio Kraków and readers of Gazeta Wyborcza were given the opportunity to vote for the best and worst properties respectively.
Radio Kraków listeners voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Wawel citadel as the top property (62 percent), while Gazeta Wyborczareaders picked Stalinist-era settlement Nowa Huta as bottom of the heap (35 percent).Runners-up for best property included the Main Market Square (16 percent) and Floriańska Street (7 percent), while at the other end of the spectrum, the Podgórze district (18 percent) came in second behind Nowa Huta.Peculiarly, although Podgórze was considered to be beyond the pale by many of the city’s inhabitants until recent years, the once down-at-heel district is now among the city’s most fashionable.

The first Warsaw edition of Monopoly was released in 1992, and Gdańsk was given its own version in November 2014. Kraków joins the group 80 years after the first ever edition was released in the US in 1935, when Atlantic City served as the prototype.

June 15, 2015 Posted by | News | , , , | Leave a comment

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June 8, 2015 Posted by | Krakow Travel Advice | , , , | Leave a comment

IG Farben Opens Factory at Auschwitz #krakowtours

KRAKOW TOURS – Infamous for its close involvement with the Nazi war machine and some of the worst atrocities of the Holocaust, the German firm IG Farben opened a new factory close to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi occupied Poland on 21st May, 1942.

IG-Farben-Factory-at-Auschwitz

IG Farben was probably the most well known corporate participant in the Holocaust, and the company’s history sheds a chilling light on how genocide became tied in with economics and business.

Founded in Germany in 1925, the IG (Interessengemeinschaft) conglomerate quickly became the largest syndicate in Germany and the biggest chemical concern in the world, until its dissolution in 1945. The company grew out of a merger of German chemical, pharmaceutical and dye manufacturers, including BASF Aktiengesellschaft, Bayer AG and Hoechst Aktiengesellschaft.

Held up as an example of Germany’s ability to achieve economic self-sufficiency in the inter-War years, IG Farben had always been popular with the country’s government. The election of the Nazi Party in 1933 saw IG Farben’s influence grow even more. As the biggest producer of synthetic rubber, and a major producer of explosives, synthetic fuels and other vital items, the company was crucial to the economic and military ambitions of the Nazi party. IG Farben enjoyed state backing when it came to the allocation of raw materials, labour and credit. IG Farben representatives were also employed in important positions within the Nazi government.

After the start of the Second World War, demand for synthetic fuels and rubber quickly started to exceed supply. It was decided to build two new plants, one of which would be located close to Auschwitz, the largest death camp in Europe.

Opened in 1940, as Hitler’s ‘final solution’ came into full effect, Auschwitz was built on a former military base in occupied southern Poland, close to the town of Krakow. Initially conceived as a detention centre for Polish citizens arrested after Germany invaded the country in 1939, the location of the camp, at the centre of the German occupied territories in Europe and close to a host of transport networks, meant it quickly expanded into something far more horrific.

The IG Farben factory was situated close to Auschwitz so it could exploit Jewish slave labour in its oil and rubber production plant. In total, some 300,000 detainees from Auschwitz were employed in IG Farben’s workforce, supplying the company with free labour. The company housed the workers in its own concentration camp, with the horrendous conditions there and in the factory leading to an estimated 30,000 deaths. On top of this, an unknown amount of workers deemed unfit to continue working at the factory were sent to the death camp at Auschwitz.

Alongside the brutal conditions of the labour camp, IG Farben also sanctioned drug experiments on live, healthy inmates. These experiments took place at Auschwitz, but were also sanctioned at other concentration camps by IG Farben’s pharmaceutical subsidiaries. Documents survive revealing a correspondence between an employee of Bayer Leverkusen (a subsidiary of IG Farben at the time) and the commander of Auschwitz, negotiating the sale of 150 female prisoners for the sake of medical experimentation. The chemical giant was so entwined in the Nazi death machine that the Zyklon B gas used in Nazi death camps was produced by another of IG Farben’s subsidiaries.

Following the German defeat in the Second World War, IG Farben came under the control of the Allied Powers. Several of the company’s officials were convicted for the inhumane treatment of prisoners and use of slave labour. The company itself was dissolved into three separate divisions, Hoescht, Bayer, and BASF.

May 21, 2015 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | , , | Leave a comment

Europe’s forgotten city back in premier league

KRAKOW TOURS – Tomorrow, southern Poland’s most glorious city joins the premier league of destinations served from Heathrow Terminal 5 by British Airways. BA uses its precious slots only on routes that it believes will be attractive to business travellers so the new link, which offers connections from around the globe, testifies to the rising business profile of Krakow, (too) often described as the “new Prague”.

Krakow - Main Square

Neil Taylor, who pioneered tourism to Poland and other Eastern Bloc nations, says: “This could be part of a BA resurgence to prove that some towns can justify a higher level of service than that offered on budget airlines. Citybreak operators will certainly be pleased that another serious destination for them has become available and conference organisers will be equally pleased as neither work happily with budget airlines.”

Krakow has a long, distinguished history as one of the great cities of Europe. Stand in its magnificent medieval Market Square, where coronations took place when it was Poland’s capital, and on every side you can see architectural master- pieces from centuries past. Most dominant is the Gothic basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary or Kosciol Mariacki, with its celebrated tower from where the hejnal or bugle call is performed on the hour, every hour – breaking off sharply in mid note in memory of the fatal Tatar arrow that pierced the throat of the bugler, who was raising the alarm with his call in 1241 as Mongols besieged the city.

One reason the centre of Krakow has been so beautifully preserved is the four lost decades following the Second World War. Until 1989, Poland was effectively under the stifling control of Moscow: the Warsaw Pact, embracing nations from East Germany to Bulgaria, was a union of unwilling participants who were prevented from access to the free market of the West. That, at least, was the idea – though Poles proved more adept than most at gaining access to the West, and the trading skills of some was the stuff of legends.

Today, the notion that ambitious young Polish people tend to seek their fortunes elsewhere in Europe has been overturned. The city is styling itself as Poland’s Silicon Valley, and is attracting highly skilled IT and R&D professionals – with other businesses locking into the city’s growth strategy.

UBS set up an office in Krakow in 2007. “We have attracted many talented individuals who have contributed to the success of our firm,” says Michal Stepien, the general manager. “Our operation is constantly expanding.”

Just as tourists find prices in Krakow gratifyingly low, the city is an inexpensive place to do business. Thanks partly to the wealth of hotels, Krakow is becoming a noted trade fair and convention city. The EXPO Krakow complex, a short distance east of the city centre, this year hosts Infrasnow, dealing with equipment for winter-sports resorts, in September; Krakow’s International Book Fair in the following month; and Horeca, for hotel, retail and catering establishments, in November.

The city’s harmonious jumble of architectural styles – CORBIS Off-duty, the attractions are endless. Lining the Market Square are palaces, cafes and restaurants built in a harmonious jumble of Mannerist, Rococo, Baroque, Renaissance and even Neo-classical styles. Since Krakow served as European capital of culture in the Millennium year, 2000, it has lured avant-garde artists seeking freedom and inspiration.

A leading gallery, ICC (mck.krakow. pl), is currently exhibiting until June an artistic dialogue between Brazilian photographer Cristiano Mascaro and Polish artist Slawomir Rumiak, and culture abounds on all sides. And even beneath you lies just one of a plethora of museums which opened in 2010. Spread over 4,000 square metres underneath the Market Square, this multi media museum (mhk.pl) displays treasures which relate the turbulent history of Krakow.

Back at the airport – which is named after the city’s most celebrated son, Pope John-Paul II – the trajectory of Krakow is clear from the latest figures. It is the biggest regional airport in Poland, and last year saw its best ever year. This was helped by a 7 per cent increase in traffic to and from its biggest market: London, with a record-breaking 402,000 passengers on the route. The new British Airways link means 2015 stands to be even more successful.

via Europe’s forgotten city back in premier league – Business – News – The Independent.

May 1, 2015 Posted by | Events, Krakow Travel Advice, News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Owns Schindler’s List?

A preliminary hearing starts Wednesday in Jerusalem in a legal case that pits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre against the estate of Oskar Schindler’s widow to decide who owns the legacy of the man who saved 1,200 Jews from the Nazis.

Schindlers List

Who owns Schindler’s list? That is the question to be decided by a Jerusalem court, which holds a preliminary hearing on the case on April 15. A document from almost exactly 70 years ago lies at the heart of the legal battle – dated April 18, 1945, it lists the names of 801 Jewish workers who German industrialist Oskar Schindler saved from extermination by asking the Nazi authorities to allow them to work at his factories.

The rights to this document and others are being claimed by both Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial centre and Erika Rosenberg, who is both a beneficiary and the executor of the estate of Emilie Schindler, Oskar’s wife.

Yad Vashem, which describes itself as the Jewish people’s “living memorial to the Holocaust”, is dedicated to safeguarding the remembrance of the tragedy for future generations. In 1999 the Jerusalem-based centre received a suitcase sent from Germany containing thousands of documents, including two of the four remaining copies of Schindler’s list, of which there were originally seven copies typed on onionskin paper.

The suitcase – of incalculable historical and financial value – was in the possession of Anne-Marie Staehr, who was once Oskar Schindler’s mistress. Schindler left for Argentina with his wife after the war, returning alone to Germany in 1957, where he died in anonymity in October 1974.

The suitcase and the list found its way to the press in Germany, where it made headlines, and was eventually sent to Yad Vashem by German journalist Ulrich Sahm, a Jerusalem resident and a former correspondent for the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” newspaper.

On these events, both warring parties agree. But the two sides differ on who held the rightful claim to the documents prior to their arrival in Israel.

Rosenberg alleges that Staehr absconded with the documents from Schindler’s home in Frankfurt after his death and kept them in the suitcase until her own death in 1984. Forgotten in the attic of her house in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, they were found 15 years later by Staehr’s son.

Emilie Schindler, who still lives in Argentina, learned of the existence of the documents through the media. She asked Rosenberg, then her friend and biographer, to retrieve them and bring them to her in Buenos Aires. But when Rosenberg confronted the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” to demand it hand over the documents, she was told the suitcase had already been sent to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

The Israeli news daily “Haaretz” cites Rosenberg as saying that Emilie fell ill over the affair, and that she called it “a huge injustice”. “I saved Jews, together with my husband, and now the Jews have taken the suitcase away from me. You must demand it, even after my death,” she allegedly said.

In 2001 Emilie returned to Germany, where she died without leaving any descendents. Like her husband, she was posthumously bestowed with the title of “Righteous Among the Nations”, the highest civilian honour that Israel grants to Gentiles who saved Jews during World War II.

As the designated executor of Emilie Schindler’s estate, Rosenberg sought in vain to fulfill her wishes by retrieving the documents. In 2013 she filed a legal suit against Yad Vashem, which she accused of theft.

Rosenberg’s lawyer, Naor Yair Maman, makes a distinction between the legal case and its historical ramifications.

“Even if you believe that, from the historical-academic perspective, it would be preferable that the documents remain in Yad Vashem, you have no right whatsoever to claim title to someone else’s property,” he told AFP.

Yad Vashem says it obtained the documents legally and has always acted with transparency. The memorial centre contends that Oskar Schindler gave the suitcase in question to Staehr voluntarily – and that it had, therefore, never belonged to Emilie.

“Yad Vashem holds the documents lawfully and has acted the whole time openly and publicly,” it said in a statement to AFP, adding that it was opposed to “trading in Holocaust-era documents”. Citing their historical value, the centre said the documents must remain in the public domain.

Yad Vashem requested a dismissal of the charges in February, a request that was denied by the Jerusalem District Court.

“We will hold our debate with Rosenberg in court to ensure these documents do not reach the private hands of those who are not their legal owners and whose interests are unclear,” Yad Vashem subsequently vowed.

Rosenberg has always defended her intentions, saying she only wants to “preserve, protect and restore the historical data”.

In July 2013, another copy of Schindler’s list – which notably inspired the eponymous film by American director Steven Spielberg – was sold on eBay for $3 million.

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Auschwitz, News, This Day In History | , , , | Leave a comment

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April 2, 2015 Posted by | Krakow Travel Advice, Tour Information | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Polish Wedding….. All you need to know.

KRAKOW TOURS– Polish wedding season is almost upon us. More and more foreigners are marrying Poles or getting invited to Polish friend’s weddings and there are things these people need to know. In this definitive survival guide to Polish weddings I will cover every potential pitfall, misunderstanding and health risk I’ve uncovered. Comparisons are made with British Weddings, the rest of you will have to wing it.

1. Read your invitation carefully

In Poland it is quite possible to be invited to the wedding but not the wedding party. In fact it’s more common to be invited to the ceremony than to the party.

Many Poles are still attached to the quaint notion that the union of two people in holy matrimony is a significant event that people might want to witness rather than a slightly tedious prelude to a booze up. Shocking I know, but there it is. If your invitation mentions “ślub” that’s the tedious prelude part. If it mentions “ślub” and “wesele” put on your best drinking shoes and pat yourself on the back, you’re going to a party.

2. The missing groom

In a British wedding ceremony the groom arrives at the church first and waits at the altar with his best man for the bride to be escorted down the aisle by her father or nearest equivalent. It’s a tradition that allows for all kinds of hilarious church-based shenanigans such as the groom fainting from stress or the best man passing out from alcohol poisoning. It’s also frequently used as a dramatic device in the kind of movies where brides decide not to turn up at the last minute. In Poland the bride and groom arrive at the church at the same time and walk down the aisle together, sometimes in leg irons. If you’re waiting in the church and notice the groom is missing don’t get excited, he’s coming. Expectations of a thrilling ‘jilted-at-the-altar’ scenario are unlikely to be met.

3. Polish best man – the world’s easiest job

Expectations of the best man at a Polish wedding are not high. The ability to walk in a more-or-less straight line and hold some envelopes are sufficient qualifications. Polish best men do practically nothing. He walks behind the bride and groom down the aisle along with the bridesmaid and then sits down. That’s pretty much it. Best men are often also witnesses, but not always. In a British wedding it is the responsibility of the best man to bring the ring (note, only one ring) and hand it over at the appropriate moment, another tradition that provides limitless opportunities for humor. Not so in the Polish service – the rings are already there in a holy cubby hole of some kind.

If you’re ever asked to be best man at a Polish wedding do not hesitate. No responsibilities, no speeches (more on this later), a definite invitation to the party and a guaranteed woman to go with. You can’t lose.

4. Throwing money around and sealed brown envelopes

On exiting the church the happy couple are traditionally showered with handfuls of loose change. They are then expected to pick it all up. Starting out on married life groveling around on the pavement for pennies like bums is, apparently, lucky. If you ever find yourself in this position I suggest bringing an umbrella which you can smoothly invert to catch the bulk of the incoming coinage.

Immediately following this potentially painful and humiliating indoctrination into marital finances everybody lines up to pay their respects to the couple and hand them wads of cash. Three kisses on the cheek and flowers for the bride, a handshake and an envelope full of money to the groom. I’m told the going rate is about 200 zloty. The bride hands her flowers to her bridesmaid, who needs to have forearms like tree trunks, and the groom hands the envelopes full of money to the best man, who needs to have moderately large pockets (I told you this job was easy).

5. The salt and the bread

Off to the party, which might be in a wedding hall, a restaurant, or somebody’s back garden. On arrival everybody gets a drink and the bride and groom get salt and bread. Again, if you ever find yourself in this situation, don’t panic – it’s just symbolic, it doesn’t mean you’re only getting salt and bread for the rest of the evening. One or other of the parents who’s job it is to provide the bread and salt may make a short speech and start blubbing at this point.

6. Songs, songs, songs

Immediately following the salt and the bread business all Poles in the vicinity will break into song. The song is known as “Sto lat” (”100 years”) and is the same song you will hear sung at birthday parties, presidential inaugurations and, in extreme cases, the opening of a tin of sardines. Here are the words — you’re going to hear them a lot in the next few hours:

Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje/żyją, żyje/żyją nam.
Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje/żyją, żyje/żyją nam,
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz, niech żyje/żyją, żyje/żyją nam,
Niech żyje/żyją nam!

which translates roughly into English as:

A hundred years, a hundred years,
We want him/her/them to live.
A hundred years, a hundred years,
We want him/her/them to live,
Once again, once again, we want him/her/them to live,
We want him/her/them to live.

7. First dinner, first dance

Once the singing has died down everybody sits down to the first meal. Note my use of the word ‘first’ here. There may be additional singing in the form of traditional demands for the bride and groom to kiss like alien face-huggers, but there’s nothing important going on there that you need to worry about. Immediately following the first meal the newlyweds are invited to embarrass themselves horribly by performing the first dance.

8. A lot more dinners

I often advise people going to Polish weddings to beware of the amount of food they will be required to consume. “There will be a lot of food” I say “I mean, really a lot.” “Oh good” they say. I shake my head and hold my tongue. A few days later I see them again and they say “Why didn’t you tell us there would be so much!” “I did!” I say “I tried to warn you.” “My god” they say with the horror of recollection in their eyes “I didn’t know there was that much food…”

This is how it works. Immediately after the first toast you will sit down to an excellent meal of something roasted, with vegetables and potatoes and a side salad preceded by soup. You will eat this and then help yourself to the various cakes, cold meats, breads etc. scattered liberally about the table. At this point you will be completely stuffed and saying to yourself “Hey, that guy was right, there really was a lot of food, but I could handle it.” You will probably be quite satisfied with yourself and think me a moaning minnie with the food handling capacity of a small rodent. About an hour later the waiters will be bearing down on you with exactly the same thing all over again. An hour after that they will be back again. By now you’ll be feeling the fear. Fortunately there are only three or four more courses to go, each one the size of a hearty Sunday dinner. And then cake.

Do not attempt to eat everything served to you. You will die. You have to regard the food as symbolic. It’s a symbol of wealth and plenty, an overwhelming feast for the happy event, it’s not an actual meal.


9. The vodka situation

Vodka is a big deal at Polish weddings. Talk of who is going to buy the vodka and where they are going to get it begins at least six months before people start considering less significant details such as wedding dresses or who to marry. Presumably there was a time when vodka was in short supply or had to be manufactured in the woods because, as far as I can see, the entire problem can me solved in a ten minute trip to the local supermarket. However, I digress.

Assuming the vodka is there and, to be honest, the wedding would have been canceled if it wasn’t there are a few things you should know. Vodka is only drunk collectively. Glasses are filled, somebody proposes a toast, vodka is drunk, and glasses are refilled in readiness for the next toast. There’s no casual solitary sipping. It’s all or nothing every time. Sometimes it will be a special wedding vodka prepared according to a traditional recipe known only to 84-year-old uncle Bogdan. These are often sweet and pleasant tasting but can still kill an elephant at 20 paces. Do not be tempted to fill in the time between toasts with a beer or a glass of wine, that way lies very messy but dimly recalled madness.

10. Throwing bouquets and ties

The throwing of the bouquet will be familiar to British readers and it has the same function at a Polish wedding, except that it takes place at the party and not outside the church. The difference at a Polish wedding is that it is taken much more seriously. In the half an hour before the tossing of the bouquet is due you’ll notice a gradual but complete evacuation of the building by all unmarried females over the age of about 24. To be 25 or older and still in that circle around the bride is a powerful shame.

Unlike men at British weddings Polish men also get the chance to make utter fools of themselves scrambling after discarded clothing. The groom’s tie is the sought after item in this case. By this time of the night any male who is still able to stand, regardless of age, is considered a good catch.

11. Proper dancing

Dancing is also a big deal a Polish weddings. It’s the women’s vodka. The first time I went to a Polish wedding my girlfriend said “You know there will be dancing, don’t you?” “Well yes” I said “that’s normal.” I had in mind the vague individual flailing around that every self-respecting Brit regards as dancing. Not so. Proper dancing is expected. In pairs, with feet and everything. Dancing schools make a killing in Poland.

12. Midnight cake

The cake is cut and distributed to the groaning overstuffed guests at midnight. Or at some other random time. Then they wheel in an entire roasted cow just in case anybody is feeling peckish. Knocking off time will probably be sometime around 3 or 4 in the morning.

13. The two-day wedding

It is true that Polish weddings sometimes go on for two days. The second day is known as “poprawiny” and you’re most likely to come across it at a traditional village affair. At first the idea of a party that goes on for two days sounds quite appealing to the average Brit. By the fifth course of the first night the idea becomes less attractive. The first time I went to a two-day wedding I imagined a Bacchanalian blow-out that would literally go on for 48 hours. In fact the truth is less terrifying. On the first night everybody goes home in the early hours of the morning, sleeps for 10 hours, then comes back and does the whole thing all over again minus the tedious mucking about in church.

The second night is traditionally much more relaxed than the first. It’s a no-holds-barred party to celebrate the fact that the previous night’s party went well, or to rectify the fact if it didn’t. Boys are sorted from men.

Enjoy!

For a fantastic wedding photographer in Southern Poland have a look at Lukasz Lisiecki’s website.

March 11, 2015 Posted by | Events, Krakow Travel Advice, Recommendations, Tour Information | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Giant Stig statue in Poland for BBC promo

Good citizens of Poland, run for the hills: Big Stig is coming!

Top Gear The Stig Krakow

He’s nine metres tall, made of fibreglass and, according to the instruction manual, should only be hand-washed in warm soapy water. We don’t know where he came from, or what his mission upon this mortal coil may be. Frankly we’re worried to ask.

All we know is that he is Big Stig, and that he today departed the hallowed Top Gear test track on the back on a flatbed, bound for the Polish capital Warsaw, via Amsterdam, Berlin and Poznan. If you’re anywhere near those cities over the next few days, keep an eye out. You’re unlikely to miss him.

What’s all this in aid of, you ask? A fair question. It’s all about a new global channel called BBC Brit, which launches in Poland on February 1 and will be the new home of Top Gear in many countries around the world.

More, we hope, shall become clear in the coming days. For now, fair burghers of northern Europe, we ask you not to panic. Big Stig means no harm. If you spot him, simply stay calm, avoid eye contact, back quietly away and, whatever you do, don’t feed him any Wotsits. We don’t need another electrical substation trashed…

UPDATE, 27 January: After departing the UK on Sunday, we have word Big Stig has reached Germany, via the Dutch capital Amsterdam. And, having escaped the throngs of cameraphone-wielding spotters at Kent’s glamorous Clackett Lane service station, it seems Big Stig’s journey across mainland Europe hasn’t been exactly plain sailing.

“We had a brief stand-off with a tram in the narrow streets of Amsterdam,” reports Simon ‘Premium’ Bond, TG’s man on the ground. “And the journey through Germany to Berlin was fairly biblical in terms of weather. Good thing Big Stig’s waterproof…”

Last we heard, Big Stig’s rig was loose on the derestricted autobahn, clocking a fearsome v-max of 56.2mph en route to Poznan, Poland. Let us know if you spot the big lad…

January 28, 2015 Posted by | Events, News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Scot who died in Auschwitz

Jane Haining was a quiet farmer’s daughter from the south of Scotland who ended her life as a slave labourer in the most notorious extermination camp the world has ever known.

Krakow Tours - Jane Haining

She is the only Scot to be officially honoured for giving her life for Jews in the Holocaust.

But her life began a long way from the barbed wire fences of Auschwitz – among the rolling hills of rural Dumfriesshire.

Jane Haining was born in Dunscore in 1897. Her mother died when she was just five years old and she took on much of the care of her younger sisters.

After leaving Dumfries Academy, where she was an excellent student who was good at languages, Jane took a secretarial job at the huge JP Coats weaving factory in Paisley.

While there she attended church at Queen’s Park West in the Crosshill area of Glasgow.

It now has stained glass windows in memory of a woman who was driven by a strong Christian faith.

In 1932 she saw an advert for a job as matron to the Scottish Mission to the Jews in Budapest.

Rev Stevens describes Jane’s role as the mother for those who were not living at home any more.

For her pupils Jane Haining embodied the values of fairness, tolerance and equality that drove the whole Scottish mission.

Less than a year after Jane arrived in Budapest, Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany. He was the most powerful force in the turning against Jews which occurred across Europe in the 1930s.

Hungary’s Nationalist government began to concede anti-Semitic laws in a bid to undermine its more demanding fascist sympathisers before then allying itself with Germany.

The authorities started to detain Jews who had lived in Budapest for decades without citizenship.

As more and more territories fell to the Nazis, Hungary’s alliance with Germany kept invasion at bay.

The government continued to protect the lives of its Hungarian Jews. But they did lose jobs, social position, civil rights and respect.

However, the Church of Scotland was increasingly alarmed for the safety of its missionaries and sent repeated letters urging Jane Haining to come home.

She refused and wrote: “If these children needed me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in these days of darkness?”

“She could not grasp the evil in which she was functioning,” says Annette Lantos, former pupil.

“It was not part of her ability to understand what she was confronted with. She lived in a different world. A world that was civilised and reasonable and rational, where people did not kill each other for no reason.”

Then the outlook suddenly darkened further, when Hitler turned his attention to Hungary and its Jews.

On a Sunday afternoon in March 1944 Nazi troops marched into Budapest.

Jane Haining is said to have wept as she sewed on the yellow stars that branded her children as Jews.

Her open sympathy put Jane in grave danger.

It only took one incident to light the touch paper.

Within weeks of the invasion Jane scolded the cook’s son-in-law for eating food intended for the girls. He informed on her. The next morning a Gestapo police car arrived at the school.

She was arrested on suspicion of “espionage on behalf of England”.

She was originally taken to the local prison but soon she was taken to Poland, to Auschwitz, as the industrial slaughter of Jews was reaching its zenith.

About 12,000 Hungarian Jews every day were being packed off to Auschwitz. Most went straight to the gas chambers.

In all, more than a million human beings were killed at Auschwitz.

Jane Haining was a political prisoner so she was taken to the labour camps where inmates were screamed at, beaten and chased with dogs.

She survived just two months. She was just 47.

According to her death certificate, she died of “cachexia following intestinal catarrh”.

Whether Jane died of starvation, illness or disease and died in hospital or whether she was actually gassed like many women who became too ill to work cannot be known for sure.

It took a long-time before Jane Haining’s death was recognised.

In 1997 after an initiative from Queen’s Park church and a 10-year investigation by an Israeli board, Jane was named as Righteous Among the Nations in Jerusalem’s sacred Yad Vashem.

In 2010 she was awarded a Hero of the Holocaust medal by the British government.

Her death was anonymous and without show but her quiet sacrifice for those Jewish children has now been recognised throughout the world.

December 1, 2014 Posted by | News | , , | Leave a comment

An emotional return to Nazi camp where my grandma was born

VISITING the site of Auschwitz is a powerful experience for anyone who goes there.

But the trip had special significance for one 16-year-old girl from Yorkshire whose grandmother was born in the concentration camp and lived there for the first two years of her life.

Celine Bickerdike took part in a visit as part of a Lessons from Auschwitz Trip organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust.

The project is now in its sixteenth year based on the premise that “hearing is not like seeing”.

Thousands of pupils have been taken to where the camps were to get a sense of the horrors of the Holocaust but few have been on the journey which Celine took.

via An emotional return to Nazi camp where my grandma was born – Yorkshire Post.

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Auschwitz | , , | Leave a comment

Pope John Paul II set for Sainthood

Pope John Paul II looks at a white dove freed at the end of the Angelus prayer in St Peter's Square, Vatican, 30 January 2005

John Paul II could be declared a saint this year after a Vatican committee approved a second miracle attributed to the Polish pope’s intercession.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints ruled an “inexplicable recovery” on 1 May 2011 was due to the late Pope’s intercession, Ansa reported.

Earlier that same day he had been beatified after a first miracle was attributed to his intervention.

Pope Francis must now give his approval before a canonisation date is set.

Canonisation is the final step in the official process that declares a deceased person to be a saint.

At a plenary meeting of the Congregation on Tuesday, cardinals and bishops mooted a canonisation ceremony taking place in December, sources told Ansa.

Pope John Paul II at St Peter's Square, Vatican - 2 June 2000
The Polish pope reformed the sainthood process in 1983

One possible date would be 8 December, on which Catholics celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which this year falls on a Sunday.

John Paul II could be canonised at the same time as John XXIII, Vatican sources suggested. Venerated by Catholics as “the good pope”, John XXIII was elected in 1958 and convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962, but died the following year before it was finished.

Canonisation requires the attribution of one further miracle to the intercession of the candidate after they have been beatified.

The Vatican has not revealed details about the second miracle in John Paul II’s case.

It was reportedly deemed an “inexplicable recovery” by a panel of doctors before being approved last month by a board of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints’ theologians.

John Paul II died in 2005 aged 84 and was beatified by his successor Benedict XVI in May 2011.

Among a crowd hundreds of thousands strong on St Peter’s Square was French nun Marie Simon-Pierre, who says she was cured of Parkinson’s Disease after praying for the intervention of the late pope little more than a month after he died.

Some questioned the Church’s speed in beatifying John Paul II just six years after his death.

Although widely regarded as one of the great popes of modern times, his 26-year pontificate was tarnished by his handling of the clerical sex abuse scandal that has rocked the global Church.

Critics say other of the Church’s deep-seated problems – such as its dysfunctional management and financial scandals at the Vatican bank – stem from shortcomings of his pontificate.

John Paul II reformed the sainthood process in 1983, making it faster, simpler, and cheaper. The office of “Devil’s advocate” – an official whose job was to try to knock down the case for sainthood – was eliminated, and the required number of miracles was dropped.

The idea was to lift up contemporary role models of holiness in order to convince a jaded secular world that sanctity is alive in the here and now, says veteran Vatican analyst John Allen.

The result was that John Paul II beatified and canonised more people than all previous popes combined.

July 3, 2013 Posted by | News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boy Scouts’ Escape From Auschwitz

June 20: A Polish Boy Scout led the most audacious escape from the Auschwitz death camp on this day in 1942 – after stealing SS uniforms, guns and a top-ranking Nazi’s car.

Kazimierz Piechowski and three other inmates dressed as a transport crew to leave the inner high-security zone marked by the notorious ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ gate – German for ‘work makes you free’.

After walking beneath the sinister, wrought iron message the non-Jewish group of four ditched the cart they had stolen and split up.

Piechowski and two fellow Poles – priest Jozef Lempart and army officer Stanislaw Jaster – went to the warehouse where uniforms and weapons were stored.

They entered via a coal bunker that Piechowski, then aged 22, had ensured would open by unscrewing the latch during a forced labour assignment days earlier.

Inside, they dressed as SS-Totenkopfverbände – or ‘Death’s-Head Unit’ – guards and armed themselves with four machine-guns and eight grenades.

Meanwhile, fellow ecapee Eugeniusz Bendera, a Ukrainain mechanic, went to the motorpool and stole SS Hauptsturmführer Paul Kreuzmann’s Steyr 220 saloon car.

Piechowski – who wore the uniform of an SS Untersturmführer, or second lieutenant – sat in the front passenger seat as Bendera drove to the main exit.

The group of political prisoners, who had forged papers, panicked when the guards manning the gate didn’t instantly raise the barrier.

But Piechowski, the only member who spoke good German, calmly leant out the window and screamed: “Wake up, you buggers! Open up or I’ll open you up!”

The terrified guards scrambled to raise the barrier, allowing the prisoners to escape and prompting all future inmates to have a number tattooed on their arms.

The four men all survived the war, except Jaster, who is thought to have been killed by the Gestapo after helping to free 49 prisoners on a train to Auschwitz in May 1943.

He was one of 4.9million Poles – of whom 3million were Jewish – killed during the occupation of Poland, where Auschwitz and five other deaths camps were located.

Piechowski, whose membership of the banned Boy Scout movement and bid to join the Free Polish forces led to his 1939 arrest, became a resistance fighter after fleeing.

In response to his escape, Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss ordered future inmates to have their prisoner number tattooed on their arms.

Ironically, his Home Army membership led to him being imprisoned for seven years after the war by Poland’s new communist rulers, who feared an insurgency.

Yet Piechowski, who today lives in Gdasnk, refused a bravery award following the end of communism in 1989 by humbly saying: “I do not feel this honour is owed me.”

June 20, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | , , , , | Leave a comment

Animated History of Poland

Animated History of Poland [FULL VERSION] from styczek on Vimeo.

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

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