Porto

Porto or Oporto is the second largest city in Portugal. The city itself is small with a population of 237,559 people. However, Porto’s metropolitan area has an estimated 1.7 million people.  Located along the Douro river estuary   in northern Portugal Porto is one of the oldest European cities and its core, as “Historic Centre of Porto, Luiz I Bridge, and Monastery of Serra do Pilar”. was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. The western part of its urban area extends to the coastline of the Atlantic and it was once an outpost of the Roman Empire.  

Port wine, one of Portugal’s most famous exports, is named after Porto, since the metropolitan area, and in particular the warehouses of the Vila Nova de Gaia on the south bank of the Douro where Port is stored, packaged and exported.

The skyline of Porto dominated by the Clérigos Tower.

Porto is very much a working city though in recent years it has attracted a lot of tourism primarily because of it picture pretty waterfront, rising steeply up from the River, and the photogenic Luis Bridge.  Most of the tourism activity of the city is targeted in this riverfront area. The steep alleyways, living quarters and shops of the Ribeira district on the north bank and the Port lodges and tasting rooms of the Vila Nova de Gaia across the river. Other than that, the city does not have many other touristic sights as such but still is a fascinating and everyday working Portuguese city going through a fast upgrade.  The city’s trademark is the elegant two-tiered Ponte Dom Luis 1 Bridge which joins the two banks. Inaugurated in 1886 and replacing a former bridge (Ponte Pensil dating back to 1841) it has a low-level tier for cars and pedestrians and an upper level for pedestrians and trams.

The rest of city holds little of actual tourist interest other than the various churches and buildings many decorated with the beautiful blue tiles, azulejos. The Sao Bento railway station, in the city centre, is one such building its magnificently decorated main hall is a draw for tourists and sight seers with its beautifully tiles. Built in 1900 the station is decorated with 20,00 magnificent azulejo ceramic tiles depicting Portugal’s past, the tiles were positioned over 11 years beginning in 1905 and finished in 1916 by artist Jorge Calaco.  The British pop group James used the station hall as a venue for a free concert in November 2014.

Unusual modern architecture

The Casa da Música is a modern concert hall in the Boavista district.  It was designed by architect Rem Koolhaas and opened in 2005.Built on the site of an old tram terminus station in Boavista roundabout (Rotunda da Boavista), it was the first building in Portugal aimed from its conception to be exclusively dedicated to music. It was open to the public on 14 April 2005, with performances by Cla and Lou Reed while the official inauguration occurred the next day. It immediately became a city icon. Featuring a 1300-seat auditorium suffused with daylight, it is the only concert hall in the world with two walls made entirely of glass. There is an usual sculpture of a large Red Hand on the outside which generates some curiosity especially from Nick Cave fans and even the man himself.

Less formal concerts are held in the Coliseum of Porto (Coliseu do Porto) a theatre and concert venue in an old Art Deco building in the centre of the city on R. de Passos Manuel 137. The building itself is worth a look, an example of Portuguese Streamline Moderne and Art Deco styles, built in 1908. Many famous contemporary artists have played at this venue.

Bridges across the Douro.

There are six bridges in Porto spanning the Douro valley. Nearest the estuary is the concrete Arrabida traffic Bridge constructed between 1957 and 1963. Then you have the Ponte Dom Luis 1 Bridge constructed between 1881 and 1886. The engineer being Theodore Seyring a disciple of Gustav Eiffel.

Ponte Dom Luis 1 Bridge

Very visible just east of Porto’s landmark is the Infante Don Henrique Bridge opened in 2003 to take the excess traffic.

Eiffel himself is reputed to have designed the oldest bridge still in existence, though no longer in use, the Dona Maria Pia railway bridge built between 1875 and 1877 was part of the Linha Norte system of the national railway. The wrought iron double-hinged, crescent arch bridge was at the time of its construction, the longest single-arch span in the world. It is often confused with the Dom Luis 1 Bridge which was built nine years later and is located 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) to the west but resembles the structure. It was closed in 1991 and replaced by the modern Ponte de San Joao which now carries all the trains entering Porto from the south. Further east is the last bridge, the Frexio Bridge opened in 1995 for road traffic.

Wine tasting in the Vila Nova de Gaia.

A highlight of any trip to Porto is a port tasting tour. The whole riverside on the south bank of the river has been redeveloped in recent years but gives a lovely view across to the north

Vila Nova de Gaia with a view across to the north Bank.

bank to the tumble of building on the other bank. There are numerous bars, shops and café but the area is dominated by the port wine trade and all the various lodges offer tastings and tours. The whole idea is to get you to purchase but a nice way to spend the early part of an evening is to purchase a tasting selection, various prices, with some light snacks and relax tasting various ports at your leisure.  There are numerous to choose from.  I had a nice afternoon in the Royal Oporto wine company museum, sampling various ports. Very interesting checking out the differences between the Rubys and Tawnys along with some light snacks.

Porto city Centre

The main part of commercial Porto revolves around the Avenida dos Aliados a broad double avenue that stretches from the Praca da Liberdade up to the Camera Municipal or City Hall. The Avenida is lined with shops, stores and cafes. Another busy shopping street is Rua Santa Catarina on which at 112 stands the Café Majestic. The exterior is very Art Nouveau while the interior is lavish 1920s ambience.  It is extremely popular with tourists and locals alike and it is reputed J.K Rowling often drank coffee here in her pre–Harry Potter days. Another curiosity worth paying the entrance fee to see is the Lello & Irmão Bookstore on Rue das Carmelitas 144, with its stunning interior. Opened in 1906 it has a marvellous stairway and the wooden walls and a stained-glass ceiling. If you buy a book the entrance fee is taken off the price. Again, this bookstore is associated with J.K. Rowling and her days in Porto as an English teacher in the 1990s.

Travels by Tram.

Porto has a new metro system which is mainly overground but has an underground section under the city centre. The metro goes out as far as the airport linking it efficiently with the centre of the city. At one point it goes over the Ponte Dom Luis 1 Bridge on the upper tier. However, a popular and novel way to take a few trips around Porto is by the old electric trams to give you a different perspective on the city.  Like Lisbon Porto once had an extensive tram system but is now limited to just three lines 1, 18 and 22.

Linha 1 begins in the Ribeira, near the Church of Saint Francis and goes in one direction alongside the river to the costal part of the city, Foz do Douro, at the mouth of the river. This is an extremely popular line especially in the Summer and travels west under the Arrabida Bridge. Another option is to walk out along the river, heading west, and get the tram back or of course vice versa.

Linha 18 is a restored track and the shortest and least popular or interesting from a tourist point of view. It intersects with Linha 1 at the Museu do Carro Electrico (The Tram Museum) and travels north east into the city centre.

Finally, there is Linha 22 a circular line which talked 30 minutes to do a circuit of the city centre passing a number of the beautiful old churches and intersecting with Linha 18 at the Carmo stop.

Churches

In 711-716 an invasion by an Islamic army comprising Berbers from North Africa and Arabs from the Middle east plus other Muslims from all around the Islamic world, conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula and founded the Islamic State of Al-Andalus. This State endured until the final Reconquista of the Algarve in 1294. Lisbon and the rest of what would become Portugal, was reconquered by the early 12th century. Porto was once part of this Muslim dynasty before being “liberated”. The recapture of Porto is credited to Vímara Peres, a knight who is said to have taken back Porto from its Moorish occupiers in the year of 868. You can visit his statue Porto’s first known lord, located just outside of the Sé, Porto’s Cathedral. At the base are two dates 868-1968. The first one being the date of the recapture, the second one referring to the construction of the actual statue by sculptor Salvador Barata Feyo.

To cleanse the recaptured land construction began immediately on huge and numerous Christian churches. Since the Reconquita the building of great churches has been an ongoing project. Some churches haven taken centuries to complete.

Porto, of course, has many beautiful churches the biggest being the Cathedral or Se. Building commenced in 1110, during the Reconquista, and was not completed in its entirety until 1737. Set high up it dominates the Porto skyline and overlooks the river. From the Cathedral it is an interesting walk down the steep Rua Escura “Dark street” to the Ribeira waterfront.

Torre dos Clérigos – “Church of the Clergymen” is a Baroque church with its tall bell tower, it can be seen from various points of the city and is one of its most characteristic symbols. was built for the Brotherhood of the Clérigos (Clergy) by Nicolau Nasoni, an Italina architect and painter who left an extensive body of work in the north of Portugal during the 18th century.

Torre dos Clérigos

Construction of the church began in 1732 and was finished in 1750. The monumental tower of the church, located at the back of the building, was only built between 1754 and 1763. The tower is 75.6 metres high, dominating the city. There are 240 steps to be climbed to reach the top of its six floors. This great structure has become the symbol of the city.

Nicolau Nasoni entered the Clérigos Brotherhood and was buried, at his request, in the crypt of the Clérigos Church, with the exact place remaining unknown.

The Church of Saint Francis (Igreja de São Francisco) is located near the Riberira waterfront and was established by the Franciscan Order in Porto in 1245. Originally a small church and convent it was extensively extended and is now a prominent example of Gothic architecture. It is said that the interior was decorated with 300 kilos of gold dust. Riches amongst the poverty of the Riberiro. Under the church are catacombs which hold the bones of generations of Franciscan monks and members of Porto’s wealthiest families. Some of bones are visible in an ossuary under a glass floor.

The Igreja de Santo Ildefonso is another magnificent church located near Batalha Square. It was completed in 1739 and has withstood sieges, storms and artillery fire.  Approximately 11,000 azulejo tiles cover the façade of the church, which were created by artist Jorge Colaco and placed in November 1932. The tiles depict scenes from the life of Saint Ildefonso. and figurative imagery from the Gospels.

  The Igreja de Santo Ildefonso

You can relax with a coffee or a beer at the Café Java in the square opposite the Igreja de Santo Ildefonso – visiting churches can be thirsty work!!

The Church of Our Lady of Lapa (Igreja da Lapa), in the Largo da Lapa, north of city centre -Lapa Metro –  holds particular significance in Porto as the place where Portugal’s former king and first emperor of Brazil’s heart is kept. The monarch, known as Dom Pedro IV in Portugal and Dom Pedro I in Brazil, requested his heart be gifted to Porto upon his death, and so has been kept by the church alter since 1835. The construction of this church began in 1755 and it took one hundred years to complete. The church also has an interesting graveyard which was built to meet the huge demand during various cholera epidemics which was first brought to Oporto in 1832 on the boats that carried troops from Ostend to help the Liberal army during the civil war.

The Church de Carmo on Rua do Carmo another 18th century masterpiece of worship. It is also decorated with a blaze of azulejos.  The neighbouring Igreja das Carmelitas is less of an eye-catcher but between the two is a house. It was built to comply with an ancient law that stipulated that no two churches were to share the same wall.

The last church I recommend visiting is The Chapel of Souls famous for its exterior of blue & white tiles painted with scenes from the lives of saints. Also known as Capela das Almas in Portuguese, it is a relatively small church located in in the middle of the main shopping street of Porto, named Rua de Santa Catarina, Santo Ildefonso district. It is always at the top of must-see landmarks for tourists to see and probably the most photographed building in the city. It also dates form the early 18th century and the exterior facade was clad in 1929 with tiles depicting scenes from the lives of saints. Specifically, there are scenes depicting the death of Saint Francis and the martyrdom of Saint Catherine. The Azulejos are works by Eduardo Leite and they were produced in Lisbon by the “Viuda Lamego” Ceramic Factory.

The Chapel of Souls famous for its exterior of blue & white tiles.

The Monastery of Serra do Pilar is a former monastery located in Vila Nova de Gaia. The monastery is situated on an outcrop overlooking the Dom Luis 1 Bridge was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The monastery is notable for its church and cloister, both of which are circular. Construction of the first monastery at the site began in 1538 and was completed in 1564 and the cloisters were finished in 1583. In 1597, work began on the new church and the monastery was slowly updated in phases over the next several decades. The new circular church was inaugurated on July 17, 1672, and the final phases of the monastery were completed by the end of the 17th century.  It was from this monastery that General Arthur Wellesley surveyed the French positions across the river and placed his artillery to support his troops in their attack during the Second Battle of Porto in 1809.

PORTO IN THE PENNISULAR WARS

After the retreat and evacuation of the British army, under Sir John Moore from Corunna, northern Spain in January 1809 Napoleon ordered Marshal Nicolas Soult to invade Portugal from the north. Soult’s first attempt to invade Portugal was stopped by the local Portuguese militia on February 16th, 1809. However, the French army made a second attempt in early March 1809 and captured the Portuguese town of Chaves and from there moved south. On March 20th Soult took Braga after a defeat of Portuguese militia. On March 29th, 1809 he wiped away another Portuguese army defending Porto and his cavalry rode into the city pursuing the retreating Portuguese troops. The Portuguese tried to escape from the French in the city but were chased by the French cavalry throughout the streets, and their regular units were annihilated. Troops and thousands of fleeing civilians raced down the steep streets of the northern part of the city desperate to get across the river. Most were drowned when a bridge of boats across the Douro River (near where the Iron Bridge now stands) collapsed because of their weight and of Portuguese artillery fire (who were aiming at the French cavalry behind the Portuguese soldiers and citizens. This terrible loss of life became known as the “Ponte des Barcas” tragedy and is remembered with a brass plaque on the waterfront in Riberia.

Porto was then occupied by the French army though their advance faltered. Soult progressed no further south than the Vouga river, halfway between Coimbra and Porto, while another French army under General Victor remained at Mérida, in Spain 270km east of Lisbon.

After taking command of the British troops in Portugal on 22 April 22nd, Arthur Wellesley (later named 1st Duke of Wellington) quickly seized the opportunity to attack Soult before turning to confront Victor. With an army of 18,000 British and Portuguese troops he immediately advanced on Porto. The French retreated across the Douro and destroyed all boats and bridges and all river crossings to the north side of the river were heavily defended. As British troops streamed into Vila Nova de Gaia on the morning of 12th May, Wellesley surveyed the French dispositions from the grounds of the convent Mosteiro da Nossa Serra do Pilar. Before long he had received two encouraging reports from scouts sent out earlier to scour the south shore. The first was news of a large ferry boat found 5km upstream at Avintes; although the boat had been damaged by the French, it could be repaired and put into use in a short time. The second came from an intelligence officer, Colonel John Waters; a barber who had crossed from Porto in a skiff had told Waters of four wine barges that lay unguarded and undamaged on the north shore east of the city.

Wellesley had already taken note of a large, isolated stone building that stood on the heights above the opposite bank of the river outside of the eastern suburbs of the city; this was the Bishop’s Seminary and there was no sign that it has been garrisoned by the French. This observation and the stroke of luck, concerning the wine barges gave Wellesley an opportunity. While a detached force led by Murray was sent to cross the Douro at Avintes, Waters crossed the river in the skiff accompanied by the barber, the Prior of Amarante (as a guide) and a number of local boatmen. The unlikely ensemble returned with the four barges and with confirmation that the seminary was unoccupied. With the words “Well, let the men cross”, Wellesley now set in motion one of the most audacious moves of his military career. In the mid-morning and in full daylight. a company of the 3rd Foot (The Royal East Kent Regiment “The Buffs”) crossed the river in the wine barrages and clambered up to the seminary and secured its iron gate. As more and more infantry reached the seminary, the building was gradually turned into a fortress. Furthermore, the approach roads to the seminary were within shrapnel range of three artillery batteries which Wellesley had positioned in the convent gardens. Even though the crossing point was out of sight of the majority of the French troops, it seems incredible that a full hour elapsed before the alarm was raised. By this time, some 600 British infantry had crossed the river. By the time the French realized that Wellesley’s forces were on the north bank, the entire battalion of the Buffs were preparing defensive positions in the seminary.

Soult, who was asleep at the time, remained unaware of these developments. General Maximilien Foy, who was the first to see the British crossing, requisitioned three battalions of the 17th Light Infantry and led an attack on the seminary around 11:30 am. Wellington opened up on them with his artillery from across the river. Those who made it through the barrage were met with heavy rifle fire from the windows and roof of the seminary. Foy was wounded and his soldiers beaten back with heavy losses. Reinforced later in the day by three more battalions, the French attacked again. By this time, however, three more British battalions had occupied the seminary and surrounding buildings, and the French were defeated once again. Soult then withdrew the troops guarding the Porto boats in order to reinforce Foy.

As soon as the French left the riverside, the people of Porto immediately set out in “anything that would float” and ferried more British troops over. Four British battalions, including the 29th Foot (Worcestershire Regiment) and the Brigade of Guards climbed the steep hill into the town from the river. and attacked the French from the rear. The French, already planning a leisurely evacuation of the city, instead fled precipitously north-eastward. Soult’s late attempts to muster a defence were in vain. The French quickly abandoned the city in a disorderly retreat.

This battle ended the second French invasion of Portugal. Soult soon found his retreat route to the east blocked and was forced to destroy his guns and burn his baggage train. Wellesley pursued the French army, but Soult’s army escaped annihilation by fleeing through the mountains.

The Seminary overlooking the Douro framed by two bridges – Infante Don Henrique Bridge and the Dona Maria Pia railway bridge.

Today the Seminary occupied and so stoutly defended by the British on that morning still stands on the hill on the north bank overlooking the Douro at the Largo do Padre Baltazar Guedeas. Now swallowed up by the suburbs of the city it can be reached via the Rua de São Vitor directly down to the small square called Largo do Padre Baltazar Guedeas. The former seminary, now an orphanage, dominates the square. Follow the line of the Rua de São Vitor below the level of the square and round to the south face of the orphanage where a commemorative plaque can be seen at the west end. There are views over the river from here towards the promontory where Wellington sited his artillery and towards the bay from where Hill’s Brigade embarked. It is still impressive and a formidable defence position with a plaque, on the west side referring to the events of May 12th, 1809.

Across the river the convent Mosteiro da Nossa Serra do Pilar where Wellesley observed the French positions and placed his artillery is also still there. It can be reached by turning onto the Rua de Rodrigues de Freitas then immediately left again (signposted Monumento) onto Rampa do Infante Santo. The narrow drive leads uphill to the Mosteiro da Nossa Serra do Pilar. This is a still a fine point from which to view the city of Porto. 

Monumento aos Heróis da Guerra Peninsular.

At the Boavista roundabout on the main throughfare heading west from the city centre is a massive memorial.  The Monument to the Heroes of the Peninsular War is situated in the middle of the large rotunda in the Boavista district of Porto. It is a 45 m (148 ft) column slowly built between 1909 and 1951, is a project by the celebrated Porto architect José Marques da Silva and the sculptor Alves de Sousa. The column is topped by a lion, the symbol of the joint Portuguese and British victory, which is bringing down the French imperial eagle. Around the base are sculptures of soldiers and civilians, the latter representing the people of Porto caught up in disaster on 29 March 1809 when the bridge (the Ponte das Barcas, supported by twenty linked boats) they were crossing to flee from Napoleon’s troops collapsed, and more than four thousand people drowned in the River Douro. Completion of the column was delayed by two World Wars, and the monument was finally unveiled in 1952, some years after the deaths of both the sculptor and the architect.

Further Reading

“A History of the Peninsular War, Volume II” by Sir Charles Oman, published by Greenhill Books 1995, ISBN 1853672157.

“Wellington’s Peninsular War” by Julian Paget, published by Pen & Sword 1992, ISBN 0850526035.

“Wellington in the Peninsula 1808-1814” by Jac Weller, published by Greenhill Books 1999, ISBN 1853673811.

FOOTBALL

Porto is also the home of one of the country’s most successful football clubs, FC Porto.  Also, there is Boavista Porto’s “other” team.

Futebol Clube do Porto, commonly known as FC Porto or simply Porto, is best known as one of the big three Portuguese clubs. The club was founded on 28 September 1893 as Foot-Ball Club do Porto by António Nicolau de Almeida, a local port wine merchant and avid sportsman, who became fascinated with soccer during his trips to England. Porto is one of the ” Big Three (Portuguese: Os Três Grandes) teams in Portugal – together with the two Lisbon based teams and have appeared in every season of the Primeira Liga since its establishment in 1934. They are nicknamed Dragões (Dragons), for the mythical creature atop the club’s crest, and Azuis e brancos (Blue-and-whites), for the shirt colours. The club supporters are called Portistas. Since 2003, Porto have played their home matches at Estadio do Dragao, which replaced the previous 51-year-old ground, the Estadio das Antas. The Estadio do Dragao is in the east of city with its own metro station. FC Porto have enjoyed huge success, both domestically and in Europe, having been managed by amongst others Bobby Robson, in the mid-1990s and Jose Mourinho from 2002 to 2004.

Having its own station combined with the infrastructure, the metro functions as the main way of reaching the stadium, with different lines linking the various city areas and a direct connection to the airport.

Boavista Futebol Clube, commonly known as Boavista or Axadrezados was founded on in 1903 by British entrepreneurs and Portuguese textile workers, in the Boavista area of the western part of the city. It is one of the oldest clubs in the country and plays in the Primeira Liga Portuguese football’s topflight.

Its stadium, Estadio do Bessa, was built in 1973, although football has been played there at the former ‘Campo do Bessa’ since the 1910s, and was revamped for use in Euro 2004 and today is a very modern 30,000-seats stadium. Boavista were regulars in UEFA competitions in the 1990 and early 2000s but in June 2008, Boavista was sentenced to relegation for its part in the Apito Dourado (Golden Whistle) match fixing scandal, for three games in the 2003–04 season. After a long legal battle, in June 2013, Boavista was entitled the right to come back to the Primeira Liga and after a six-year absence, Boavista returned to the Primeira Liga in the 2014/15 season. The Panther is the club’s symbol and nickname. Their ultra-fans as known as the Panteras Negras. The Club plays in a black strip.  

The Estadio do Bessa is a considerable distance from Porto city centre. The nearest metro station is Francos from where it is a 15-minute walk.

Porto Airport.

Porto’s Sá Carneiro International Airport is located in Maia, 10 kilometres north of the city centre. You can easily get to central Porto using the Metro. Line E (purple) runs every 20 minutes during weekdays, and around every half an hour on weekends and holidays. Tickets can be purchased from vending machines or at the airport’s tourist information office.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Oliver Fallon Ranger’s Travels 2021;

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Risiera di San Sabba Concentration Camp, Trieste.

In September 1943 after the Italian armistice the Nazis took over control of Northern and central Italy. They immediately began to inflict their brutal regime on the Italians and others unfortunate enough to fall under their control. Within weeks they had commandeered an old rice factory on the outskirts of Trieste and converted first into a barracks and then shortly afterwards a detention camp. It was to become a brutal place of torture and execution.

Risiera di San Sabba, Trieste. The outline of where the crematorium stood is clearly visible.

Trieste’s proximity to Slovenia and the extensive partisan activity in southern Slovenia and Croatia meant that huge numbers of captured and suspected Slovenian partisans were brought there. In addition it was used for Italian partisans, “deserters” Italian soldiers who had laid down their arms, Jews, Political prisoners, Anti Fascists, and anyone suspected or being a threat to the Nazi regime. By the time Triste was liberated by the Yugoslavian army on May 1st 1945 an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people had been murdered in Risiera di San Saba. Their bodies burned in a specially built crematorium added onto the factory for that single purpose in April 1944.

The victims were mostly members of the Resistance (Italians, Slovenians and Croats), hostages captured during the round-ups and civilians arrested because they were suspected of collaborating with the partisans. Many of them were transferred from the city prisons of Coroneo or the Gestapo and SIPOSD (Sicherheitspolizei-Sicherheitsdienst) command in Piazza Oberdan, many were brought there directly from where they had been captured.

A memorial on the outside of the former Gestapo HQ, Piazza Oberdan, Trieste.

The SS and the Ukrainian soldiers working under them were in charge of the killings, and used various means of doing so: hanging, firing squad, gas emissions, bludgeoning. The executions generally took place at night; from the depositions given during the trials of former Guards after the war it emerged that the SS set the dogs loose and played loud music in the camp to cover the cries of the prisoners.

What is certain is that around 25 Jews were killed at the camp because they were considered unable to face deportation, or because they were accused of breaching the regulations.

The Jewish Italians

Prior to 1938 the Jewish population of Italy was numbered at 40,000. Most of these were concentrated in the capital, Rome, and also the other northern cities primarily Venice, Trieste, Florence, Ferrara and Turin. The oppression of Italian Jews began in September 1938 with the enactment of Racial Laws of segregation by the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini.  As a result the Jewish population of Italy were deprived of civil rights and prevented from holding certain positions in Government and other prominent positions in society. However, despite this, Italy and later the Italian occupation zones in Greece, France and Yugoslavia remined places of relative safety for local Jews and Jewish refugees who had made their way to Italy from other parts of Europe. As a result the number of Jews in Italy increased during the war by just over 10%. It is estimated 44,500 Jews were living in Italy prior to the armistice. This changed in September 1943, when German forces occupied the country, installed the puppet state of the Italian Social Republic  and immediately began persecuting and deporting the Jews found in the parts of Italy under their control. there. In the nineteen months of German occupation, from September 1943 to May 1945, twenty percent of Italy’s pre-war Jewish population were killed by the Nazis.

Of the estimated 44,500 Jews living in Italy before September 1943, approximately 10,000 were murdered immediately or deported to Poland. Arrested Jews were taken to the transit camps at Borgo San Dalmazzo (in Piedmont about 5 miles south of the city of Cuneo), Fossolini (near Modena in Emilia-Romagna) and the largest Bolzano in South Tyrol, and from there to Auschwitz. Jews detained in Eastern Italy and Slovenia were held at Risiera di San Saba. Altogether, by the end of the war, almost 8,600 Jews from Italy and Italian-controlled areas in France and Greece were deported to Auschwitz; all but 1,000 were murdered. Only 506 were sent to other camps (Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, and Flossenbürg) as hostages or political prisoners. Among them were a few hundred Jews from Libya, an Italian colony before the war, who had been deported to mainland Italy in 1942, and were sent to Bergen-Belsen. In all 7,680 were murdered, mainly in Auschwitz. A further 300 Jews were shot or died of other causes in transit camps in Italy. Nearly 37,000 survived by fleeing to areas not under German control or hidden with the assistance of their Italian friends and neighbours. Unfortunately in the hunt and roundup of Italian Jews some Italian police and the Fascist militia played an integral role as the Germans’ accessories.

After being captured by Fascist Militia in December 1943 hiding in the mountains with a Partisan group, Turin Jew, Primo Levi found himself sent to one these detention camps. “ As a Jew I was sent to Fossoli near Modena, where a vast detention camp, originally meant for English and American prisoners of war, collected all the numerous categories of people, not approved of by the new born Fascist Republic. At the moment of my arrival , that is, at the end of January 1944, there were about 150 Italian Jews in the camp, but within a few weeks their number rose to over six hundred” (Primo Levi p. 20). Levi was one of a batch of 650 Jewish Italians sent by train from Carpi to Auschwitz in February 1944.

Trieste

In 1938 Trieste there was a large Jewish population of about 6,000 and they were very prominent in the city’s economy. In 1912 the Great Synagogue of Trieste was opened, replacing a number of smaller ones in the city. It was built under Austrian rule, between 1908 and 1912, and was located on the Via S. Francesco D’Assisi, close to the city centre.  The synagogue was closed in 1942 following an attack by a Fascist mob who desecrated it. During the Nazi occupation, it was used as a storehouse for works of art and books seized from the Jewish houses. The ritual silvers of the Community were preserved from the plunder thanks to a clever hiding place inside the very building. As soon as the war finished the synagogue went back into operation. 

The doorway of the Great Synagogue, Trieste

When the Nazis arrived in Trieste in September 1943 about half the Jewish population, being aware of what was in store, had left. However on October 19th 1943 the first round up of Jews began in the city.  This was followed in January 29th 1944 by a second one this one targeting the sick and elderly in old people’s homes. Most of these unfortunate Jews were taken first to Risiera di San Saba, where they were kept before being put on trains for Poland. Most never returned. Following this Risiera di San Saba continued to utilised as a holding centre for Jews captured in small numbers in various roundups and arrests. Once there was a sufficient number a train was organised to take them to the death camps.

Polictical Prisoners and Partisans.

Political prisoners, mainly leftist Italians and anti fascists were arrested and sent to Risiera di San Saba to be executed or held until they were eventually murdered. Captured resistance fighters and partisans from all over northern Italy and parts of Slovenia and Croatia were first interrogated and tortured in the Gestapo HQ and SIPOSD (Sicherheitspolizei-Sicherheitsdienst) command in Piazza Oberdan. Afterwards they were transferred to Risiera di San Saba to be executed or deported to camps.

The grim looking building on the right is the Gestapo HQ in Piazza Oberdan, Trieste.

In April 1945 as Yugoslavian partisans approached Trieste from the south. The New Zealand 2nd Division was rapidly approaching from the west, having taken Padua on April 28th, crossing the Isonzo on May 1st 1945. the camp was evacuated. The crematorium was blown up and the guards fled. The remaining German troops and their  Chetnik irregulars gradually retreated inside the Castle of San Giusto and refused to surrender to the Yugoslavs who finally rolled into Trieste on May 1st 1945. The New Zealanders arrived the following day and the Germans and Chetniks surrendered to them. Despite the presence of the New Zealanders the Yugoslavs held full control of the city until June 12th 1945, a period known in Italian historiography as the “forty days of Trieste”. During this period, hundreds of local Italians and anti-Communist Slovenes were arrested by the Yugoslav authorities, and many of them were never seen again, most were taken away and shot on the Karst Plateau outside the city and their bodies dropped into ravines. British Field Marshall Alexander  condemned the Yugoslav military occupation and the atrocities that were occurring. After an agreement between the Yugoslav leader Josip Tito and Field Marshal Alexander, the Yugoslav forces withdrew from Trieste, which came under a joint British-U.S. military administration.

Post War

In immediate aftermath of the War Risiera di San Saba lay half destroyed. However in the 1950s it was utilised once again. This time as a temporary transit camp for, mainly, ethnic Italian refugees who had been expelled from or were fleeing Yugoslavia. Today it is a museum situated not too far from Trieste city centre at 1 Via Rio Primario, Trieste, 34148. It can easily reached by a bus from the Piazza Goldini in the city centre.

Refs: If This Is A Man -Primo Levi – Penguin Books 1979;

Thessaloniki

The city of Thessaloniki shines bright curved around the coast of northern Greece. The second city of Greece with a population of just over one million it is often overlooked by its larger neighbour in the south but does possess hidden charms. A city with a colourful and tragic history once was a crossroads of the Balkans where various cultures, nationalities and religions lived and worked together to build a prosperous and multi-cultural city. Today Thessaloniki is still a vibrant and lively city thanks to it’s university, one of the biggest in Greece. The waterfront with its White Tower which has become the symbol of the city is at its most vibrant at sundown as citizens and visitors stroll alone the promenade. The multi-layered history of Thessaloniki can be most vividly captured in the history of one its oldest buildings The Rotunda which survives amongst a sea of modernism.  

The distinctive round building was originally constructed as a Roman Temple in 309 AD by the Roman Emperor Galerius.  Later it became a Christian Church, then under the Ottomans a Mosque, with a minaret added to the original building. After the Ottomans left it became a Greek Orthodox Church with beautiful frescos now it is a heritage site and visitor attraction. Nearby is the Arch of Galerius which also dates from the same period and was constructed to celebrate the victory over the Persians in 298 AD.  

King George 1 of Greece (Prince Phillip’s grandfather) was assassinated near the White Tower in March 1913 by a gunman with unknown motives and 

 Greece and WW1

In October 1915 the 10th Irish Division disembarked at Salonika (Thessaloniki) Port. Having suffered heavy losses in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign during the Summer of 1915 they were redeployed to Northern Greece in an vain effort to assist the Serbian army which was under attack from the Austro-Hungarian army in the north and the Bulgarian army to the east.  Greece was at the time a neutral country but it’s loyalties were divided. The Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos, a Cretan,  supported the Allies while the King Constantine was more favourable to the Axis Powers, he was, after all, married to the Kaiser’s sister. However despite the country being neutral Allied troops including the 10th Irish Division were allowed to land and use the city of Thessalonica as a base. The Irish soldiers were moved north into Northern Macedonia where they soon came into conflict with the Bulgarian army. They suffered heavy casualties in the winter of 1915 as they engaged the enemy in sub zero conditions. For the next two years   the soldiers of the 10th Irish Division became very familiar with the port city as they spent time there recovering from wounds and sickness and on short leave breaks from the Front. 15 soldiers of the 5th battalion Connaught Rangers, who died of wounds of disease between October 1915 and March 1917, lie in the beautifully maintained corner of the Lembet Road Military cemetery in the city.   

One of those Sgt Michael Rafter from Ballina, Co Mayo died of wounds received in action on Sunday December 12th 1915. He was 28 years old and came from Ardnaree in the town.  

Unfortunately the White Tower, dating from the Ottoman period, would probably be the only part of the port side the side of the city that survives from the WW1 period as a large part of the lower city was destroyed by a fire in August 1917.  

King George 1 of Greece (Prince Phillilp’s grandfather) was asiantated near the White Tower in March 1913 by a gunman with unknown motives and  

Greece and World War 2

The German army handed over most of Greece to adistered by the Italins but certain strategic areas came under their direct control. German troops marched into the city on April 8th 1941 and began their occupation. The Nazis soon forced the Jewish residents into a ghetto near the railroad.

Deportations

The deportations of the city’s Jews began on and on March 15th 1943 as they were hereded to the railway station to begin their journey to north to Poland. All Thessaloniki’s Jews went to Auschwitz  and  nearby Bergen-Belsen death camps. Most were immediately sent to the gas chambers.  Of the 45,000 Jews deported to Auschwitz, only 4% survived. 

Featured

Warsaw a city haunted by its past- an overview of events and sites associated with World War 2 and the aftermath.

Warsaw the capital of Poland with a population of 1.7 million inhabitants is often overlooked by tourists. This of course, may be due to the fact that the city was completely destroyed in 1944 following the Uprising against Nazi occupation and so is really a new city masquerading as an old one. Nevertheless it is a definite must on any European tour and contains a huge amount of history – especially the horrific events of WW 2 . Set on the banks of the Vistula river Warsaw like the country it is the capital of has been a victim of its geography trapped on a main route between eastern and western Europe, between Berlin and Moscow,  and during WW2 between two madmen both intent on its destruction. The pain of Poland in the War years and the subsequent Soviet domination is everywhere in this the country’s Capital – a white eagle arising from the ashes of destruction and a must for WW 2 history buffs. 

Castle Square Warsaw

Sigismund’s Column in the centre of Royal Place Square.  

WARSAW THE CITY

Built on the banks of the great Vistula (Wisla) river, which flows south north to the Baltic sea and divides the city into east and west. Warsaw dates from the the mid 14th century but was declared a capital in 1569. Napoleon stopped by in 1806 on his way to invade Russia, there is a monument to him in Uprising Square. The Napoleon Bonaparte Monument was erected to honour the French emperor in 2011 on the 190th anniversary of his death. Following the Congress of Vienna in 1815 the city was integrated into the Russian controlled Kingdom of Poland. Independence came in 1918 after WW1 and Warsaw was once more the capital city of an enlarged and new Poland . Warsaw was the home of Frederic Chopin, Marie Curie among others and by 1939 had grown into a major city, with a population of about 1,350,00 inhabitants at the crossroads of Central Europe

THE GERMAN INVASION

On September 1st 1939 the German army entered Poland and so World War 2 officially commenced. Although the Polish army fought bravely it was no match for the huge numbers of Germans troops and mechanised armour supported by aircraft as they swept across the plains of western Poland. The German offensive came from three directions, the North, the west and the south. All three attacking forces aiming to converge on Warsaw. The city was immediately subjected to devastating bombing raids from the sky which continued for nearly three weeks. The Luftwaffe bombed Warsaw targeting the 600 year old Royal Palace and the symbolic heart of the old city. An estimated 6,000 to 7,000 civilians were killed in Warsaw in the daily and deadly air attacks. On September 13th 1939 the Polish Government left the city for Lublin.

On September 17th 1939 Russian troops entered the country from the East and North east and the beleaguered Polish army now found itself battling two powerful enemies on two Fronts. The Polish troops based in Modlin Fortress, built by Napoleon in 1810, 40 kms to the west of Warsaw finally surrendered to the Germans on September 29th 1939 and Warsaw was lost. (The Germans built an airfield at Modlin to launch their air attack during the invasion of Russia and it now Modlin airport). A ceasefire had come into effect for Warsaw three days earlier and on October 1st 1939 German troops entered the city and the Nazi occupation of Warsaw began and continued until January 1945 when Russian troops entered the ruins of the city. In 1939 Warsaw had roughly 1,350,000 inhabitants. Over a million were still living in the city at the start of the Uprising in August 1944. In January 1945 it was almost empty.

ADOLF HITLER AND HIS PLANS FOR WARSAW

The destruction of the historic city began immediately on October 4th 1939 when Hitler ordered the complete destruction of the already damaged Royal Palace, seat of the Polish head of state since 1918. In truth Hitler wanted to ultimately destroy Warsaw and build a brand new Eastern Germanic city in it’s place. Adolf Hitler himself, arrived in Warsaw on the morning of October 5th 1939 by plane and crossed the Vistula River at Most Poniatowskiego (Poniatowski Bridge) in his Mercedes and dressed in a leather coat, reviewed a two hour victory parade beside Ujazdowski Park and Pałacyk Rembielińskiego. He then went on a short tour of the city centre of Warsaw passing through the Old town marketplace, the Castle square and the Presidential Palace before returning to the airfield by the Poniatowskiego bridge. He had achieved his first military victory and was already formulating his plans for the eventual destruction of the city. “The destruction of the Polish capital was more than a mere metaphor; on the contrary plans had been drawn up for the purpose. The Pabst Plan of 1939 which Hitler approved just before his invasion called for the removal of all but 80,000 of Warsaw’s 1.3 million inhabitants“. (Richie Alexandra p 5). ” The Germans had decided that only the Old Town was worth saving, along with a few palaces that might be used by Hans Frank and Hitler as official residences. The rest of the city was slated for destruction“. (Richie Alexandra p 5). Pilsudski Square in the centre of Warsaw overlooked by the magnificent Saski (Saxon) Palace was renamed Adolf Hitler Platz in honour of the Fuhrer.

All that remains of the Saxon Place – parts of the central  arcade now The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The remains of the Royal Place were finally totally destroyed in 1944 during the complete destruction of the city by the Nazis after the Warsaw Uprising. Sigismund’s Column which had stood since 1644 was also demolished though the bronze statue, although damaged, did survive and it was re-erected on a new column close to its original site in 1949. The Saxon Place overlooking Adolf Hitler Platz was also destroyed in 1944 with only parts of the central arcade remaining which now house the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

However the Royal Place was completely rebuilt between 1971 and 1980 and now once again sits at the hear of the Old Town housing a museum and art gallery. The art gallery houses two magnificent paintings by Rembrandt “The Girl a the Picture Frame ” and ” The Scholar at the Lectern” both painted in 1641. The pictures, depicting Jewish subjects, were confiscated from their Polish owners by the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation but returned in 1947. The beautiful Royal Palace Square today with its centre piece of the Zymuth’s Column is a gathering place for locals and tourist alike and so much in contrast to the wanton destruction of the Nazi regime.

STALIN’S FIRST BLOOD – THE KATYN MASSACRE

During the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland in 1939 thousands of Polish troops were captured. The Polish regular army and reserve army officers were separated and moved to different camps including one on Kozelsk in western Russia. ln March 1940 a decision was made by Stalin to execute all Polish officers in captivity. In May 1940 a total of 4,404 Polish officers were transported from the camp in Kozelsk to a forest near the town of Katyn. Katyń forest is located near Smolensk in western Russia, where the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, (the NKVD, forerunners of the KGB), rounded up the prisoners of war and executed them by a shot to the back of the head over 28 consecutive nights in a specially made basement execution chamber. The bodies were then interred in mass graves in the forest to be forgotten about. The Soviets also murdered 3,896 prisoners from Starobelsk in NKVD chambers in Kharkov, 6,287 of them were shot in Kalinin (today known as Tver). In all about 20,000 Polish were executed by Stalin in an attempt to get rid as much of the educated intelligentsia of Poland as possible. The graves in Katyn were discovered by the Nazis in 1943. The Russians denied all responsibility and blamed the Nazis. The truth about the Katyn Massacre was finally revealed in 1990, when Boris Yeltsin, the then President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and a future President of Russian Federation, released top-secret documents about this issue and handed them over to the new Polish president Lech Wałęsa.

Today the Katyn massacre is remembered, along with other associated tragedies, in in Warsaw at the Monument to the Fallen and Murdered in the East located at the intersection of Muranowska and General Władysław Anders streets in Warsaw.  It was officially unveiled on 17 September 1995 – the 56th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of 1939 and was erected in honour of Poles killed and murdered in the East, in particular those  deported to labour camps in Siberia and the victims of the Katyn massacre. The statue shows a pile of religious symbols (Catholic and Orthodox crosses as well as Jewish and Muslim symbols) on a railway flatcar, which is set on tracks. Each railway sleeper displays the names of places from which Polish citizens were deported for use as slave labour in the USSR, and the names of the camps, collective farms, exile villages and various outposts of the gulag that were their destinations, including the mass murder sites used by the Soviet KKVD.

The Katyn Museum in Warsaw is museum is built into part of the southern wall of the Warsaw Citadel, a massive 19th century former Czarist prison and stronghold. It was also the scene of an ill fated attack during the Warsaw Uprising in which the Germans manged to successfully defend the citadel and inflict heavy casualties on the AK attackers. It is located at Jana Jezioranskiego 4, Warsaw 99-200, (Poland). The Park Traugutta 04 metro stop is practically outside (just walk down to the road beneath the bridge), and can be reached on trams 1, 4, 6, 18, 28, or 41. The N12 and N62 buses can also be used to get to that point. The Museum is very moving and contains the photos of the murdered officers as well as personal items retried from the burial site.

There are also others Katyn Memorials in other Polish cities, including Katowitz and one in Jersey City, USA. Unveiled in 1991 on the Hudson River Walkway “Katyń 1940” was created by Polish-American sculptor Andrzej Pitynsk and is was erected by the Polish community in Jersey City.

The Citadel Katyn Museum, Warsaw.

LIFE UNDER NAZI OCCUPATION

It soon became apparent that life under the Nazis was going to be brutal. The Polish Government, who had manged to escape through neutral Romania made their way to Britain. They set up Polish Government in exile in London and coordinated operations and resistance to Nazi rule from there.

The immediate terror unleashed by the Nazis on the Polish population was so swift, so brutal and so deadly that collaboration was rare. Any sign or act of resistance to the German occupation was swiftly and harshly dealt with. New laws came into force which primarily aimed at the huge Jewish population (The Jewish population of Poland in 1939 was about 3.5 million – 10% of the total) though the Gentile population was also subjected to a cruel and ruthless regime. There were regular round ups , taking of hostages, public hangings and shootings in reprisal for the slightest sign of rebellion. The city was stripped of essentials such as food, which was shipped to Germany and all production was geared toward the Nazi war effort. In November 1940 – 14 months after the occupation the Nazis established the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw.

RESISTANCE

The Nazis set up a Gestapo HQ and interrogation centre on Szucha Avenue (aleja Jana Chrystiana Szucha 25, 00-580 Warszawa), in the building of the prewar Ministry of Religious Beliefs and Public Education (now the Ministry of National Education). The building was turned it into the headquarters of the  Security police and the Security Service  forces. The whole street was closed to Poles. In the basement of the building, the Nazis set up rough jails. Prisoners who were located there were usually freshly caught or transferred from Pawiak Prison. Prisoners were subject to brutal interrogations, during which they were tortured and severely beaten, resulting in deaths. Torture was no exception for any prisoner, and even pregnant women were beaten and tortured sometimes to death.

PAWIAK PRISON

Pawiak Prison in the west of the Warsaw city centre was built in 1829–35. During the 19th century, it was under czarist control as Warsaw was part of the Russian Empire and it was the main prison of central Poland, where political prisoners and criminals alike were incarcerated.

After Poland regained independence in 1918, the Pawiak Prison became Warsaw’s main prison for male criminals. In 1939 Pawiak Prison became a German Gestapo prison. Approximately 100,000 people were imprisoned during the prison’s operation, some 37,000 died on premises (executed, under torture, or during detention), and 60,000 were transferred to Nazi Concentration Camps.  

During the  Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, because of its proximity to the Ghetto, Pawiak Prison became a German assault base. Some Pawiak jailers actively participated in the suppression of the Jewish Uprising. On 19 July 1944 some prisoners attempted a mass jailbreak  supported by an attack from outside, but it failed. Next day, in reprisal, the Germans executed over 380 prisoners. The final transport of prisoners took place 30 July 1944, two days before the 1 August outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising  Two thousand men and the remaining 400 women were sent to Gross- Rosen, Rogoźnica, in South West Poland and Ravensbruck female concentration camp in Germany.  Subsequently the Polish insurgents captured the area but lost it to German forces. On 21 August 1944 the Germans shot an unknown number of remaining prisoners and burned and blew up the buildings. After World War II, the buildings were not rebuilt. Half of the gateway and three detention cells survive. Since 1990 a surviving basement has housed The Pawiak Museum, which along with the former Gestapo HQ on Szucha Avenue, is part of the Museum of Independence.  

Despite the awful consequences if arrested Polish resistance toward the Nazi occupation commenced from the first days of the Nazi takeover. The various resistance factions were consolidated under the Amia Krajowa (AK) or Polish Home Army, officially formed in February 1942, and came under the command and were loyal to the Government in exile in London. The AK became the largest, up to 3000,000 members, and most potent resistance force that had come into being under the Nazi regimes in Europe. The first AK commander in chief was General Stefan Rowecki known as “Grot”. On 30 June 1943 he was betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo in Warsaw and sent to Berlin before ended up in Sachsenhausen  Camp. He was succeeded his more right wing second in command General Tadeusz Komorowski better known by the name Bór-Komorowski, who was to eventually order the ill fated Warsaw Uprising 13 months later.  

So the resistance was maintained during the terrible years of occupation with many brave Poles paying the ultimate price for their actions. As well as attacks on German military targets the Polish Resistance gathered vital intelligence and information which was fed back to the Polish government-in-exile in London. During the rebuilding of Warsaw Tchorek plaques were used to commemorate places where battles or executions took place during the German occupation of the city. They are based on an original design by sculptor Karol Tchorek  from 1949. These plaques were installed at various locations in Warsaw from the 1950s until the end of the communist era in Poland, and are one of the most characteristic elements of the landscape of the capital. Many of the original plaques no longer exist, having been removed or destroyed during the ongoing modernisation and expansion of the city and its transport network. However, even today many Tchorek plaques are visible in various streets and buildings around Warsaw.

3/5 Kozia Street, Warsaw. “The place sanctified by the blood of Poles who died for the freedom of their homeland. Here on 10.VIII.1944 Hitlerites shot several hundred Poles”

The plaque commemorates the victims of the crimes committed by Germans during the Warsaw Uprising. On August 10, 1944, German soldiers killed between 100 and 300 Polish men (inhabitants of the surrounding houses).

THE VOLUNTEEER

Witold Pileki was an active member of the AK, a former Polish Army cavalry officer who, in 1940, aged 39, volunteered for a task that displayed heroism beyond reproach. Assuming a false identity he allowed himself to be arrested in by the Nazis. On September 19th 1940 he was part of 2,000 Varsovians arrested in a round up in the Zoliborg area of northern Warsaw. The AK were aware a roundup was due in the Zoliborg area and Pileki stayed in his sister in law’s apartment knowing it would be targeted. His mission was to gather intelligence, on reports of huge Camps being constructed through Poland by the Nazis using slave labour. After his arrest he ended up in Auschwitz in southern Poland where he saw first hand what was being constructed and eventually it’s ultimate purpose. He endured beatings, sickness, starvation and the possibility of random execution but smuggled out the vital intelligence on the Camp as it was steadily enlarged and evolved into a place of mass murder. He lived under the daily threat of discovery and organised a resistance cell within the camp. He had to endure over 3 years as a slave labourer in the Camp before he managed to escape in 1943. He later took part in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Pileki survived the War only to meet his end in 1948 under a past war Soviet regime, as brutal as the one he had fought against . Today Withhold Pileki is membered in a moving memorial unveiled in May 2017 on Ajejja Woyska Polskiego, near where he was arrested in 1940, north of Warsaw city centre. His story is movingly recounted in the book The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather.

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THE WARSAW GHETTO

In November 1940 – 14 months after the occupation the Nazis established the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw. After over of year of discriminatory laws confiscating of their property all Jews were ordered into a small area just west of the centre of the city. All non Jews were relocated and a wall erected around the Ghetto. It was forbidden to enter or leave the Ghetto on pain of death and within a short time over 460,000 people were crammed into the small area. Starvation and disease became rampant and thousands died. Meanwhile life continued outside the Ghetto for the other citizens of Warsaw. Though spared the overcrowding, disease and malnutrition of their Jewish fellow citizens life under cruel and ruthless Nazi occupation was far from pleasant. The Ghetto was divided into two distinct parts the Large Ghetto for the less well off Jews and the smaller Ghetto a little to the South for the better off. The two Ghettos were divided by Chlodna Street, a main thoroughfare going from west to east Warsaw. To facilitate traffic a wooden footbridge was built over the Street to allow Jews to travel between the two ghettos. This wooden bridge became burned into the memories of many people as it allowed the Jews crossing the bridge to get a limited view into Aryan Warsaw and for those outside the Ghetto a glimpse of their former friends and neighbours they would never see again. It’s presence for a brief eight months, it functioned from January to August 1942, symbolised the division of the city and became an emblem or symbol of the Ghetto. After the great liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto the footbridge was no longer necessary, as the Small Ghetto was closed and the bridge was dismantled. It is also present in many photographs, and in films as well as in literature. Today there is a representation of the Bridge in the form of two tall steel structures either side of Chlodna Street showing how high the bridge was and it’s location.

The Ghetto, in reality was only a temporary solution to the Jewish issue. In 1941 work had commenced at an old quarry situated in a forest some 50 miles north east of Warsaw on the final solution. The quarry was isolated and well hidden but did have a very useful spur rail line for the moving of wood and stone from the quarry. In the forest two separate camps were constructed. No 1 was a camp for slave labour where fit inmates would be utilised harvesting wood from the forest to provide fuel for the second camp No 2 where especially constructed chambers had been constructed to gas to death large numbers of people at once. Also the inmates of No 1 had to dig huge pits to fill with the dead. The forest was near the town of Treblinka half way between Warsaw and Białystok, another Polish city with a specially constructed, and by now overcrowded, Jewish Ghetto.

In the summer of 1942, the two camps were now complete and ready for business and on July 21st the order was given to commence the clearing of the Jewish ghetto. The next day the Germans authorities announced that the Ghetto’s 400,000 inhabitants were to be deported to factories in the east and the Ghetto was sealed. On July 23rd the first 6,000 were forced to march to the railway line at the edge of the Ghetto, herded into into an open yard and then made board cattle trucks. From that date until September 12th 1942 between 4,000 and 7,000 Jewish men, women and children were placed on two overcrowded trains per day and taken 50 miles north of Warsaw to the horrors of Treblinka extermination camp where the majority were gassed or burned alive within hours of arrival. In those two hot summer months over 300,000 were moved out of the Warsaw Ghetto. This combined with about another 92,00 dying of disease and starvation depleted the population of the Ghetto to about 70,000.

None knew where the trains were going, and the next day the Jewish Bund organisation sent a spy from the ghetto, Zalman Friedrich, to secretly trace their route. He learned from Polish railwaymen that these prisoners were unloaded at a camp near Treblinka, fifty miles north east of Warsaw. The barbed wire enclosure hidden in the woods was too small to accommodate thousands of people arriving. Yet none left. It seemed likely they were being murdered en masse”. (p.246 The Volunteer);

Zalman Friedrich served as a ZOB courier in the Warsaw Ghetto due to his Polish appearance and good Polish accent. Zalman was mainly responsible for the contacts with the Polish underground and the first to figure out where the trains full of deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto were heading; Treblinka. The realization that everyone who had been deported had been sent to a death camp severely shook him. He fought bravely in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and successfully escaped into the Aryan Section of Warsaw. Sadly, Zalman was betrayed and his hideout discovered by the Gestapo in May 1943. He was survived by his wife Zille and his daughter Elsa. 

Often those awaiting the arrival of the trains were held at the Umschlagplatz “Collection Point” overnight. In 1988, a memorial was erected in Warsaw to commemorate the deportation victims from the Umschlagplatz on Stawki 10, on the north side of the Ghetto. The monument resembles a freight car with its doors open.

One of the most poignant memorials to this awful time is that of Janusz Korczak at Swietokrzyski Park . Korczak is surrounded by five childen and the monument was erected at the site of a house for Jewish orphans, from which Janusz Korczak set off on his journey to the concentration camp with his pupils. Korczak was a famous teacher, paediatrician and author of children’s books and had served as a Doctor in the Polish army. He was director of the Jewish orphanage in Warsaw and moved with the children into the Ghetto in 1940. On 5 or 6 August 1942, German soldiers came to collect the 192 orphans and about one dozen staff members to transport them to Treblinka. ” He told the orphans they were going out into the country, so they ought to be cheerful. At last they would be able to exchange the horrible suffocating city walls for meadows of flowers, streams where they could bathe, woods full of berries and mushrooms. He told them to wear their best clothes, and so they came out into the yard, two by two, nicely dressed and in a happy mood. The little column was led by an SS man” (Szpilman Wladyslaw, The Pianist).

There is another monument to and his children at the Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery, in the west of the city, part of old Jewish Ghetto, with a monumental sculpture of Korczak leading his children to the trains created originally by Mieczysław Smorczewski in 1982.

THE GHETTO UPRISING

After the initial clearance of the Ghetto and reduction in both population and size those left behind knew that their days too were numbered. These consisted of mainly able bodied young Jewish men and women who immediately began to prepare to defend themselves against the inevitable. Led by among others 24 year old Mordechi Anielewicz, leader of Jewish Combat Organization, also known as the ŻOB, the remainder of the Jewish population of the Ghetto began to acquire small amounts of arms, build bunkers and make improvised weapons. The first act of rebellion began on Jan 1943 when a group of Jewish men being taken for forced labour attacked their guards.

Monument to the Ghetto Heroes The monument was raised in the square bordered by Anielewicza Street, Karmelicka Street, Lewartowskiego Street and Zamenhofa Street was unveiled on April 16, 1946.

After months of stubborn resistance and failure to make headway with further deportations plans were drawn up to deal with the problem. Himmler appointed the ruthless SS-Gruppenführer Jurgen Stroop to carry out the task which he set about with his usual barbaric efficiency. On April 19th 1943 Germans troops, commanded and directed by Stroop, moved into the Ghetto to clear it out once and for all. They immediately met with stiff resistance. From then until May 8th 1943 the Jewish men and women fought heroically against tanks, flame throwers and heavy artillery as the might of the army of the Third Reich fought street by street building by building. The end was a foregone conclusion but for the most of the resistors of the Ghetto it was better to die fighting then be marched off to a horrible death by extermination. Despite this thousands were captured and those not involved in the resistance had no choice but give themselves up. Mordechi Anielewicz and the last resistors died in Mila 18 bunker the only remaining outpost on May 7th 1943. Most committed suicide or were gassed to death as the Germans attempted to extinguish the last flame of resistance. A small number of survivors escaped through the sewers. In his report Stroop detailed the capture/and or killing of 57,065 Warsaw Ghetto inmates while German forces had 110 casualties (17 dead and 93 wounded).

The final spiteful act was carried out on May 16th 1943 when Stroop  personally blew up the the Great Synagogue of Warsaw, located on Tiomackie Street, it one of the grandest buildings constructed in Poland in the 19th century. At the time of its opening, in September 1878, it was the largest synagogue in the world. It was never rebuilt. “What a marvellous sight it was. A fantastic piece of theater. My staff and I stood at a distance. I held the electrical device which would detonate all the charges simultaneously. Jesuiter called for silence. I glanced over at my brave officers and men, tired and dirty, silhouetted against the glow of the burning buildings. After prolonging the suspense for a moment, I shouted: Heil Hitler and pressed the button. With a thunderous, deafening bang and a rainbow burst of colors, the fiery explosion soared toward the clouds, an unforgettable tribute to our triumph over the Jews. The Warsaw Ghetto was no more. The will of Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler had been done“. p.24 – Conversations with an Executioner by Kazimieerz Moczarski (Author) – January 1, 1981. Publisher: Prentice-Hall; First Edition (1981); ISBN 0131719181;

The ghetto was almost entirely levelled during the Uprising; however, a number of buildings and streets survived, mostly in the “small ghetto” area, which had been included into the Aryan part of the city in August 1942 and was not involved in the fighting. In 2008 and 2010 Ghetto boundary markers were built along the borders of the former Jewish quarter, where from 1940 to 1943 stood the gates to the ghetto, wooden footbridges over Aryan streets, and the buildings important to the ghetto inmates. The four buildings at 7, 9, 12 and 14  Prozna Street, close to the PAST Tower (Polish Telephone Joint-stock Company) are among the best known original residential buildings that in 1940–41 housed Jewish families in the Warsaw Ghetto. They have largely remained empty since the war.

The Nozyk Synagogue, located on Twarda Street also survived the war. It was used as a horse stable by German troops. The synagogue has today been restored and is once again used as an active synagogue. The best preserved parts of the ghetto wall  are located 55 Sienna Street, 62 Złota Street, and 11 Waliców Street (the last two being walls of the pre-war buildings). There are two Ghetto Heroes’ Monuments a small memorial tablet unveiled in 1946 and a larger monument in 1948, near the place where the German troops entered the ghetto on 19 April 1943.

Mordechi Anielewicz depicted holding a grenade central figure on Memorial.

On December 7th 1970 after laying a wreath the then German Chancellor Willy Brandt spontaneously knelt in front of the Ghetto Uprising Memorial and remained in that postilion in silence for half a minute. The “Warsaw Genuflection” was seen as a gesture of humility and penance for what had occurred. The gesture was and remains, a source of contention among Germans at the time. However a 2 Euro German commemorative coin was struck in 2020 on the 50th anniversary of the Kniefall von Warschau.

TREBLIKA (THE AFTERMATH).

Throughout the Ghetto Uprising the mass murder in Treblinka continued. However already a spirit and a plan of resistance was underway amongst the few surviving inmates. The arrival of survivors from the Uprising in early May brought an additional element of resistance – one man even smuggled in a grenade which he let off in the changing rooms. Everyone knew now that the only way out was through death. It was how you went to your death that was all that mattered. However the German and Hiwi guards realised that new arrivals from Warsaw could spell trouble and only 7,000 arrived from the city the remaining 42,000 others were sent to Majdanek Camp near Lublin. On August 2nd 1943 an uprising was launched . Some prisoners unlocked the door to the arsenal near the train tracks, with a key that had been duplicated earlier and stole a number of weapons.

At 3:45 p.m., 700 Jews launched an insurgency that lasted for 30 minutes, they set buildings ablaze, and an armed group attacked the main gate, while others attempted to climb the fence. Machine-gun fire from the guards resulted in near-total slaughter and only about 200 Jews escaped from the camp. About half of them were killed shortly afterwards, around 70 are known to have survived until the end of the war.

Although the camp was badly damaged the gas chambers were intact, and the killing of Polish Jews continued through the rest of August but much reduced. The last two rail transports of Jews were brought to the camp for gassing from the Bialystock Ghetto on 18 and 19 August 1943.  The 39 wagons that came to Treblinka on 19 August 1943 were carrying at least 7,600 survivors of a second Ghetto Uprising in Bialystock which had commenced 3 days before. The camp was then closed and work began on dismantling the camp. On October 20th 1943 a large group of Jewish workers  who had worked on dismantling the camp structures over the previous few weeks were loaded onto the train and transported to another camp Sobibor to be immediately gassed. All traces of Treblinka had been erased its work was done. Between July 1942 and August 1943 and estimated 870,000 people were exterminated at Treblinka (The Treblinka museum in Poland states that at least 800,000 people died at Treblinka; Yad Vashem which is Israel’s Holocaust museum, puts the number killed at 870,000; and the USA Holocaust Memorial Museum  gives a range of 870,000 to 925,000). The vast majority Polish Jews. When the Soviets entered Treblinka on 16 August 1944, the extermination zone had been levelled, ploughed over, and planted.

THE WARSAW UPRISING

Possibly inspired by the Ghetto Uprising the Polish resistance or Home Army, began to formulate plans for a large scale uprising, against the Nazis a year later. With Germans in retreat the Red army edged closer and closer to Warsaw. The Uprising began on August 1st 1944 as part of a nationwide Operation Tempest. The main Polish objectives were to drive the Germans out of Warsaw while helping the Allies defeat Germany. There was also an additional goal liberate Poland’s capital and assert Polish sovereignty before the Soviet-backed Polish Committee of Nation Liberation took control.  Other immediate causes included a threat of mass German round-ups of able-bodied Poles and an emotional Polish desire for justice and revenge against the enemy after five years of German occupation. The Uprising initially caught the Occupying Germans troops by surprise. The mainly, young, some very young, men and women of the AK (Polish Home Army) about 30,000 strong (only about 10% were armed) took on the German army and armed with the twin elements of surprise and enthusiasm captured strategic buildings, in and around the centre of Warsaw, but not without some heavy losses. The first day of fighting killed 2,000 insurgents and 500 Germans. Now all they had to do was hold out until the Russians could get into the eastern part of the city and then across the Vistula river and back them up against German attempts to regain the city.

Hitler was in Poland on August 1st 1944 planning the new German offensive against the Soviets who had crossed the River Bug into Poland proper on July 21st 1944. He was in his HQ the Wolf’s Liar at Rastenburg deep in the forests of northern Poland when he heard of the Uprising in Warsaw. ” As news poured in about entire districts being overrun by “bandits,” Himmler raced to see Hitler in Rastenburg. He found the Fuhrer purple with Rage ” . (p. 2). It must be remembered that this was only 12 days since the attempt on his life in the same location in Rastenburg and he was still not fully recovered from his injuries and quite irrational. He was not in a mood for leniency and the immediate killing of captured Polish leader General Stefan Rowecki, who was in Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg concentration camp north of Berlin was ordered and carried out. (The General Stefan “Grot” Rowecki Bridge (sometimes called the Toruń Bridge, the Grot-Roweckiego Bridge or the Grot Bridge) is a bridge in central Warsaw over the Vistula River was completed in 1981 and named after the executed AK Commander).

The first part of the revenge was complete and the rest was going to reach horrific proportions.

By August 5th 1944 the Poles had established control over most of central Warsaw. The areas controlled by them were Zoliborz in the north of the city, Mokotow in the south and the city centre including the Old Town, the area to the west of it, including the former Ghetto area and Czerniakow to the south of the city centre along the banks of the river. However the Soviets ignored Polish attempts to make radio contact with them and intense street fighting between the Germans and Poles commenced as German reinforcements approached from the West to retake the city. The suppression of the Uprising was to take on a cruel, brutal and barbaric edge.

The Battle of the Skyscrapers

The two tallest buildings in the city stood 700 metres apart in the city centre. The PAST Tower – a building situated on Zielna street close to its intersection with Krolewska street. It had been Warsaw’s first high building it had been had been constructed between 1904 and 1910, which at the time of its construction was the first and tallest skyscraper in the Russian Empire. It was the main HQ of the Polish telephone system and in 1944 was the the centre of the German communications system in the city and therefore a vitla part of the regime. The PAST-a building immediately became one of the strongholds of the Nazi German army. On the first day of the uprising, it was boarded up, abundantly supplied and over 120 SS men were stationed there to defend it. It soon became the only island of Nazi German defence in the centre of Warsaw, which was entirely controlled by Polish insurgents. It was, however, a thorn in rising Warsaw’s side, because Nazi snipers had a great view of the whole of Marszałkowska Street and fired often and without warning, even at civilians. Moreover, the building and its telephone switchboard were fully operational and served the Nazis as a communication centre. Unable to take it the AK put it under siege.

The Prudential Tower was built between 1931 and 1933 in the  Art Dec style and it served as a base for the British Prudential Insurance Company. It was situated on Napoleon Square along Swietokrztska Street. The AK seized the 16 story building and hung a Polish Flag from its roof mast. It was a central observation point and strong hold for the AK and soon became a target for German artillery. The Germans peppering the building with over 1,000 rounds of artillery over the course of the conflict – for the 63-day duration of the Uprising. Determined to seize it, the Nazis rolled out the big guns, and on August 28th, 1944, it was battered by a two-ton shell from a Karl-Gerät mortar. The building wobbled and creaked, but still the steel skeleton refused to topple. It was never taken until the final surrender in October 1944. The building became an iconic image of the Uprising. It is now the 5 star Hotel Warszawa.

THE REPRISALS

Under strict orders the German troops began systemically slaughtering thousands of civilians they came across in their push into the city centre from the west. German troops sent to suppress the Uprising massacred 40,000–50,000 inhabitants of the western district of Wola, mainly in organised mass executions. The vast majority of these were innocent civilians who had nothing to do with the AK. On the express orders of Hitler, people were murdered regardless of their age or sex. The greatest number of killings took place in the area near Górczewska and Moczydła streets, in particular at a building on Górczewska Street located near a railway embankment. The mass executions at this site began on 4 August and continued until 8 August 1944. The greatest number of victims were killed on 5 August (known as “Black Saturday”). Historians estimate that up to 10,000 Polish people – men, women and children – were executed near the location of the Wola memorial, located at 32 Górczewska Street (near the intersection with Prymasa Tysiąclecia Avenue) west of the city centre. After rounding up and killing the victims, the Germans burned the bodies,  which made a precise determination of the number of people murdered impossible.

On August 4th 1944 in the affluent Ochota District the Nazis let lose the RONA or Kaminski Brigade a savage militia unit made up of Russian criminals, ex POWs and collaborators whose orders were to push through and take the Poniatowski Bridge. Instead they engaged in the systematic robbing and slaughtering en masse of any civilians they came across. They engaged in this activity with such fervour they made hardly any progress toward the AK positions they had been ordered to attack. In one of the worst of many atrocities they took over the Radium Institute Hospital founded by Marie Curie and over 14 days systematically murdered all the patients and staff. Approximately 10,000 people were killed in the Ochota massacre, including 1,000 people who died in the Zieleniak camp before the RONA were withdrawn between August 22nd and 24th 1944. Many different sites were used for mass executions, some of which are now marked with memorial plaques to commemorate the victims.

The massacres had a reverse effect on the Poles. The men and women of the AK knew now they could expect no mercy and so once news of the mass killings became know the resistance to the Germans became even more determined.

THE WARSAW AIRBRIDGE

Winston Churchill was the only Western Leader who did anything to try and assist the Uprising Without Soviet air clearance, Churchill sent over 200 low-level nightly supply drops by the RAF, South African air force and the Polish Air Force under British High Command from bases in Italy. The first air-drops from Italy were conducted by 1586 Polish Special Duty Flight accompanied by seven Halifaxes successfully delivering their cargo to Krasinski Square and to Vola on the night of 4/5 August. Flights continued through August and into early September when all flights were suspended due to bad weather. The last airdrops took place on 21/22 September, flown by 31 and 34 Squadrons SAAF as the Polish resistance was nearing total suppression by the Germans. During these dangerous airdrops an estimated 360 airmen and 41 British, Polish, South African and American aircraft were lost. Later, after gaining Soviet air clearance, the US Airforce  sent one high-level mass airdrop on the 18th of September 1944 but by then the battle was lost. There is a memorial stone in Skaryszewski Park next to the The PGE Narodowy or National Soccer Stadium  on the east side of the Vistula which commemorates seven of the crew of the Liberator bomber EV 961, which was taken down in the night of 14 August 1944 above Warsaw. The inscription on the stone reads ” On the night of 14 August 1944 whilst bringing help to the Warsaw Uprising the crew of `78 Bomber Squadron RAF Liberator EV 961 gave their lives. We salute their memory”. (Flying Officer George Douglas Macrae, RCAF; Lieut Percy Gordon Coutts SAAF; Sgt John Edward Porter RAF, aged 21 from Dagenham, Essex; Sgt Arthur Sharpe RAF, aged 22 from Chorley, Lancashire; Sgt Hugh Vallance McLanachan RAF ; Sgt Richard H.C. Scott RAF, aged 21, from Bromley, Kent). Interestingly the memorial was unveiled in November 1988 by Margaret Thatcher in the presence of Sergeant Henry Lloyd Lane, the only survivor of the crash after being ejected by the impact onto an island on the lake in the Park.

Battles of the Uprising

On the night of August 19th 1944 AK units from Zolibroz attacked the German stronghold at Gdansk Railway Station (ul. Zygmunta Słomińskiego 6) and lost 80% of their men in a vain attempt to take the station. Two nights later a second attack launched from simultaneously from both Zolibroz and the northern part of the Old Town it too ended in failure and a slaughter, nearly 500 Home Army soldiers were killed in assaults carried out by the insurgents. Today, the events of those days are commemorated by a sculpture depicting a young woman bending over an insurgent grave.

In other parts of the city there were small victories. On August 20, 1944, the AK finally captured the PAST Tower (Polish Telephone Joint-stock Company) on Zielna street, close to its intersection with Krolewska street. Warsaw’s first high building it had been the centre of the German communications system in the city and took over 100 Germans prisoner. Though badly damaged it still stands today.

In the city centre AK insurgents tactically held up the Germans by taking and holding strategic buildings. “In one particular spot on Jerusalem Avenue, for example a Company led by Captain ‘Roman’ repeatedly invested a strategic building which overlooked the traffic on the boulevard. Roman who was one of the very few people to have escaped from Auschwitz, was an unusually determined soldier. Almost everyday during the first two weeks he captured, lost, and recaptured this building. Repeatedly driven out, he repeatedly returned and with deadly cunning he repeatedly expelled the German defenders. ( Davies Norman p. 323). Capt. ‘ Roman’ was none other then Withold Pileki.

The Siege of the Old Town

The narrow streets and alley ways of the Old town was the heart of the Uprising. The Old town surrounded by medieval walls proved to be a formidable defensive position. That initially proved to be the case until Hitler unleashed hell on it. After some preliminary attacks the German operation to retake the Old Town began in earnest on August 14th

The defenders of the Old Town got a foretaste of what was to come, when, on the morning of August 13th 1944, the Germans sent forward a Borgward IV (heavy demolition carrier), a remote controlled tank packed with a load of high explosive. It was initially driven forward to try and clear an AK barricade on Podwale Street beside the Royal Place Square. Once in position it would be sent forward by remote control. Under heavy fire the driver abandoned the tank near the barricade and it was captured by the AK defenders who were unsure what it was. Later than evening it was driven through the streets of the Old Town in triumph surrounded by a cheering crowd. At 6.05pm it exploded at the junction of Kilinskiego Street and Podwale Street and killed a huge number of people, blowing body parts onto the roofs of buildings. “Three hundred people were killed as a result of this single 500kg explosion. “(p. 412 Alexandra ).

St John’s Cathedral was destroyed after the Uprising. Today a plaque, attached on the outer wall of the rebuilt cathedral, commemorates this horrific event. A part of the original Borgward IV tank track is also built into the wall and can be found below the plaque.

The caterpillar of the German tank-mine “Goliath”, which destroyed part of the Cathedral walls during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.

Throughout the latter weeks of August the old town was pounded with artillery, including a huge gun on a Panzer train that moved up and down the tracks around Gdansk station to the north. A massive mortar was situated in Sowinski park to the west and reigning down huge shells on the Old Town. Ongoing bombing and strafing by aircraft softened up a path for ground troops armed with flamethrowers.

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Ulica Kamienne Schodki, (The Street of Stone Steps) in Old Town – cleared by German troops using flamethrowers when retaking the Old Town in late August 1944.

On August 27th the Germans launched an old out attack on the gigantic Mint Building (Polish Security Printing Works) Romana Sanguszki 1, a strongpoint held by the AK in the north of the Old town. For 24 hours insurgents and Germans engaged in hand to hand fighting throughout the building before the Germans took control and murdered all the surviving wounded in the cellar. The way into the Old town from the north was now open. This did not stop the continual bombardment and civilians and wounded huddled in cellars and basements. Strategic and landmark buildings were targeted including the historic St Kazimierz Church in the New Town Square, just to the north of the Old Town. On August 31, 1944, four priests, 35 nuns and over a thousand civilians sheltering in the church’s crypt were killed and the magnificent church and cloisters was destroyed.

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St Kazimierz Church in Warsaw. During the Warsaw Uprising it was used as a hospital. The nuns housed many civilians in the church and cellars and gave medical aid as well as they could. In August 1944 they decided to suspend their rules to assist wounded insurgents. Because of this decision the German military targeted the church and during a single raid on August 31, 1944, four priests, 35 nuns and over a thousand civilians sheltering in the church’s crypt were killed and the magnificent church and cloisters was destroyed as was most of Warsaw. The church was reconstructed in 1947-53.

Knowing that the outcome was inevitable the AK took to the sewers to try and reach other AK held areas of the city. Early on the morning of September 2nd the Germans made their way into Kraninski Square- the Old Town had fallen. Reprisals and the the murder of the wounded AK left behind commenced immediately.

The beautiful and ancient Market Place in Warsaw’s Old Town was rebuilt in the 1950s, after having been destroyed by the German Army after the suppression of the 1944.  Today it is a major tourist attraction.

By the first week of September both German and Polish commanders realized that the Soviet army was unlikely to act to break the stalemate. The Germans reasoned that a prolonged Uprising would damage their ability to hold Warsaw as the frontline. Now split up into different areas, with the stranglehold on their positions was tightening, the Poles were concerned that continued resistance would result in further massive casualties. On 7 September, General Rohr, the German commander proposed negotiations, which Bór-Komorowski, the leader of the AK agreed to pursue the following day. Over 8, 9 and 10 September about 20,000 civilians were evacuated by agreement of both sides. The Poles suspended talks on the 11th, as they received news that the Soviets were finally advancing slowly through the Praga district the other side of the river and the possibility of assistance breathed new life into the resistance and the talks collapsed. On September 13th 1944 the Poniatowski Bridge was destroyed by the Germans to prevent it being used by the advancing Soviets.  

FALSE HOPES IN CZERNIAKOW

By 14th September, the eastern bank of the Vistula River in Praga opposite the Polish resistance positions was taken over by the Soviet 1st Polish army. Stalin finally ordered the Polish General Berling to start sending his troops across the Vistula into the city. However it turned out to be a token gesture by Stalin to appease Churchill and appear he was assisting the Poles.

The poorly trained and poorly equipped Polish 3rd Division (1st Polish Army) were selected to make the crossing from Praga to AK held Czerniakow area of Warsaw. At 4.30am on September 16th 1944 the first 300 of the Polish soldiers of the Soviet army successfully made across the river south of the destroyed Poniatowski Bridge to be greeted by the AK. They were followed by 900 more. More troops began to make their way across the next night but by now the Germans were aware of the crossings and began to shell the small boats as they crossed the river inflicting terrible casualties. Very few made it.

Although 1,200 Polish soldiers had earlier made it across the river, they proved to be too little, too late. Their poor training had not prepared them for the horrors of street fighting in Warsaw and they were not reinforced by the Red Army. This, and the lack of air support from the Soviet air force indicated that  Joseph Stalin tactically halted his forces to let the operation fail and allow the Polish resistance to be crushed. Their arrival increased the ferocity of the German onslaught on the Czerniakow district and bolstered by tanks and artillery they slowly pushed the AK and their newly arrived Allies into a tighter and tighter pocket. “On the 19 of September Berling’s army Army began to retreat across the river. ” (p. 522); The next day the AK defenders began to try and escape via the sewers and storm drains. Others, along with some unfortunate civilians made their way to the river in a vain hope of rescue. Hundreds were killed or drowned as they huddled around the crowded riverbank. Boats did come and rescue some but not enough and many were sank. At 6am on September 23rd 1944 the Czerniakow district was back in German hands. The usual massacres and executions followed including the murder of a large number of Berling’s men who having been seriously wounded crossing the river were in a hospital at Zagorna Street.

Today a commemorative plaque, is situated in the place where Polish soldiers landed. Unveiled in 1951, on the main axis of the Park of Marshall Edward Rydz-Smigly between the bank of the river and Solec Street in Warsaw, it contains the following text “On this coast , from September
16 to 23, 1944, the units of the 3rd Infantry Division of the Polish Army supported by artillery
and the Soviet air force – rushing to help the fighting people of Warsaw -after crossing the Vistula, fought an unequal battle with the overwhelming forces of Nazi troops. 2056 soldiers and officers of the Polish and Soviet Army, as well as hundreds of insurgents from Czerniaków and Solec

died with the death of the brave. Glory to the Heroes who died for the freedom of the Homeland.

Well I suppose they got it half right.

THE SURRENDER

By the 30 September, Żoliborz the district held by the AK in the north of city fell to the Germans and the Poles were being pushed back into fewer and fewer streets, and their situation was ever more desperate. The capitulation order of the remaining Polish forces was finally signed on 2 October. All fighting ceased that evening.  The Uprising had lasted 63 desperate days. According to the agreement, the Wehrmacht promised to treat Home Army soldiers in accordance with the Geneva Convention, and to treat the civilian population humanely. This was not to be the case. Although the exact number of casualties is unknown, it is estimated that about 16,000 members of the Polish resistance were killed and about 6,000 badly wounded during the Warsaw Uprising . In addition, between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civilians died, mostly from mass executions. 

Mały Powstaniec (the “Little Insurrectionist”) is a statue, unveiled on 1 October 1983 in commemoration of the child soldiers who fought and died during the Warsaw Uprising  of 1944. It is located on Podwale Street, next to the ramparts of Warsaw’s Old Town.  The statue is of a young boy wearing a helmet too large for his head and holding a submachine gun. It is reputed to be of a fighter who went by the pseudonym of “Antek”, and was killed on 8 August 1944 at the age of 13. The helmet and submachine gun are stylized after German equipment, which was captured during the uprising and used by the resistance fighters against the occupying forces.

EVACUTION AND DESTRUCTION

The city of Warsaw was completed evacuated and on Hitler’s orders a systematic destruction of the great city commenced. After the remaining population had been expelled, the Germans continued the destruction of the city. Special groups of German engineers were dispatched to burn and demolish the remaining buildings. The demolition squads used flamethrowers and explosives to methodically destroy house after house. They paid special attention to historical monuments, Polish national archives and places of interest. By January 1945, 85% of the buildings were destroyed: 25% as a result of the Uprising, 35% as a result of systematic German actions after the uprising, and the rest as a result of the earlier  Ghetto Uprising and the September 1939 air raids. On January 15th 19145 Russian troops finally crossed the Vistula and entered an eerily deserted snow covered ruined city. The Nazis were gone and a new regime began.

Warsaw Uprising Monument is a monument in Warsaw, Poland, dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Unveiled in 1989, it was sculpted by Wincenty Kućma and the architect was Jacek Budyn. It is located on the southern side of Krasiński Square.

THE WARSAW RISING MUSEUM, Grzybowska 79, 00-844 Warszawa, Poland situated in the Wola District of western Warsaw is a moving testament to the ill fated Uprising of August 1944. A visit to the museum is very moving as one see the photos and reads the stories of those who survived and those who did not.

Celina Pastuszko “Wanda” killed aged 17 at Scout girl of the 50th team of the Warsaw Banner. During the German occupation, her parents’ apartment at ul. Żurawia 11 was the “contact box” of the scout platoon 101. On August 1, at At 17.00 “Wanda” found itself at 2/4 Dąbrowskiego Square. During the Warsaw Uprising, she devotedly served as a nurse in the 2nd company of the “Bartkiewicz” group. She died on September 4 during the bombing of a tenement house at 30 Świętokrzyska Street.

Polish Jew and Warsaw native, Władysław Szpilman gives a vivid account of life in Warsaw from the Nazi takeover until the Soviet liberation in his book The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939–45. This was later made into an extraordinary film in 2002 directed by Roman Polanski and starring Adrien Brody as Władysław Szpilman.

THE TWO POLISH ARMIES

Following the takeover of Poland by the Nazis in the west the Soviets in the east those Polish soldiers who had not been killed or taken prisoner had to make tough choices. Many chose to make their way to France and offer their service to the French to prepare for the coming German attack on France. Others took more circuitous routes, via Romania, to western Europe and Britain. A number of Polish soldiers and airmen, about 20,000 manged to get evacuated through Dunkirk and in 1940 the Polish government in exile had enough soldiers, sailors and trained pilots to put at the disposal of the British armed Forces. Polish airmen were well trained and had combat experience, and after an initial reluctance, Polish fighter squadrons were formed and took to the air during the Battle of Britain. Their tenacity , skill and hatred of the Germans contributed to their effectiveness in the air. The Polish 302 and 303 squadron, in particular, notched up an astounding number of kills and were acknowledged as being making a valuable and vital contribution to the British air victory in 1940.

Back on the ground Polish First Corps was formed in Scotland where Polish soldiers volunteered to train as commandoes, paratroopers and for Special Operations. During the war 344 Cichociemni specially trained Polish SOE operatives were dropped into Poland in clandestine missions – 112 were killed, in action or captured and executed. The Polish contingent was enlarged in 1942 by “Anders Army”. This army formed in Russia and commanded by General Władysław Albert Anders was made up of nearly 100,000 Polish POWs and civilians released by Stalin after negation with the British Government and the Polish government in exile. After making their way across three continents Anders’ Army arrived in Palestine and was transferred to the operational control of the British government, as part of the British Middle East Command  The unit travelling through Iran, Iraq, and Palestine, where many of its soldiers joined the Polish 2nd Corps, a part of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. Troops from Anders’ Army fought in the Italian campaign, most famously during the Battle of Monte Cassino where Polish troops finally took the ruins of the Monastery on May 18th 1944.

Polish soldiers fought in North Africa, Italy and the Polish Airborne were dropped into Arnhem in the Netherlands during the disastrous Operation Market Garden. They suffered high casualties. By March 1944, the Polish Armed Forces in the West, fighting under British command, numbered 165,000 at the end of that year, including about 20,000 personnel in the Polish Air Force  and 3,000 in the Polish Navy.   By the end of the Second World War, they were 195,000 strong, and by July 1945 had increased to 228,000, most of the newcomers being released prisoners-of-war and liberated labour camp inmates.

The Monte Cassino Memorial, Warsaw.

Unfortunately after the War many of these brave Polish soldiers and airmen were unable to return to their homeland and spent the rest of their lives in exile in English towns and cities as well as in the USA and Australia.

In Russia another Polish army, this time under Soviet control, emerged from Poles who remained in the Soviet Union, the Polish 1st Infantry Division was formed in May 1943 and placed under the command of General Zygmunt Berling. It was made up of recent exiles, POWs, who for various reasons and unfortunate coincidences have failed to join General Anders’s army. For ordinary soldiers this was the only way to be released from Soviet captivity and possibly return to the homeland and the soldiers in the ranks had no influence on how their military units would be used in Stalin’s policy towards Poland. The Division, largely composed from civilians and prisoners exhausted by slave labour, passed its baptismal battle on October 12th and 13th 1943, at the Battle of Lenino in Belarus. Poorly prepared and devoid of suitable support artillery, also due to mistakes of command, the division suffered heavy losses. By March 1944, the corps had been strengthened with increasing armoured and mechanical support, and numbered over 30,000 soldiers. It was enlarged and reorganised into the Polish First Army  (Berling’s Army) and the Polish Second Army – The Polish People’s Army. However it continued to fight on the Eastern Front under Soviet command all the way to Berlin. However the People’s Army operated in opposition to the Polish government-in-exile. After the war, the Polish People’s Army became the military of communist ruled Poland.  

Monument of the Soldier of the First Army of the Polish Army (General Anders Street), Warsaw.
“1943 – Lenino, Warszawa, Kolobrzeg, Berlin – 1945”;

Erected on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the battle of Lenino in 1963. The 8 meter high statue of a figure in uniform, with helmet and a machine pistol on the chest, represent a LWP (Ludowe Wojsko Polskie) soldier. The monument, which is the last work of Ksawery Dunikowski, was created in the 1960s at the behest of then-Minister of National Defence, General Marian Spychalski. Its unveiling took place on October 12th 1963, on the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Lenino. During the Polish People’s Republic this lost battle was presented as the one of the greatest victories in the history of Polish arms. Since 1950 October 12th, the day of the start of the battle was celebrated as the Feast of the Polish Army. This holiday was abolished in free Poland in 1992.

POLES IN THE WEHRMACHT

Following the  German invasion in 1939, some Polish citizens of diverse ethnicities served in the  Wehrmacht, in particular, citizens from parts of Poland annexed to Germany, like Upper Silesia and Pomerania. These were by and large, though not exclusively, ethnic Germans.  Service in the German military was universal in nature in these areas, however assessing the number of ethnic Poles involved is difficult due to the fluidity of national identity. “However there were no Polish quislings or Polish SS Divisions during the Second World War”. (Richie Alexandra p. 7) At the low end, Polish estimates often place the number of native Poles serving in the Wehrmacht at 250,000. Overall, nearly 90,000 former German personnel served in the Polish forces in the West. Interestingly by VE Day  in 1945, nearly a third of the Polish service members in the West were formerly in the service of Germany. On the Eastern Front prisoner-of-war camps for Wehrmacht were also a significant recruitment pool for the Soviet controlled Polish Army.  

SOVIET WAR MEMORIALS

After liberation and the installation of a Communist government in Poland after the War. Numerous Memorials were erected in Poland as well as around Warsaw commemorating the glorious liberators from Nazi tyranny. These memorials are now a source of resentment among Poles and many have been vandalised and removed.

The Soviet Military Cemetery in Warsaw, is the burial place of over 20,000 Soviet soldiers who died fighting in Poland against the Nazis.  It contains one of the first major monuments to be built in Warsaw to those who fought in the War. It includes examples of  Socialist Realism art showing workers (with tools) and other civilians greeting the victorious soldiers. The monument is located in Warsaw’s Mokotow district, near the centre of the area where, ironically, the Warsaw Uprising took place. The dedication on the monument reads: “To the memory of the Soviet Army soldiers who fell while liberating Poland from German occupation in the years 1944-1945.” More than 20,000 Soviet soldiers lie in the Cemetery, mostly in mass graves. The cemetery was built soon after the war and was officially opened in May 1950.

The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) – a state body set up over a decade ago to investigate crimes made by totalitarian regimes, both Nazi and Communist, against Poland – decided to remove over 200 monuments to the Red Army from towns nationwide to the site of a former Soviet military base. After months of deliberations since the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power late last year, the IPN proposed housing the so-called “monuments of gratitude to the Red Army” in a park in the former base at Borne Sulinowo, 275 miles (440 km) northwest of Warsaw.

Monument to the Red Army Soldiers (15 September 1946). Originally built over a grave of twenty six Soviet soldiers, killed between 10-15 September, 1944 during heavy fighting in the area. In 1968, the bodies were buried in he Russian Cemetery and the monument relocated to Park. After 1989, it was devastated and restored on multiple occasions. Despite Russia’s protests, the monument has been demolished in October, 2018. Photo taken by author in March 2018.

The Kościuszko Infantry Division Memorial  commemorates the unsuccessful attempt to aid the Warsaw Uprising  by soldiers of the 1st Polish Infantry Division in September 1944. It stands at the intersection of Wybrzeże Helskie and Okrzei Streets at the entrance to the Port of Praga on the east side of the Vistula. The 12-meter, 48-ton sculpture was cast in bronze and depicts a soldier clutching a PPsh -41 (Soviet sub machine gun papasha” (папа́ша), meaning “daddy”)  and clothed with a billowing cape, desperately reaching out his hand towards the left-bank of Warsaw. The whole composition is over 16 meters high, and is surrounded by a large stone-paved square planted with greenery. The architectural designer of the monument was Bogusław Chyliński. The project involved contributions from numerous businesses, veterans groups, youth groups and the soldiers from the Polish Army. The unveiling of the monument took place on January 17, 1985 on the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Warsaw. It is sometimes jokingly referred to as “five beers please” by the locals, in reference to the hand gesture of the soldier.

Zygmunt Berling, commander of the 1st Polish Army during WWII, a role that saw him honoured with his own statue in 1985. Designed by Kazimierz Danilewicz his white marble monument was frequently attacked and it was not uncommon to see Berling’s hands daubed with blood red paint. That’s on account of Berling’s associations with the USSR and his perceived inaction during the Warsaw Uprising.  The monument was due to be removed however, on Sunday August 4th 2019, it was pulled down by a group of anti-communist protestors.

The Monument to Brotherhood in Arms was erected in Vilnius Square also in the Praga District in 1945, to commemorate the joint struggle of Polish and Soviet soldiers against the Nazis.  In 2011, it was temporarily taken down during the construction of an underground railway station and sent to restorers. However, when it was about to be reinstalled, a minority of Praga’s residents objected and in 2015, the City Council  overturned its earlier decision to return the monument and made the removal permanent. The monument was colloquially known as “the four sleepers or “the four mourners” in reference to the figures of two Polish and two Soviet soldiers with bowed heads at the four corners of the monument.

POST WAR POLAND UNDER SOVIET DOMINATION

Warsaw, or what was left of it, was liberated by Soviet troops on January 1945. They pushed on through Poland toward Germany and the war finally came to a close in April 1945. No country had suffered as much as Poland during WW2 – about 25% of it’s population had perished including nearly all of it’s pre-war Jewish population of 3.5 million. There was a complete realignment of it’s borders losing large swathes of territory in the east but gaining parts of former Germany in the west. There was population exchanges accompanied by civil unrest and atrocities on all sides. Stalin ensured the Polish communists took control effectively leaving the pre-war Government in exile powerless. Stalin was also very impressed by the resistance and bravery of the AK under the Nazis. However he was going to ensure that such a powerful organisation was no threat to Soviet domination and set about arrested, imprisoning, exiling and executing any AK members he came across.

This purge included Witold Pilecki who was executed after a show trial in Warsaw on May 25th 1947. The same year the Communists and Socialist, allied as the Democratic Bloc “won” the general election and merged into the PZPR (Polish United Worker’s Party) the following year. As a result Poland became locked into the Soviet sphere of influence and regime of economic and political development.

The monumentus task of rebuilding Warsaw commenced immediately and took a decade. The painstaking reconstruction of the Stare Miastro (Old Town) was a remarkable feat of engineering and endeavour. Today it is hard to believe, as one strolls around the Old Town that it has not been there for decades. Elsewhere in the city constriction was little les precise and although many f the Places were reconstructed much of the city is a perfect example of functionalist Socialist housing.

Comrade Stalin put his own mark on the reconstruction with a gift to the people of Poland, one I imagine they could not refuse, when he authorised the construction of the Plac Kultury i Nuak (Palace of Culture and Science). Construction started in 1952 and lasted until 1955. A gift from the Soviet Union to the people of Poland, the tower was constructed, using Soviet plans, With a total height of 237 metres (778 ft) it is the tallest building in Poland. Stalin died in March 1953 before it was completed but to many the building remains a highly controversial building, and is often viewed as a reminder of Soviet influence over the Polish People’s Republic,  especially due to its construction during mass violations of human rights under Stalin.  

Plac Kultury i Nuak (Palace of Culture and Science). Construction started in 1952 and lasted until 1955.

Despite Stalin’s death in 1953 Poland remained perched behind the Iron Curtain until 1989. The northern district of Zoliborz , which had featured in the 1944 Uprising, again became a cornerstone of Political confrontation in the 1980s after the formation of the Solidarity ( Solidarnosc) movement. Many rallies took place at the Plac Wilsona where one can visit the Church of St Stanislaw Kostka, where Father Jerzy Popieluszko was once parish priest. Jerzy Popiełuszko  born Alfons Popiełuszko; was a Polish RC priest  who became associated with the Solidarity trade union and was very vocal in his criticism of the Political regime. He was murdered on October 1984 by three agents of the Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, who were shortly thereafter tried and convicted of the murder. He has been recognized as a martyr by the Roman Catholic Church and was beatified on 6 June 2010. A miracle attributed to his intercession and required for his canonization is now under investigation. Today the basement of the Church houses a memorial to Father Jerzy.

The church also has a small memorial to Witold Pilecki who was arrested nearby in 1940 and held with others in Plac Wisona before his transfer to Auschwitz.

WARSAW TODAY

Today Warsaw remains the capital city of a modern Poland with it’s population of 38.5 million (now 5th highest in the EU). It officially joined the EU on May 1st 2004 but maintains it’s own currency the Zloty. The majority of Poles seem to have their hearts and minds set on becoming modern European citizens and their appetite for travel and hard work has brought them to all corners of the European Union. Warsaw’s Old Town is the touristic heart of the city and is full of shops, bars, restaurants and cafes which cater for the visitors. The rest of the city has become a modern European capital with the ongoing construction massive office blocks and towers. Across the river the Praga district, relatively untouched by the destruction wreaked on the city gives some indication of the pre-war Warsaw.

ART

In addition to the art gallery in the Royal Place Warsaw has more to offer. The Museum of John Paul II Collection (Muzeum Kolekcji im. Jana Pawła II) is housed in the building of the former stock exchange and National Bank at 1 Bank Square,  It is considered one of the finest collections of European art in Warsaw. The collection includes around 400 exhibits including Van Gogh, Goya and Sir Joshua Reynolds as well as a portrait of Martin Luther and his wife by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

The Museum Narodowe (National Museum in Warsaw) is situated at No 3 Jerusalem Avenue ( Aleje Jerozolimskie) in a building especially constructed in the 1930s and one of the few to survive the mass destruction in 1944. However during this time most of the art was looted by the Nazis. After the war the Polish Government retrieved many of the works seized by the Germans but more than 5,000 artefacts are still missing. However the Museum is well worth a visit and includes some interesting words by Polish artists for example Jewess with Oranges ( Żydówka z pomarańczami, Pomarańczarka, Przekupka z Pomarańczami) is an 1880-1881n oil painting  on canvas by the Polish artist Aleksander Gierymski.  During World War II, the painting was stolen by German forces, and since 1945, Poland had sought its return. In 2010, the painting appeared in an antique market in Northern Germany and Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Poland began negotiations to bring the painting to Poland, which was successful in 2011, after compensation was paid out by the Polish PZU Foundation to the German owner.

Aleksander Gierymski - Jewish woman selling oranges - Google Art Project.jpg
Jewess with Oranges ( Żydówka z pomarańczami, Pomarańczarka, Przekupka z Pomarańczami) by the Polish artist Aleksander Gierymski.

WARSAW CHURCHES

Warsaw, of course, being the capital of a predominantly Catholic country has a host of beautiful churches. Most of course were destroyed in 1944 and had to rebuilt. One church St Augustine’s Church, ul Nowolipki 18, inaugurated in December 1896 did miracously survive demolition. After the German creation of the Warsaw Ghetto  the church was within its bounds, effectively closing it. Despite the official closure of the church, the home parish priest, Father Franciszek Garncarek and vicar Leon Więckowicz (or Więckiewicz) continued to live there. They took part in smuggling Jews out of the ghetto. Father Garncarek was shot on the steps of a church outside the ghetto on 20 December 1943. Więckowicz was arrested on 3 December 1942 and deported to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp in Lower Silesia, where he died on 4 August 1944. With the liquidation of the Ghetto,  the church was used as a warehouse in which property stolen from Jews was stored, then the church was converted into a stable. During the Uprising  the church tower was a vantage point and German machine gun nest. On 5 August 1944 the tower was damaged during the assault on the nearby Gesiowka prison by soldiers the AK. After the uprising, Germans set fire to the roof of the church and a considerable amount of the church was burned. The fire also took the rectory and parish house. The Germans had a plan to blow up the church, but it was not realized.

St. Hyacinth’s Church n is located in the New Town at Freta Street 8/10. Founded by the Dominican Order and had an adjoining Monastery and the original building was competed in 1639. During the Uprising it was used as a field hospital by the AK and completely destroyed in the German bombardment killing over 1000 people inside. It was completely rebuilt after the War.

St. Alexander’s Church (Polishkościół św. Aleksandra) is a situated on Three Crosses Square in central WarsawPoland. It marks the historical southernmost entry into New World Street (Nowy Świat), the Royal Route and the Old Town. The temple is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Warsaw. It was designed in the neoclassical style by renowned Polish architect Chrystian Piotr Aigner, and constructed in the years 1818–1825. In the late 19th century, St. Alexander’s was remodelled into a larger, more grandiose Neo-Renaissance church, with two side towers and a higher ornate dome. It was destroyed during an aerial bombardment by German Luftwaffe in the first days of September 1944, the church was hit by 9 bombs resulting in collapse of the dome, main nave and one of the towers. In the years after the war it stood as a ruin before being reconstructed in its initial simpler form by 1952.

St. Anne’s Church (PolishKościół św. Anny) is a church in the historic center of WarsawPoland, adjacent to the Castle Square, at Krakowskie Przedmieście 68. It is one of Poland’s most notable churches with a Neoclassical facade. The church ranks among Warsaw‘s oldest buildings. Over time, it has seen many reconstructions, resulting in its present-day appearance, unchanged since 1788. Currently it is the main church parish of the academic community in Warsaw.

The Church of the Holy Cross (PolishBazylika Świętego Krzyża) is a Roman Catholic house of worship in WarsawPoland. Located on Krakowskie Przedmieście opposite the main Warsaw University campus, it is one of the most notable Baroque churches in Poland’s capital. The main building was constructed between 1679 and 1696. Its main designer was Józef Szymon Bellotti, the royal architect at the Royal Court of Poland. It was financed by abbot Kazimierz

During the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the church was severely damaged. On 6 September 1944, when the Germans detonated two large Goliath tracked mines in the church (they usually carried 75–100 kg of high explosives) the facade was destroyed, together with many Baroque furnishings, the vaulting, the high altar, and side altars.[1] Afterward the church was blown up by the Germans in January 1945.[1]

Between 1945 and 1953, the church was rebuilt in a simplified architectural form by B. Zborowski. The interior was reconstructed without the Baroque polychromes and frescos. The main altar was reconstructed between 1960 and 1972. Frédéric François Chopin (1810-1849): His heart is interred in the church. His body is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

SOCCER

Warsaw is home to 2 major professional football clubs and a number of smaller clubs. The only one currently playing in the first division ( Ekstraklasa) is Legia Warszawa, once the main official football club of the Polish Army. They play at Marshal Jozef Pilsudski  Legia Warsaw Municipal Stadium  located on Łazienkowska street in Srodmiescie district. The other team is Polonia Warsaw  Polonia Warszawa,  founded on 19 November 1911, is the oldest existing club in the city but are now in the 111 Liga which is in the 4th tier of the Polish League. Their home ground General Kazimierz Sosnkowski   Polonia Warsaw Stadium located in the Muranow district north of the Old Town.

The Republic of Ireland have played Poland a total of 30 times since May 1938 mainly in international; friendly matches and only four times in competitions. In 1991 in the European Championship, under Jack Charlton which resulted in 2 draws. Then again in the European Championship in 2015, under Martin O’Neill which resulted in another draw, 1-1 in the Aviva in March 2015, attended by a capacity crowd of 50,500. The return match resulted in a 2-1 win to Poland on October 11th 2015, attended by 57,497 at the Stadion Narodowy in Warsaw.

PERSONAL THOUGHTS

As an Irish person who has visited Poland and conversed and talked to many Polish people about their sad history and suffering during WW 2 I always admire how they can talk about it without any outward display of bitterness. To them our quest for Freedom from British Rule must seem miniscule and if not rather pathetic. Compared to their suffering what tyranny they were we fighting?

Most embarrassing for me is that during the time of their crucifixion our Government maintained a policy of neutrality. The only saving grace is that many Irishmen and women did volunteer and serve with the British armed forces to rid Europe of a tyrant never before seem in modern Europe. One thing I cannot abide is that our leader Eamon DeValera went to German Embassy in Dublin to offer his condolences on the death of the architect of the destruction of Warsaw- Adolf Hitler, just 10 months after the slaughter of so many civilians in the city on his personal orders – we must hang our heads in Shame, shame, shame.

References

Books

Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler and the Warsaw Uprising. By Alexandra Richie. William Collins; ISBN-13 : 978-0007180417

Rising 44 The Battle for Warsaw by Norman Davies. Macmillan; Unabridged edition (17 Oct. 2003); ISBN-13 : 978-0333905685

Jack Fairweather (2019). The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero Who Infiltrated Auschwitz. London: WH Allen.  IBSN 978-0753545164;

Conversations with an Executioner by Kazimieerz Moczarski (Author) – January 1, 1981. Publisher: Prentice-Hall; First Edition (1981), 282 pages. 

  • Karski at 30/32 Lubelska Street in Warsaw.

FILMS

Kanal (1957) – In 1944, during the Warsaw uprising against the Nazis, Polish Lieutenant Zadra and his resistance fighters use Warsaw’s sewer system to escape the German encirclement. ( Director Andrzej Wajda);

The Pianist (2002) – Polish Jewish musician struggles to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto of World War II. ( Director Roman Polanski);

Warsaw ’44 (2014) – A story of love, friendship and the pursuit of adventure during the bloody and brutal reality of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.  ( Director AJan Komasa);

Stones for the Rampart (2014) – Based on a well-known Polish novel with the same title the movie re-tells a true life story of a group of scouts called ”Szare Szeregi” (Gray Ranks) during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. (Director Robert Glinski) ;

Pilecki (2015) – A fictionalized documentary depicting the story of Witold Pilecki, from his youth through action during World War II, up to the imprisonment and death in May 1948. (Director Miroslaw Krzyszkowskiego) ;

Birmingham Pub Massacres

Thursday night was pay night. November 21st 1974 was another pay night in Birmingham city centre with young workers flooding into the city centre to socialise. The pubs closed early back then as a consequence people went out early. The Mulberry Bush  pub was a few hundred years from New Street station and was popular with railway workers and commuters. Many people who travelled into the city centre by train stopped there for the first one before moving on elsewhere. At 8.17pm a bomb exploded in the crowded pub. The large plate glass windows and debris from the interior exploded into the street killing two passers-by instantly. In the pub itself 8 more people were killed and others horrifically injured as tables, chairs and glasses tore into flesh and the heat of the explosion melted skin.

Emergency services arrived and police tried to clear other premises in the area as well as tend to the victims.

At 8.27pm a second explosion took place in another pub on New Street itself a few hundred years and around the corner from the first blast. The Tavern in the Town was a cellar bar popular with teenagers. A Police Constable was running along New Street trying to evacuate peole. “As he reached the entrance to the Tavern, the bomb exploded throwing backwards into a bus shelter “.  Entrance to the pub was down a narrow staircase. The bomb had been placed under the staircase and when it exploded the staircase was destroyed and the basement pub plunged into darkness. The force of the blast embedded people into the walls and again pub fixtures tore into body parts. Nine people were killed in the second explosion and everyone in the pub injured horrifically many buried under rubble as fireman tried to reach them through the narrow blocked entrance. Two of the injured died later, bringing the total death toll to 21. The dead and injured came from a variety of  backgrounds reflecting the diversity of Birmingham. Many, especially those killed and injured in the Tavern in the Town,  were young teenagers.

When I came to live in Birmingham in 1980 both pubs had reopened. The Mulberry Bush was then called the Bar St Martin and had become the haunt of football hooligans especially on match days. The Tavern in the Town was still a basement pub despite its history and was called the Yard of Ale. It attracted a better clientele. I always felt a sense of shame when I passed both pubs. However some morbid fascination or a need to pick up some sort of sense of the terrible act I did go into each of them once and had one drink not feeling very comfortable. As I looked around at the other patrons I knew that the individuals who planted the bombs and it was most likely the same pair who planted both must have observed very closely the people they were going to kill and maim. It has to have been two bombers, a larger number would have attracted attention and a person on their own would also draw notice. How did they feel? A callous indifference ? Hatred ? Nothing at all? Did these individuals think that the barbaric and callous act of planting explosive devices in busy pubs in a city that had provided them with, possibly, employment and a home was going to assist in their fanatical cause of Freedom for Ireland?

19 people died that awful night – the youngest was 16 years old the oldest 56. 12 were men and 7 were women. 2 other men died of their injuries on November 24th and December 9th 1974 bring the dead toll to 21.

The victims of the Birmingham Pub bombing

The Mulberry Bush Victims (10)

Neil “Tommie” Marsh aged 16, the youngest victim and his friend Paul Anthony Davis aged 17, both originally from the West Indies, were killed outside the Mulberry Bush. They had been walking past the pub when they were torn to pieces by glass and debris as the explosion went off.

Inside the pub six friends gathered together  in their usual spot at the end of the bar – just feet from where the bomb was planted were all killed. John Rowlands aged 46 (ex Royal Navy WW 2 , a foreman at Land Rover in Tysley, married with 2 sons), Michael William Beasley aged 30 (stock controller at a motor company, single man),  Stanley James Bodman aged 47 (an electrician, father of three and ex RAF) , James Caddick aged 56 (a market Porter and divorced father of 2), John Clifford Jones aged 51 ( a railway station post office worker, a father of four and a veteran of WW 2, wounded while serving with DLI) and Trevor Thrupp aged 33 (a rail guard married father of 3 children).

Charles Harper Grey aged 44 (a single man, originally from Keith, Scotland a mechanic at British Leyland- not a Mulberry Bush pub regular), Pamela Joan Palmer aged  19 (an office worker in the pub with her boyfriend who lost a leg but survived).

The Tavern in the Town victims  (11)

Maureen Ann Roberts aged 20 (a wages clerk  at Dowding and Mills, and was due to be engaged to her boyfriend, an only child), James Craig aged 34, died December 9th 1974 of injuries (originally from Northern Ireland, motor plant worker and amateur footballer who once had a trial with Birmingham City.) , Maxine Hambleton aged 18 & Jane Davis aged 17 ( 2 friends who worked together in a Birmingham Department store and spent the previous summer grape picking in France),  Lynn Bennett aged 18 (a punch card operator)  & Stephen Whalley – Hunt aged 21 (a quantity surveyor from Bloxwich living  in Moseley) , (they were meeting in the Tavern on a blind date through the NME dating column), Desmond Reilly aged 21 (married with a pregnant wife)  & Eugene Reilly aged 23 (single – 2 brothers from an Irish family), Marilyn Nash aged 22 &  Ann Hayes aged 19 ( 2 friends who worked together in Miss Selfridge section of Lewis’ Department Store),   Thomas Chaytor aged 28 (originally from Iver, Bucks, divorcee father of 2 , a retail tailor’s assistant and a part time barman in the Tavern died of injuries November 27th 1974 ).

After the slaughter the Provisional IRA denied they planted the bombs. They continued with this charade for many years after.  Later their supporters tried to excused it by saying that the phone boxes the bombers were going to use to phone the warning had been vandalised so delaying the call. Also the usual rubbish about Emergency services not reacting quickly enough, or the Police knowing about the bombs and allowing them to go off. The men who made the bombs, give instructions to plant the bombs and the those who planted them were the ones directly responsible for deaths and maiming of all those innocent people.

Subsequently West Midlands police arrested 5 men at Heysham docks in Lancashire as they attempted to board a ferry to Belfast.  All 5 had travelled on a train from Birmingham New Street station which had left at 7.55pm 22 minutes before the first explosion. A barmaid in the Taurus Bar  in New Street Station had told police she had served six men drink in the bar prior to the blasts. The Police who arrived in Heysham from Birmingham immediately assumed the five men they arrested were the culprits and after a combination of flawed forensic evidence and interrogations which included severe beatings and threats against their families secured a number of confessions. A sixth man who had accompanied them to the station was later arrested back in Birmingham and these six unfortunate men were later convicted and given maximum sentences. It soon became clear that none of these men, all originally from Northern Ireland had anything to do with the bombings. All had lived in Birmingham for many years and had homes and families in the city. They had been travelling to Belfast with the intention of attending the funeral of James McDaid, a native of Belfast who had died planting a bomb exactly one week before.

THE COVENTRY BOMB NOVEMBER 14 1974

James McDaid was well known on the Irish scene in Birmingham and personally known to some of the men arrested. He had blown himself up while planting a bomb at the new Coventry phone exchange on Thursday November 15th 1974, one week before.  An accomplice, Raymond McLaughlin, who was armed with pistol and acting as lookout was observed throwing his gun away and caught and held by passer-by’s before he was arrested. Both men had travelled from Birmingham, where they lived, with the bomb. There was not much left of McDaid but his remains were to be flown back to Belfast for burial. He was personally known to at least five of the six men arrested in Heysham and when he first came to Birmingham had stayed for a while in the home of one of them and later lodged for a time with another. Just prior to his death he had been linked, by fingerprint,  to a previous incendiary device planted at an office equipment premises in Birmingham 8 days earlier. James McDaid and McLaughlin were active members of an IRA cell based in Birmingham city. It later emerged that the bombs in Birmingham a week later were some form of sick revenge for his death. A reminder that the IRA were still active in the Midlands.

Raymond McLaughlin was from Buncrana, Co Donegal and served 9 and a half years in Prison for his part in the Coventry debacle. He was released in 1984 and died in a drowning accident in Shannon, Co Clare a year later. His son who was one year old at time of his father’s arrest is now reborn as Padriag Mac Lochlainn was elected to the Dáil as a Sinn Fein TD on 25 February 2011 for the constituency of Donegal North-East on his third attempt.  He lost his seat in 2016 but regained it in 2020.

THE AFTERMATH 

The city of Birmingham descended into chaos and panic in the immediate aftermath of the explosions. Tears later everyone I met in Birmingham could recall where they were that awful November night. The city centre, it must be remembered was full of pubs and clubs all of which had to evacuated. As news of the bombs spread parents in the suburbs and outlining towns feared the worst. The city centre was full of mainly young people out socialising. One can only imagine the fear and despair. In the days that followed the anger began to focus on the city’s Irish population. In 1974 there was an estimated 100,000 Irish born people in a city of over a million. One Irish born man had died in the explosion and the two Reilly brothers came from Irish born parents. There was the inevitable back lash. Irish people were ostracised in many workplaces, there were assaults and attacks on Irish pubs and clubs. However many Brummies showed their true colours and stood by, shielded and protected their Irish friends work mates and colleagues.  Most of the city’s population were aware the bombings had been carried out by a ruthless and fanatical organisation that did not represent the vast majority of Irish people. When I lived in Birmingham in the 1980s I heard many stories of Irish people who suffered the brunt of the, to a degree understandable, anger. Some years later a woman recounted to me that he husband, normally a mild mannered man,  was so angry in the days after the bombings he got in his car and drove to Sparkhill, an Irish area of the city.  He waited outside an Irish pub and then jumped out and punched an Irishman, or someone he thought was an Irishman, before running back to his car and driving away.  The incident, though spontaneous and a little pathetic probably went unreported and really was insignificant in the scale of things but a symptom of the feelings of anger and shock that stunned the whole city.

However theses were outweighed by the stories of friendship, loyalty and solidarity displayed by their non Irish  fellow citizens. Brave people who stood up to the mob in the workplace, covered for their Irish friends and expressed support and sympathy in so many ways. There are the positive gems we have to recall when discussing this awful act of mass murder.

As usual the actions of the IRA had a double purpose. They, more than anyone, would have been very aware that for each outrage there would be a reaction. As an organisation that thrives on anger, division and hatred under the guise of a “fight for freedom” they revel in the chaos they leave in their wake. It feeds their own sense of lack of self worth by drawing on the anger of ordinary people to help to fuel their madness and fanaticism.  The arrest and sentencing of the innocent six men in the aftermath of the bombings was an added bonus. Their own operatives would possibly avoid detection and continue to be useful. The social and political fallout of the jailing of innocent men would publicise so called  “British Injustice” for decades.

The first St Patrick’s Day parade in Digbeth was in 1952 and it was held annually up until 1974. After the atrocity in November 1974  it was, with some justification, cancelled for over two decades before being revived in 1996.  Just one symptom of the fallout from the bombings.  That night also changed the nightlife of Birmingham.  People simply stopped using city centre pubs at night and as a result the once vibrant nightlife of the main streets of Birmingham city centre changed. People began to socialize in their own neighbourhoods and avoided the area at night.  It took a considerable period of time for this to improve and has never , in my opinion, returned fully.

THE BIRMINGHAM SIX

The six men arrested in Heysham all were found guilty by jury trial of the Bombings and 21 murders at Lancaster Crown Court on Friday August 15th 1975. All received sentences of life imprisonment.

However it soon emerged these men were not responsible for the bombings. Within a few years the focus began to change onto them and the awful miscarriage of justice. Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, John Walker, Billy Power , Gerry Hunter and Richard McIlkenny all continued to protest their innocence and slowly bit by bit details emerged of the flawed forensics, the beatings and a miscarriage of Justice. This was manna from Heaven for the IRA and it’s supporters. Not only did  it take the spotlight off their massacre of 21 people but it highlighted the perceived injustices of Britain and their system of Justice. I admit that once I had done my own amateur research into the circumstances of the bombings I became convinced these men were innocent and involved myself to a minor extent in the  campaign to have them released. They were eventually exonerated and released on March 14th 1991 after 16 years in prison.

THE 21 

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During that time in the 1980s how did the relatives of the people killed in that awful night feel? In the clamour for a retrial and release of the Birmingham Six the victims seem to have been forgotten. Their names were never mentioned the focus and spotlight now was on the a miscarriage of Justice that insinuated an massive police error and the jailing of innocent men while the real perpetrators never stood trial for what they actually had done. This was, in my opinion, grossly unfair and a second outrage if you want to call it that. The names of the dead and injured and what happened that night should never have been shoved into the shadows.

THE BOMBERS 

Contrary to possible public belief there were not a large number of IRA men operating in the Midlands in 1973 and 1974 – numbered at less than 30. Nine of them including Frank Stagg , who later died of self starvation in prison, and a Catholic priest Father Fell were arrested in the Coventry area in April 1973.  However another cell operated in the Birmingham city area and the attacks there commenced in August 1973  with the planting of bombs and incidenery devices at various locations throughout the West Midlands in late 1973 and early 1974. On September 17th 1973 Capt Ronald Wilkinson was killed attempting to defuse a bomb at Edgebaston in Birmingham. The bombings continued into the New Year. Spring and summer. All in all the city of Birmingham was subjected to a terrible wave of bombings and evacuations throughout 1974. My own mother had travelled from Ireland to Birmingham with my 10 year old brother in the summer of 1974 to visit friends in the city. I recall her on her return being very impressed with the way the she saw how the citizens of Birmingham were dealing with the bombings. She, to put it mildly, was no fan of the IRA regarding them as dangerous misguided fanatics who brought only shame and destruction in their wake. She admired the way the Birmingham public were not being intimidated and continued with business as usual learning to live with the danger that threatened their city  and that in turn had made her feel safe. She was also presently surprised that she had not experienced any ill feeling or negative comment during her visit despite what people were put through by the reckless, irresponsible, vindictive and dangerous actions of the IRA.

In early August 1974, about the time of my mother’s visit Police in Birmingham made a series of arrests and discovered bomb making equipment at two addresses in the Sparkbrook area of the city. Eight men were arrested and later convicted including the man in command of the IRA units in the city.  The bombings stopped.

However it did not take long for a second unit under a more ruthless leader to emerge from the shadows.

It is now public knowledge that a five man IRA cell were behind the bombings in Birmingham in November 1974. Their leader was a Belfast man named James McLoughlin “Belfast Jimmy” from the Ardoyne area of Belfast and possibly a first cousin of James McDaid, the dead Coventry bomber. At the time of the massacre he was flying across the Irish sea on an Aer Lingus plane accompanying McDaid’s remains back to Belfast from Birmingham airport.  McLoughlin was an IRA fanatic and had begun organising and ordered a number of bombings in and around Birmingham from late October 1974. Therefore it can be without doubt he had ordered the operation in which McDaid had been killed and felt very sore about it. Obviously the British tabloids and members of the public had been gloating about McDaid’s “own goal” and McLoughlin took this very personally and plotted a savage retribution. It was he who ordered the bombs to be constructed and picked the targets.

He would also have been aware that a large amount of police would be deployed for the removal of what remained  of McDaid from Coventry to Birmingham airport on the evening of November 21st 1974 leaving the city under policed and vulnerable. Bombers and bomb makers could now move about and carry out their trade of death and destruction with less chance of random discovery.

The probable principal bombmaker was Michael Murray, originally from Donnycarney in Dublin but at the time was living in Watt Road, Erdington. He would have made up the bombs and prepared the timers, along with another man. He would have delivered the bombs to the planters. On the night of the bombings he was in the Lamp Tavern pub in Aston where it is likely, as he knew the time both bombs had been set for, he made the useless warning calls from a nearby phone box. He was arrested in the days after the bombings and admitted he was a member of the IRA but no more. After receiving a 12 year sentence for conspiracy to cause explosions he, stood trial for a second time alongside the  ‘Birmingham Six’ in Lancaster was convicted of further charges of  conspiracy to cause explosions and sentenced to a concurrent nine years. He was released at the end of his sentence, returned to Ireland and died in Ireland in 1999.

The two bombers have been named as John Francis Gavin then aged 34, originally from St Patrick’s Park, Carrick on Shannon, Co Leitrim who lived in the Bordesley Green area of Birmingham and his accomplice as a teenager named Michael Patrick O’Reilly.

Gavin fled to Ireland. However he was convicted of the murder of another IRA man who he shot dead in Timmons Bar, Liffey Quays, Dublin on September 7th 1977. The man he killed was John Lawlor who was under suspicion as an alleged informer. Gavin was linked to the murder by fingerprints left on a pint glass in the bar. He served a life sentence for that murder, was released and died in 2002.

Michael James Reilly was arrested in 1975. He admitted bombing some local businesses in Birmingham and that he knew about the bombings in advance, but he did not admit to being involved. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiracy and causing explosions.

A fifth man named Michael Hayes has been also admitted to have been involved  but his role seems more ambiguous but it seems likely he was the second bombmaker. He recently reappeared in Dublin and made a hypocritical  statement apologising for what happened.

McLoughlin, Murray and Gavin were all fanatical Republicans and never at any time expressed  remorse or apology for the pain and suffering they inflicted. The only thing that bothered them was a lack of congratulation or recognition of their actions from the IRA ruling council.  Their actions had brought negative attention to the IRA and lost them a lot of popular support at the time. They could not have cared less for the victims. At least one of them, Gavin, went onto to kill again.

Contrary to popular belief the West Midlands Serious Crimes Unit had gathered a good amount of intelligence on the Birmingham IRA and did make a number of other arrests in the days and months after the bombings including Michael Murray and Michael James Reilly, two of those principally involved in the Pub bombings.  In total other than the six men convicted on the bombings, 17 IRA men were imprisoned related to bombings in the  Birmingham area during the 1973/74 period.   Michael Murray was one completely ruthless individual. He stood trial along with two others in the dock at Lancaster Castle in August 1975 on lesser charges, conspiracy to cause explosions and watched six innocent men found guilty for what he did while impassively maintaining his code of silence. So the police had caught at least two of the men behind the bombings, including the bomb maker and one of the planters.

THOUGHTS

Whatever the outcome of the flawed investigation the case of the Birmingham pub bombings has never been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction and continues to be a unhealed wound for the families of the victims and indeed all of Birmingham city.  When I came to live in Birmingham in January 1980, only 5 years after that awful night I arrived in a city still traumatised and trying to come to terms what what had happened.  Though I was Irish I was never subjected to any serious abuse or bad feeling because of my nationality or accent. People both Irish and English still talked about that awful night but only, I found, in certain company or situations. Everyone, who was there, remembered where they were that night. The Irish I met were still filled with shame and many had been subjected to abuse and workplace ostracisation in the days after. Others had not but all had been careful not to make themselves prominent or express any opinion or view on what happened. It was truly a dreadful time for them and had left scars. However the scars, in my opinion, were more to do about the stigma of being Irish and such a horrific act being carried out by fellow Irish individuals in the name of Ireland than the bad feeling or negativity they received from fellow Brummies. It was a  dark cloud many still carry today.

Gradually and mainly because so many Irish people live in the city and have intermarried into English families and are part of the multicultural fabric of the city the bad feeling subsided surprisingly quickly.

I have found that the general disposition of the majority of British people toward the Irish has always been friendly and I feel as someone who lived there in various parts I have the experience to back up this opinion. I get annoyed when I hear commentators make remarks on Irish radio about how difficult it must have been for the Irish in the UK in the 1970s. 1980s during the height of the IRA bombings . It was difficult for everyone not knowing when some fanatic was going to kill you for Ireland. As in Birmingham indiscriminate bombs do not separate one nationality from another. Most people who express this opinion have never spent anytime in the UK and experienced the politeness and generosity of the majority of the British population.

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Sheffield Steel City

Sheffield is one my favourite English cities and one which I did not come to know until a few years ago. It is large with a population of  585,000 and 1,569,000 in the greater metropolitan area.  The River Sheaf which runs the city which give the city its name. The city is also known as Steel City because of its association with steel fabrication, especially the cutlery trade, which put Sheffield on the industrial map and accelerated it’s growth in the 19th century.  

As well as football Sheffield has a number of other interests for me including that it is historically linked to my other passion the Connaught Rangers. Sheffield’s impressive town hall, is located on Pinstone Street. It was designed by the London-based architect E. W. Mountford and constructed over a seven-year period from 1890 to 1897, opening on 21 May 1897.
The building was opened by Queen Victoria, using a remote control lock from her carriage. The turning of the key in the lock triggered a light in the building which was the signal for three concealed men to open the gates. The Connaught Rangers then stationed in Sheffield provided the Queen’s guard of honour. Her Majesty Queen Victoria visited Sheffield on June 21st 1897 for the purpose of opening the new town hall, on which occasion, the Connaught Rangers furnished a Guard of Honour at the railway station, under Cpt H.G.Adams-Connor with Lieuts P.T.Horton and HFN Jourdain.

Perhaps it was this connection to Sheffield which drew a number of recruits from the city into the ranks of the Rangers.

QUEEN VICTORIA

As in common with so many other cities Sheffield erected a statue to their beloved Queen following her demise. The official unveiling of the “Victoria Monument” by HRH Princess Beatrice of Battenburg took place in the town hall square (The junction of Leopold Street & Fargate) on May 11th 1905. The Monument was the work of Alfred Turner (1874-1940) is made of bronze and was commissioned by public subscription. It stood there until 1930 when it was moved to the South East end of Endcliffe Park where it sits to this day.

A statue of her son and successor, King Edward VII, was unveiled in Fitzalan Square, Sheffield by the Duke of Norfolk in October 1913, three years after his death. The statue, designed by Alfred Drury, is also made of bronze, and set upon an Aberdeen Kemnay Granite plinth. This statue remains in his original position despite Fitzalan Square being almost obliterated during the Sheffield Blitz of December 1940.

More on that later. Sheffield also contains a huge variety of decent pubs alongside the usual rubbish, godawful monstrosities that pass for pubs and litter so many English towns and cities. One my favourites is the unusually shaped Three Tons Pub on a hill behind the cathedral. From there you can make your way to the Red Deer on Pitt Street which has a huge selection of ales. Then onto the beautiful interior of the Bath Hotel on Victoria Street.

HEELEY

Heeley is a former cluster of villages which all now form a suburb in the south of the City. It is famous for many things but one being the Heeley Triangle a short, or if you wish, a longer pub crawl. There are two interpretations of the Heeley Triangle – the small version at Heeley bottom, taking in the Sheaf View, Brothers Arms and White Lion; and the bigger version including London Road, Bramall Lane and Abbeydale Road.

SHEFFIELD AND WW2

On the night of Thursday December 12th 1940 the city of Sheffield had a night of unprecedented horror. Sheffield’s factories, located in the east of the city along the river Don, had been altered into the production of weapons and ammunition for the war effort and so became prime targets for the Luftwaffe. On a cold, clear night with a full moon the German air force launched Operation Schmelzteigel (Crucible) and dozens of bombers, about 280 aircraft, left northern France to attack the city. The first bombs dropped by the Pathfinder squadrons fell at 7.41pm on the suburbs of Norton Lees and Gleadless, five km (three miles) south east of the city centre. The bombers came in waves and bombs began to hit the city centre about 2 hours later demolishing the east end of the Cathedral. At 10.50pm bombs destroyed buildings around Fitzalan Square and people took shelter in the cellars of the Marples Hotel. The hotel itself received a direct hit at 11.44pm , completely demolishing it and killing up to 70 people. The majority of the bombs fell on residential areas and the city centre and last bombs fell about 4am. Very few of the factories were hit.

On Sunday December 15th 1940 there was second raid this time by about a smaller number of bombers carrying incindiary bombs and began to bomb Sheffield about 7pm starting fires which guided in the following waves. This raid was a bit more accurate hitting a number of steelworks. The raid ended about 10.15pm. In all about 660 people were killed during the two raids and 1,500 injured with a further 40,000 made homeless. 134 of those killed were buried in a communal grave in City Road cemetery. King George V and and Queen Elisabeth visited the Sheffield after the bombing as did Winston Churchill who addressed a crowd in Town Hall Square.

Just over three years later another aircraft, this time American, crashed in Endcliffe Park. MI-AMIGO was a B17G ”Flying Fortress” which limped back to the UK after being badly damaged by Luftwaffe fighters during a daylight raid over Occupied Denmark. Attempting to get back to their base in Northampton the aircraft began to lose altitude over Sheffield. The pilot, Lt John Kriegshauser, received the Distinguished Flying Cross (posthumous) for diverting his stricken aircraft away from children playing football in the park that fateful day – February 22nd 1944. All 10 crew were killed instantly when the bomber crashed into a glade in the Park. THE MI-AMIGO MEMORIAL STONE was put into place in 1969 at the crash site and records the 10 brave young men from the 305th Bombardment Group who sacrificed their lives to save those of civilians on the ground.

STEEL CITY FOOTBALL
Sheffield of course has two football teams, bitter rivals, United ‘The Blades ‘ and Wednesday ‘The Owls. In recent years both teams slipped down to the First Division but are now back in the Championship and pushing for promotion.

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City of a Thousand Trades

DSC_0192 (2)It was 1980 when I moved to the City of a Thousand Trades after nearly a year of drifting around England trying my hand at various jobs.  Birmingham had a grim reputation – a large industrial city slap bang in the centre of England with little to recommend it other than a place for a good curry.  Certainly the subterranean concourse of New Street Railway station did little to enhance he visitor’s view of the city. Birmingham once the industrial workshop of Britain had been heavily blitzed by the Luftwaffe during World War 2. In the post war years what the Germans bombs had missed was pulled down and replaced by a grim semi underground city centre where the car was king and the pedestrian banished to dimly lit underpasses and concrete shopping centres.

First impressions were not good but for the next 10 years I discovered a vibrant and friendly city whose citizens were all too aware of how the rest of the United Kingdom viewed them and their city. The post war economic  boom had brought immigrants form all over the old Empire to Birmingham among them thousands of Irish who flooded into the city into eh 1950s.