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Auschwitz Birkenau was the largest Nazi concentration camp or death camp during World War II and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Auschwitz Birkenau was a concentration camp founded by the Nazis near the town of Oświęcim or “Auschwitz” in Poland and which became the largest and most infamous camp of them all.
Opened in 1940 following the Nazi annexation of Poland, Auschwitz was originally intended to be a prison for the large number of arrested Poles overwhelming existing local prisons. However, by 1942, Auschwitz had taken on a further role, as the main “death camp” in Hitler’s mission to exterminate the Jewish people, known as the “Final Solution” or the Holocaust.
Those interned at Auschwitz were subject to the most horrific treatment, including forced labour, starvation, random executions and various forms of torture such as “medical experiments”.
Auschwitz was also the central location for Hitler’s campaign to exterminate the Jews in gas chambers. By the time Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet forces on 27 January 1945, the camp had claimed 1.3 million lives, the vast majority of whom were Jewish.
Auschwitz was made up of three sections. The first and original “Auschwitz I” became the camp’s administrative centre, but also operated as part of the camp and was the original testing venue for gassing prisoners using Zyklon B. “Auschwitz II”, which was actually in the nearby town of Birkenau, became the main prisoner centre and a mass extermination site, while “Auschwitz III” was the main labour camp.
Auschwitz Museum is based at the original concentration camp site and offers visitors the chance to pass through the camp's infamous arches bearing the chilling slogan of "Arbeit macht frei" or "Work will set you free". Inside, visitors can tour Auschwitz Birkenau individually or in group tours. The length of the tour can vary, but lasts approximately three and a half hours.
Cloth Hall is a famous market in Krakow, which was first opened in the middle ages.
Cloth Hall or Sukiennice is a medieval market building in Krakow, Poland. Originally opened in the fourteenth century, Cloth Hall was given a Renaissance refurbishment in the sixteenth century.The arcades which can be seen at Cloth Hall today were added in the nineteenth century.
The ground floor of Cloth Hall still operates as a market today while the Małopolska Contemporary Art Gallery and Nineteenth Century Polish Art Gallery reside on it upper floors.
Krakow Archaeological Museum is explores the history of Poland’s Lesser region.
Krakow Archaeological Museum (Muzeum Archeologiczne w Krakowie) explores Poland’s history, particularly that of its Lesser or Małopolska Region.
With artifacts ranging from finds from the Paleolithic period to Medieval objects, Krakow Archaeological Museum offers a good insight into the country’s past. Audio guides are available.
Krakow Ghetto Wall is the last remaining wall of the Krakow Jewish ghetto created by the Nazis in during their occupation of Poland in World War II.
Krakow Ghetto Wall is a stark reminder of the Krakow Ghetto, established by German Nazi forces in March 1941 as part of their campaign to persecute the Jews. Much of the Jewish population had already been conscripted to carry out forced labour since 1939, when the Nazis occupied Poland.
Further forms of discriminatory sanctions were employed, including forcing those of Jewish descent to wear armbands and closing all synagogues. However, when the Krakow Ghetto was created in the district of Podgórze, the occupying army took their campaign a step further, moving 15,000 Jewish Poles into an area that had previously housed just 3,000 residents.
Conditions were dire within the confines of the Krakow Ghetto walls and, as well as operating as a holding place in which to categorise Jews according to whether they were fit to work, it was also a form of oppression. In 1942, Krakow Ghetto was closed and all of its inhabitants were sent to concentration camps.
Some inhabitants of Krakow Ghetto were saved during the War by Oskar Schindler, whose famous Schindler’s List was made into a film by Hollywood director, Stephen Spielberg. His factory is nearby. Another famous movie director, Roman Polański is a survivor of Krakow Ghetto.
The Ghetto Wall, flanked by a former ghetto home, is the last remaining wall of those which once bordered Krakow Ghetto. The Ghetto Wall bears a plaque commemorating Krakow Ghetto.
KZ Majdanek was a Nazi concentration camp near Lublin in Poland, operational from 1941 to 1944.
KZ Majdanek was a Nazi concentration camp established near the city of Lublin in Poland in September 1941. From October 1941, KZ Majdanek began accepting prisoners, most of whom were Polish and other European Jews as well as Soviet prisoners of war. By the end of its period of operation, almost thirty nations would be represented within Majdanek’s barbed wire fences.
Those sent to KZ Majdanek were subject to the worst forms of treatment, including starvation, forced labour, malnutrition and random executions. Death from disease and starvation were not uncommon and the Nazis would take to shooting large groups of prisoners into vast pits. KZ Majdanek was also used as an extermination camp, with gas chambers and two crematoriums in which to kill victims and destroy their bodies.
Overall, by the time it was liberated by Soviet soldiers in 1944, 150,000 people had been incarcerated at KZ Majdanek. According to the latest figures, 78,000 people died at KZ Majdanek, of which 60,000 were Jews.
KZ Majdanek was liberated by Soviet soldiers on 23 July 1944. With its location relatively near to the Russian border, much of the camp remained intact upon its dissolution, the Nazis not having enough time to destroy any evidence.
Today, KZ Majdanek stands as a memorial to those who suffered and perished there. Visitors can see the camp as well as the visitor centre, which houses exhibits and information about the site.
Malbork Castle in northern Poland was the medieval fortified castle of the Teutonic Knights.
Malbork Castle (Zamek w Malborku), known in German as the Marienburg, is actually more of a medieval fortified castle complex enclosed within thick walls. Including a vast palace, a monastery, three castles and hundreds of other buildings - mostly homes - Malbork Castle was built in the thirteenth century by the invading Teutonic Knights. This German Roman Catholic order, who were founded in the Middle East, went on crusades throughout the Baltic region.
In 1309, Malbork Castle became the headquarters of the Teutonic Knights, a role which it fulfilled until the demise of the order in the early fifteenth century. In 1466, Malbork Castle became one of the homes of the Polish monarchy.
Today, the restored Malbork Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a museum in northern Poland, displaying medieval works, weaponry and historic displays including exploring the history of the Teutonic Knights. Touring this beautiful redbrick building with its magnificent rooms is a great day trip from Gdansk.
The only pre-war synagogue to survive the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, the Nozyk Synagogue is now a centre for the Jewish community of Warsaw.
The Nożyk Synagogue is the only pre-war synagogue in Warsaw to have survived the Nazi occupation of the city.
When Hitler’s invading troops entered Warsaw (September 29, 1939), the city’s Jewish population numbered about 370,000 (about one third of the total), making it the world’s largest Jewish center after New York.
Hundreds of synagogues and prayer houses were then in existence, including the monumental Great Synagogue on Tlomackie Street which the Nazis blew up in mid-May 1943 to mark their victory over the Warsaw Ghetto fighters.
Only one Jewish place of worship survived the devastation of World War II – the Nożyk Synagogue located at 6 Twarda Street. The Germans had converted the building for use as a stables and storage house and it was therefore saved from the general destruction.
Built in a neo-Romanesque style, on the initiative of Zalman and Rywka Nożyk, it was consecrated in 1902. Though damaged during the German withdrawal, the site was once again used as a synagogue after the war.
Fully restored between 1977 and 1983, the Nozyk Synagogue is now open for worship. It remains at the very center of the Jewish community in the city.
Contributed by Dr. G A Sivan, Jerusalem
Krakow’s Barbakan is one of the last vestiges of the city’s medieval fortifications.
The Barbakan or Barbican in Krakow in Poland is a fifteenth century gothic fortress which today serves as a museum.
Built in approximately 1498, the Barbakan is a formidable circular structure with three-metre thick brick walls and a series of defensive turrets, representing an exceptional example of medieval engineering. It was built to protect Krakow and particularly the Florian Gate, the city’s northern gate.
The Barbakan is one of the largest remaining medieval defensive structures in Europe and is extremely well-preserved.
The Florian Gate is a thirteenth century fortification in Krakow in Poland.
The Florian Gate (Brama Floriańska) is a gothic tower in Krakow in Poland. Built under the orders of Prince Leszek II in approximately 1285, the Florian Gate was one of eight towers which helped form the city’s defences or ‘mury obronne’. It was the main defence of the northern part of the city and was itself protected by the Barbican gateway.
Further towers were added in the fifteenth century, but the Florian Gate is the only remaining gate from the original eight, the others having been removed in the nineteenth century ‘modernisation’ of Krakow.
In 1660, the Florian Gate was extended to include a Baroque roof, raising its height by one metre.
Today, the Florian Gate measures around 33.5 metres in height. A tour of the gate takes approximately half an hour and can be visited together with the Barbakan.
The Historical Museum of Warsaw charts the history of Poland’s capital city.
The Historical Museum of Warsaw explores the history of Poland’s capital over seven centuries.
Starting from the establishment of the city in the fourteenth century, the Historical Museum of Warsaw catalogues the city’s history up to 22 December 1990, that date on which Lech Wałęsa was inaugurated as the President of the Republic of Poland
The Szczecin Museum explores the history of the Polish city of Szczecin.
Part of the National Museum, the Szczecin Museum explores the history of the Polish city of Szczecin.
Amongst the exhibits at the Szczecin Museum, it displays clothing, furniture and paintings dating back to the seventeenth century and a collection of fourteenth and fifteenth century Pomeranian coins.
Exhibitions are described in Polish and German.
The Warsaw Ghetto Fighters Monument commemorated those who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
The Warsaw Ghetto Fighters Monument (Pomnik Bohaterow Getta) commemorates those who fought and perished in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Beginning on 19 April 1943 and lasting almost a month, this dramatic, ultimately thwarted, insurgency took place as Nazi forces went to liquidate Warsaw’s ghetto.
The monument itself, which was designed by Natan Rapaport and unveiled on the fifth anniversary of the uprising, offers a moving depiction of the fighters led by Mordechaj Anielewicz as well as portraying the suffering of more vulnerable inhabitants.
Submitted by Dr. G A Sivan, Jerusalem
Umschlagplatz was the place from which the Jewish community of Warsaw were sent to death camps in World War II.
Umschlagplatz was the square from which Warsaw’s Jewish community were sent to death camps during World War II, particularly to Treblinka. Today, a monument marks this tragic "assembly point", from where thousands of people were transported.
Submitted by Dr. G A Sivan, Jerusalem
The Warsaw Ghetto was established by the Nazis to forcibly house the Jewish population of the city.
Warsaw Ghetto (Getto Warszawskie) was established by the Nazis to forcibly house the city’s Jewish population, with up to 400,000 people confined here from October 1940.
Conditions were dire and gradually became worse with the official implementation of the "Final Solution", the Nazi plan to annihilate the Jewish people.
In 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place, a dramatic rebellion which occurred when the Nazis attempted to liquidate the ghetto and one which saw it razed to the ground.
Very little of the Warsaw Ghetto survives today. There are fragments of the original ghetto wall and several memorials including the Mila 18 monument where the uprising headquarters were located and an inscription where insurgent leader Mordechaj Anielewicz and the last of the uprising fighters perished. There is also the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters Monument and a monument at Umschlagplatz, the site from where Jews were transported to the death camps.
Submitted by Dr. G A Sivan, Jerusalem
The Warsaw Rising Museum focuses on the Polish insurgency against Nazi German forces in 1944 during World War Two.
The Warsaw Rising Museum is a Second World War Museum in Poland’s capital city, dedicated to the insurgency of the Polish population against its Nazi German occupiers. It is particularly focused on the Warsaw Uprising, an operation carried out by Polish freedom fighters in August 1944.
The Warsaw Uprising should not to be confused with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, where Jewish Poles mounted an attack against the German army in an attempt to prevent the Jewish population being sent to concentration camps.
The Warsaw Uprising of 1944 was a two month battle carried out by Polish freedom fighters to liberate their country from the Nazis. In an operation codenamed ‘Tempest’, this people’s army began its assault at exactly 17:00 on 1 August 1944, known as W-hour.
The battle was ferocious and bloody, resulting in over 20,000 civilian deaths and the almost complete destruction of the city. The Polish fighters expected help from other Allied nations and, with none forthcoming, the operation failed.
The Warsaw Rising Museum explores the events of the uprising and its aftermath as well as placing it in the larger context of the Second World War. Exhibiting everything from detailed timelines to the armbands worn by the insurgents and the W Hour clock, still set to 17:00, the Warsaw Rising Museum’s exhibit is poignant and detailed.
The Warsaw Rising Museum immerses the visitor in the events of the 1944 battle with films of original newsreels and even a recreation of the sewer systems which the Poles used as a means of travelling through the city. There is also a children’s exhibition called “the Little Insurgents Room”. The Warsaw Rising Museum offers guided tours in a number of languages including French, English, Russian, German, Italian and Czech.
Wawel Castle is an iconic fortified castle complex in Krakow and the former seat of the Polish monarchy.
Wawel Castle in Krakow is one of the most important historic sites in Poland. Located on Wawel Hill, which has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Age, Wawel Castle served as the seat of the Polish monarchy from the eleventh century and is now a vast museum.
It was King Bolesław Chrobry who constructed the first building of Wawel Castle at this time. Known as the Palatium, the remains of this building can still be seen today in Wawel Castle’s northern wing. Wawel Castle continued to expand over the centuries, undergoing extensive development in the fourteenth century under King Ladislas, known as Ladislas the Short and his heir, Casimir the Great.
In the fifteenth century, Ladislas Jagiello added the Danish Tower to the castle. By the mid-fifteenth century, Wawel Castle was a large Gothic complex. However, in 1499, a fire broke out, destroying most of the castle and ancillary buildings.
Kings Alexander Jagiello and Sigismund I, known as Sigmund the Old, proceeded to rebuild Wawel Castle in the sixteenth century. This time the castle would be built in a Renaissance style and created by many of the finest artists and builders of the time. Much of this splendor can still be seen today. This is despite two further fires in 1595 and 1702. However, parts of Wawel Castle were changed by war and occupation by the Swedish and Prussian armies.
In 1796, under Austrian occupation, attempts were made to change Wawel Castle into a military complex, an endeavour which resulted in the destruction of two churches. A mass restoration project was undertaken after Wawel Castle was returned to the Poles in 1905 and today it is one of the country’s main museums.
Wawel Castle is split into six permanent spaces; the State Rooms, the Royal Palace Apartments, the Crown Treasury and Armoury, the Oriental Art Collection, the Lost Wawel and the Dragon’s Den. The main exhibition at Wawel Castle is in its magnificent State Rooms, where one can appreciate the Renaissance architecture as well as tapestries and other works of art.
The Royal Palace Apartments offer visitors a chance to see the rooms of former monarchs as well as further collections of art, the remains of the Danish Tower and some of the older, Gothic architecture. For archaeological finds and a history of Wawel Castle, go to the Lost Wawel exhibition. This shows the development of the castle and displays a number of artefacts from its excavation.
Visitors can also see Wawel Cathedral as well as several other sites on Wawel Hill. This historic part of Krakow is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Wawel Cathedral is one of Krakow’s most significant historic sites and the burial place of many of its monarchs and national icons.
Wawel Cathedral (Cathedral Basilica of Saints Stanisław and Vaclav) is an iconic fourteenth century gothic building in Krakow in Poland steeped in the country’s history. Consecrated in 1364, Wawel Cathedral is located on Wawel Hill, one of the most historically significant areas in Poland, renowned as being the centre of the country’s power for hundreds of years.
In fact, the current Wawel Cathedral is not the first to be built on this site. King Bolesław Chrobry built the first Wawel Cathedral at the beginning of the first millennium. In approximately 1140, this building was succeeded by a new Wawel Cathedral which was destroyed by a fire in 1305. Today’s Wawel Cathedral was then built as a replacement.
Wawel Cathedral itself has played an important role in Poland’s past as the site of the majority of its coronations and royal funerals. It is also where many prominent Poles have been laid to rest. The crypts, tombstones and sarcophagi of these national icons are visible throughout the cathedral, including those of kings Władysław I, Casimir III the Great and Sigismund I and Saint Queen Hedwig, to name a few.
Wawel Cathedral’s chapels are fascinating in their own right, the most famous of which is Sigismund Chapel (Kaplica Zygmuntowska). In fact, every aspect of Wawel Cathedral seems to be immersed in history, from the prehistoric animal bones hanging on the door in the entrance to the shrine to Poland’s former bishop and current patron saint, St Stanislaus, the Konfesja Św Stanisława. Even the bell of Wawel Cathedral tells a story.
Known as the Sigismund Bell (Dzwon Zygmunta), this vast sixteenth century bell is the largest antique bell in Poland and weighs an astonishing eleven tonnes. Visitors can view the bell by climbing the seventy steps to where it resides.
Today, Wawel Cathedral is the seat of the archdiocese of Krakow. It also forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors to Wawel Cathedral can also visit the John Paul II Cathedral Museum, which houses the ecclesiastical and artistic pieces once housed the Cathedral Treasury.
Wilanow Palace is a late seventeenth century Baroque palace in Warsaw, built by King Jan III Sobieski, and an art museum.
Wilanow Palace (Palac w Wilanowie) is a pretty, late seventeenth century Baroque palace in Warsaw built by King Jan III Sobieski. Combining Polish architectural style with several others from around Europe, Wilanow Palace became Jan III’s royal home and eventually the place where this military leader died.
Over the upcoming centuries, Wilanow Palace would change hands from royal residents to wealthy owners, including being the home of king August II the Strong in the 1730s.
In the nineteenth century, Wilanow Palace was turned into a museum and, despite many of its works being stolen during World War II, most of these have since been returned.
Today, the museum at Wilanow Palace displays a range of artwork. Visitors can also tour the royal apartments at Wilanow Palace as well as viewing pieces related to the history of the Polish royal family, including their effigies. The gardens of Wilanow Palace are stunning and are also nice to wander through.
The ‘Wolf’s Lair’ is the name given to Hitler’s headquarters in Poland during World War II and the site of Claus von Stauffenberg’s assassination attempt.
The Wolf’s Lair in Gierloz in Poland was Adolf Hitler’s base on the Eastern Front during World War Two. The Nazi leader often called himself “the Wolf” and thus the Wolf’s Lair, also known as ‘Wilczy Szianiec’ or ‘Wolfsschanze’ is named after him.
At one point housing 2,000 people, the Wolf’s Lair was heavily defended and shrouded in Poland’s dense woodlands. In fact, it seems that the forces Hitler had to fear in his headquarters were not just external, but from within his own ranks.
On 20 July 1944, a group of Hitler’s own men, led by Claus von Stauffenberg, tried to assassinate him at the Wolf’s Lair by smuggling in a bomb. Whilst the attempt was unsuccessful, it did result in four other deaths.
In 1944, Hitler’s headquarters moved to Zossen and the Wolf’s Lair was mostly destroyed under his orders. Today, its ruins are a museum.