phoenix city

A long night. Fifty years of darkness. A solar eclipse from 1939 to 1989. Poland. A lot of psychological baggage from basically a landlocked nation surrounded, bartered and chatteled off by stronger powers. To rebuild must take place on many levels,and is an ongoing process, one which may be just in the nascent stages in the long arc of history,  but never underestimate a defiant spirit. As is said to happen when Poles come across and must engage with a hopeless idea, they assume a rational, logical approach while biding their time for the divine cosmos to send them a miracle. And who knows, it may be happening…

A faithful reproduction of Warsaw’s central quarter exactly as it was before the war. Sort of. A lesson in how to preserve and cherish the past came strangely enough from behind the Iron Curtain. Warsaw presented and especially complicated problem, psychologically as well as physically. As the historic capital of Poland and the center of Polish resistance, Hitler had ordered that it be leveled to the ground like Carthage and replaced by a small garrison town, in one of the great acts of nihilism of all time. The Poles felt that this barbarous act left them no possible choice but to reconstruct at least the medieval walled center of the city.

Warsaw was not like Cracow which escaped with little damage heavier than rifle fire. The Nazis had systematically mined and wired it for demolition, but a lightning encirclement by Russian troops foiled this act of vandalism. As a result, an artistic and historic treasure-trove remains intact. Like many provincial centers in the old Austro-Hungarian empire, Cracow saw little development during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; long stretches of Cracow’s medieval fortifications still encircle the city. As a result there are whole areas of the old center that offer a comparatively undisturbed chronolgy of styles, from Romanesque to late eighteenth-century rococo.

—From an introduction to the exbition by Jerzy S. Majewski and Tomasz Markiewicz:
‘It is impossible to take a uniform stance on the post-war reconstruction of Warsaw. Attempts were made to rebuild the capital of Poland as a model socialist city in accordance with the ideology which had been imposed by a foreign power. Land was communalised, private initiative and middle class ethics were strangled and many buildings were pulled down without reason.
The reconstruction of Poland’s capital city took place under very specific political circumstances. In February 1945, the conference held in Yalta between the three Allied powers effectively decided the post-war political division of the world into two camps. The place of Poland and her capital city was not to be the free, western world but the Soviet sector, with all the consequences this was to bring – increasing terror, extermination of the opposition and a ‘social revolution’ imposed from above leading, as in the Soviet model, to the liquidation of the middle class, of landowners and of all institutions which were independent of the state.
On the other hand, perhaps for the first time in history, an attempt was made not just to reconstruct individual monuments, but entire sectors of Warsaw along the Royal Route, as well as the Old Town and the New Town.—Read More:

(see link at end)…The president had been trying to honor a famous Pole, awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a resistance fighter who sneaked behind enemy lines to bear witness to the atrocities being committed against Jews. President Obama referred to him being smuggled “into the Warsaw ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself.”

Sikorski also tonight tweeted a link to an Economist story noting that “few things annoy Poles more than being blamed for the crimes committed by the Nazi occupiers of their homeland. For many years, Polish media, diplomats and politicians have tried to persuade outsiders to stop using the phrase ‘Polish death camps’ as a shorthand description of Auschwitz and other exemplars of Nazi brutality and mass murder. Unfortunately this seems to have escaped BaracK Obama’s staff seem not to have noticed this.”…What Obama sees as a simple verbal slip up, the Poles see as a blood libel. Those were Nazi death camps, not Polish ones. Correcting the historical record is pro forma in cases like this. Why is Obama resisting?Read more:

After WWII no habitable building went long untenanted. It is hard for a Westerner to understand how precious enclosed space was in a country like Poland that lost millions of square feet of buildings in the course of six years of occupation. Hence, restoration and reconstruction of old buildings became much more feasible than might otherwise have been. Though the new Socialist construction was drab and shoddy there was little evidence of poor workmanship in Polish preservation work which ranged  up to superlative levels. The main reason being it involved many old-time luxury crafts no longer in demand such as marble, iron, stained glass, stone carving and wood which were usually undertaken by older men who held the skills. And they needed it since so much was gutted by the Nazi demolition squads in what was really a scorched earth policy, a cultural tabula rasa that was unprecedented. An analogy, though with differences, is like Vespasian destroying Jerusalem and the Temple. The rebuilt works seem fairly conservative but with an unmistakable brio and elegance of Polish taste ; the wit and exuberance that marks the Pole…

Restoration of the older parts of Warsaw was aided by the meticulously painted streetscapes of an eighteenth-century itinerant from Italy, Bernardo Bellotto. Here is the Church of the Sisters of the Holy Sacrament used as the basis for the restoration….Image:


(see link at end)…Karski, writing in the middle of the Second World War, tells how an entire underground government was created in Nazi-occupied Poland and how, under the grimmest situation possible, the Polish people not only resisted the Nazis, but creat

n elaborate organization which made the French Resistance look pathetically lame….

—The ruins of the Ghetto were leveled, and a new residential district was built right on top of them, making the new buildings one level higher than the prewar buildings had been. The city’s historical downtown was rebuilt – but, since all plans and blueprints had gone up in flames, eighteenth century Warsaw landscapes, painted by the Italian artist Canaletto, were used as the basis for the new plans.
Beyond the downtown area, reconstructed with loving care for historical detail, most of what was Warsaw was built over by drab, modern housing, in different styles – from socialist Realism to functionalism. Street names were renamed, to sing the glory of the Communist regime and its patrons in Moscow. A huge skyscraper – the Palace of Culture – was built where Warsaw’s commercial center used to be. This Stalinist monstrosity, a gift from the Soviet Union, dominates the city’s skyline. …
The history of Warsaw’s reconstruction illustrates postwar Poland’s characteristic mix of popular enthusiasm and official insensitivity, of care for the past and denial of it, which characterized the everyday life of the people of Warsaw. The capital of the new Communist Poland was made to dance in rhythm with the tortuous politics of the time. A monument to the Ghetto uprising was built, but not to the Polish uprising one year later, deemed “politically incorrect” by the authorities. Churches were reconstructed, but not synagogues,…The only remaining shul (synagogue) was rebuilt and rededicated only in 1984.–Read More: image:

Karski, a Polish Catholic, also sought out Polish Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto before the 1943 uprising and recorded their desperate cry to the civilized world. Karski was captured and tortured by the Gestapo, and except for the help of religiously devout Poles, he would have perished under Nazi interrogation. His life was a testament to the resilience of the Polish people — Catholic and Jewish — against totalitarianism.

Caught between two of the vilest systems in human history, Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, the Polish people suffered in Nazi death camps, where six million Poles — Jewish and Catholic alike — died. The extermination of Polish Catholics in addition to Polish Jews is described in Sophie’s Choice, a book and then a film.

Before the Nazis began exterminating Poles, the Soviets herded over 1.5 million Polish men, women, and children in cattle cars to Gulag camps, where most died, suffering from policies of deliberate starvation. The Soviets also murdered in cold blood 20,000 Polish officers via the Red Army in the Katyn Forest.

Read more:

(see link at end)…So how does it happen that despite the physical absence of Jews from the soil of Poland, they are present everywhere? The answer probably lies in much deeper layers of the Polish experience. Immediately after being freed from the Nazi occupation, the Poles began to live under what many consider the Soviet occupation. For almost 50 years of this cultural and moral “occupation,” the Poles had no opportunity to confront their past and their history. Only now are they embarking on a search for the lost time, and wherever they come to search for themselves they find Jews an inseparable part of their past. So that part of the search for themselves must pass through the Jewish axis, and that is what entrenches the Jewish presence in Poland far beyond its true proportions. Read More:

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