Our arrival in Warsaw (or Warszawa) marked a distinct shift in direction for our traveling seminar. While the last week or so focused on our class, “Negotiating Identities Across Europe’s Borders,” our week in Warsaw would begin a different class, “East Central Europe in the 20th Century.”
After settling into our hostel, we went for lunch for a final meal with Hana and Juliet (until we get to Wroclaw) and to meet with our new professor for the week, Dominic.
Following our meal, a few of us broke off from the group to go and explore the city.
Warsaw’s Old Town is absolutely gorgeous and the pictures don’t do it any justice. The vibrant colors of the buildings stand out against the day’s grey skies while the square bustles with life.
Exploring the alleys, without any goal in mind, was exhilarating. Our explorations ended back at the entrance to Old Town, at the top of the viewing terrace.
I can’t think of a better introduction to Poland’s capital than our impromptu tour.
The next morning began our week of intensive class. Sunday was filled with 6 hours of (more or less) straight lectures. That was rough. Fortunately, we were set free as soon as class ended at 3. Unfortunately, we were also sent off with a large stack of readings.
Our week carried on with a hodgepodge of lectures and field trips. We always began our days in the Palace of Culture and Science and usually went to a site that went along with the day’s theme in the afternoon.
Our first trip was to the National Archive (more specifically, the Institution of National Remembrance), where we got to see the incredible number of documents the Polish government has kept from its socialist times (1939-1990). We even got to flip through a few of the old documents. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures here.
The next two trips we took were to the Institution of National Remembrance’s educational center. Our first trip consisted of a lecture focusing on the Volhynia Crime. The Volhynia Crime occurred in southeast Poland between 1941-1944. Here there was a great amount of tension between the Ukrainians and Poles. This led to Ukrainian Nationalist crimes against Poles and the death of approximately 130,000 victims in 4,300 villages. The victims included men, women and children, regardless of age. Needless to say, it was disheartening to hear of another attempt of ethnic cleansing in Poland.
The second trip we took the educational center was more interactive than first and consisted of two workshops. The first split us into two groups and had us each create a “mind map” of occupied Poland. It was fascinating to see our different views on occupied Poland.
In the second workshop, we were paired off and each given a story of a righteous to present. The creativity and will to survive of all of these people was outstanding and forced you to wonder if and how you would do the same.
One of the most interesting trips we took was to the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Here we learned all about Polish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto and the 63 days its residents spent attempting to regain independence. The uprising began at 5pm (called Hour W) on August 1, 1944 and ended with a surrender on October 2. With the beginning of this uprising, the systematic extermination of the Poles in the ghetto also began. Following the end of the uprising, Warsaw would be leveled to the ground.
The final class trip we took during our time in Warsaw was to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The museum, shaped to represent the parting of the Red Sea, has not opened it’s permanent exhibit yet and so we were only able to see the current temporary exhibit. Personally, I wish we had the opportunity to see the permanent exhibits because they sounded incredibly interesting.
As a whole, our week in Warsaw was incredible. We found so many cool cafes to work in and unique side streets to adventure through. While I was more than ready to be out of our hostel (Side note: Don’t let the hostel wash your clothes, an Australian man may steal your pants. And by that I mean an Australian man stole my pants. Seriously.), I was definitely sad to be leaving Warsaw.
On the bright side, we’re finally on our way to Wroclaw!