My first visit ever to Poland, the birthplace of my grandparents, a few years ago far exceeded my expectations.
I was truly amazed at the spirit and the resilience of the Polish people.
In 1939, the Nazi invasion of Poland from the west was accompanied by the Soviet armies simultaneously invading from the east. The Poles fought valiantly against overwhelming odds and were eventually defeated and then dominated by Nazi terrorism for four years.
And it gets worse! At the end of WW II, Poland, the first country to fight, was shamelessly handed to the lunatic Stalin and the Soviets who suppressed the Polish language and culture and brutalized the people for more than 40 years.
The resurgence of the people of Poland, following the Nazi terrorism, and then Communist domination for more than 40 years, is nothing short of remarkable. One image that will always live with me is the rebuilt city of Warsaw. In the narrow cobblestone streets of Warsaw’s Stare Miasto, or Old Town, church bells chime, babushka ladies sell flowers, sidewalk cafes bustle and horse-drawn carriages roll past the royal castle. At first glance, the Polish capital feels quintessentially Old World.
But all of these historic-looking buildings are new.
The beauty of Warsaw’s Old Town masks this city’s bloody past: The Polish capital was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. Fulfilling Hitler’s vision, Warsaw was razed house by house, brick by brick as the Nazis slammed their jackboot on the throat of Poland’s freedom fighters.
Today, the Polish language and culture is somehow miraculously intact. Their devout Catholicism is not like anything I have seen anywhere else in the world. The nation is full of dynamic young people…friendly and hopeful. It is interesting to note that an incredible 65,000 students currently attend the University of Warsaw. And the Polish economy is doing well relative to many of its neighbors. My visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa was on the Catholic holy day of Corpus Christi and the religious fervor onsite there was truly remarkable.
It is staggering to think that Poland had somewhere around six million deaths in World War II, losing 17% of its population which is a higher percentage than either Germany or the Soviet Union which also far exceeds the military losses of the USA and Great Britain.
This is a stunning legacy for the people of Poland who truly know their roots and refused to let any usurpers destroy them.