Grateful for a Lack of History

9 Dec

It’s easy to feel, compared to the great cities of Europe, that Canada is pretty boring.  2 days in Warsaw changed my mind.

We Canadians & Americans imagine how fortunate those are who live amongst Europe’s historic monuments and architecture, but we rarely understand that there is a darker side of those historic neighborhoods.  Here in Rome, monuments and triumphal arches thousands of years old illuminate wars and conquests of ancient heroes and villains.  Yet, somehow it’s easy to reflect upon the glory of those ancient events, and not the agony they caused.

Warsaw is very different.  I didn’t ever stop to consider why Warsaw had not been on my list of top places to see in Europe.  Perhaps I had just never been aware of anything really…famous…to see.  And of course I knew that Warsaw had suffered in WWII, but hadn’t so many places?

After my trip this week to Warsaw, I understand why.  I am humbled by the story of this city, and I am grateful for the distinct lack of a history like Warsaw’s in my native Canada.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

I didn’t know for instance, that Warsaw staged one of the greatest resistances to initial Nazi invasion…in the 1939 Siege of Warsaw the Poles defended the city for 20 days before it fell to Nazi occupation.  This is compared to the 9 days it took Paris to fall, despite being defended by the world’s largest standing army at the time.  The siege was one of the first instances of terror bombing, where Nazis targeted hospitals, schools, marketplaces and columns of civilians leaving the city.
Years later when the Nazis were starting to falter, in 1945 Warsaw staged an uprising that was eventually crushed.  The result was that the Nazis not only systematically massacred the people but virtually 90% of the city as well.

Brilliant Christmas tree in Warsaw's old city district today

I didn’t realize that the “old city’ was actually a modern recreation painstakingly rebuild based on photos and descriptions…that virtually no buildings of historic and cultural relevance exist today as they were targeted in a brutal campaign of retribution by the Nazis against this heroic city that dared to resist.

One of my older clients got tears in her eyes as she told me about this.  And yet the people of Poland are very sweet; although there is sadness there is no bitterness and you get a sense of a city which is re-finding itself.
I did snap a picture of one historic place that does still exist: one abandoned row of tenement flats that was a part of the horrific Jewish ghetto.  The holes in the wall are bullet holes. You can just feel the sense of abandonment, hatred, grief and desperation in these bricks…

Remnant of Warsaw's horrific ghetto. You can still see bullet holes.

It was a sobering reminder that the challenges and problems we sometimes face today are so insignificant….and how fortunate I am to have grown up in Canada.

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