I'm not sure if the post title is appropriate with all the history we encountered at our next destination, but I can only continue with pun names at this point. Gdansk was the very first site of WW2; the very first invasion; the first move by Hitler that initiated the Second World War as we know it. The city of Gdansk got taken from both the water and inland at the same time, but our visit started inland today.
For starters, this is a STUNNING city. Everywhere you go, you feel the pride of the people; the history (and we're talking well beyond the world wars); and the beauty and detail that was put into every building. The city is practically all original and was maintained throughout the war, because despite it being the very first site of invasion, it was actually one of two cities in Europe that voted for Hitler with a majority, even Berlin and Munich didn't.
We did two tours during our one day here, the first one was Gdansk taking us way back to the medieval ages: discussing prosperity, pride, and importance of this city. It was one of the main European ports for trade; first contact when coming in from the Baltic Sea. It was a VERY prosperous city as it's rich in amber, as well as it was built strategically containing all its wheat within buildings on a man-made island in the centre of the city. It was extremely hard to take back in the ages, and even more so, it wouldn't succumb to any fires thanks to the moat dug all the way around. I won't go into all the details of the city, the who, the what, the when, and the which part because I think the thought of typing that all out made me overwhelmed and that's why I've put it off for so long deciding I don't like blogging. And plus, at this point I forgot a lot of the fine details (which is the point of this blog in the first place, d'oh). But honestly, there is just way too much information here.
To say the least, we had an incredible day. Food was fantastic, we enjoyed the best crepe for breakfast outside our AirBnB, wandered the streets, played in the fountains, checked out the amber museum and its famous fossilized lizard amongst other things, as well as dropped by the tower that used to be the dungeon where the wind picked up my dress and I gave the guards a nice view. I may not speak Polish, but it's similar enough to Russian that I picked up on the discussion that followed: it was basically the most exciting thing they've seen all day; you're welcome. We then grabbed some seafood by the dock and rushed off the World War 2 tour, because when in Gdansk, you can't not.
Here's the kicker. As we're coming to the end of our first tour (the one that happens every single day at the same time), we're standing at our last spot at 4pm and are noticing there are candles, wreaths, and people in uniforms everywhere. Turns out, by complete coincidence, we were finishing our tour at the exact building where it all started, at the exact time to the minute, 80 years later. We had no idea it was memorial day, we had no idea our tour would take us here, and we had no idea we'd be standing here with goosebumps all over imagining what went down here.
Gdansk had pretty much kicked out most Jews before the war started as it was a very Germanic state. Most people either left or tried to hide their origins, however, the postmen were the only ones left who could not hide their identity as the post was coming separately here than it was for the rest of the population (specifically Germanic people, as the Poles were kicked and treated just as lowly). To sum it all up, on September 29th, early in the morning, the postmen were surrounded at the post office. At first, they wouldn't stand down, and it wasn't until 4pm when the Germans brought in trucks of oil and were about to burn the building, that the postmen surrendered in hopes of survival. They were led out back and were lined up against the wall. Today, there is a memorial here that may be one of the most gut wrenching memorials I've ever seen. At the end of the wall, there is a mural/photo taken of the postmen lined up with their hands against the wall, and all alone the wall, there have been plaques placed with hand prints based on this picture at the appropriate heights and widths to commemorate these men, who were, of course, tried and executed. Just writing this, months later after being there, is indescribable. What a moment.
Although Gdansk was mostly Germanic and had a large Polish population that was sent off and/or executed, it was home to one of the largest synogues that could service 2000 people. It was, of course, burned down before the war even started, but our second tour of the day focused on the lives of the Jews leading up to the war. In September 1939, it is reported there were still about 3500 Jews in the city, mostly elderly, and for comparison's sake, Gdansk currently has about 100 reported Jews living within it's borders. Let that sink in. Most of them did not survive, and only 140 children were sent to Britain through the Kindertransport program (Britains were convinced "to do something" before they officially got involved and it was to transport various children, usually of higher class citizens, from various cities throughout all of Europe where they were able to survive and grow up as British citizens). It's absolutely gut wrenching because even the high class families who were able to have their child "accepted into the program", could only send one and would have to choose between their children. I can't even imagine, and it sickens me to even try and picture it. Our second tour followed the footsteps of the Jewish neighbourhoods, right down to the train station where we stopped for a moment at the Kindertransport memorial. Later in our travels, we see another one in Munich. To be able to witness all the different angles, perspectives, and sides of history was unbelievable. This blog is really rekindling something that I've cast aside as our travels eventually went from historical to scenic.
We still can't believe it - eighty years later, to the day, to the minute, we coincidentally stood where it all begin: the official start of World War 2. And this was the start to our week in Poland.