I got back late last night from a Jewish wedding in Wrocław in Poland. This was the first (or maybe second?) wedding between two Polish Jews at the White Stork Synagogue there for 50 years. Unfortunately, after the Holocaust and during the communist period, there wasn’t much room for Jewish life in this town. Today, Jewish life in Poland is not what it was before the war, but there is a strong community that is continuing to grow. This wedding is a fantastic show of the religious freedom and modern day society that we now live in here in Poland.
It was a really fun and enjoyable day which was a contrast to the day before.
My girlfriend and I drove down a day early, in search of an “Underground City” that the Germans supposedly built during the war. Wanting to learn everything at the location, I simply looked up where to go and drove there. We arrived at the Ksiaz Castle where this city was meant to be underneath. Immediately I got a horrible feeling from just standing there. I have only felt like this before in the Nuremberg trial rooms. It is hard to describe, but I just didn’t want to be there, it just wasn’t right.
Only now, after the visit, do I realise that this castle was meant to be one of the major Nazi headquarters for Hitler where a lot of the decisions would be made throughout the reign. A really evil place. This was the centre of the Nazi project Riese, the main purpose was to create a main site of control in the Owl mountains of Lower Silesia.
We eventually discovered that this “Underground City” was in fact 30km away. This was just one of at least 9 underground structures built. After a short drive we arrived at a hillside forest named Osówka. Underneath there was a vast, multi-layered system of tunnels and halls. The Nazi’s got Jews (mostly Hungarian who were sent to Auschwitz) to build this place over the course of two years. They estimate that if the war had not have ended, they would have completed the structure in another year.
Nobody really knows what these underground constructs were for. Potentially nuclear shelters, weapons storage, a treasure location, a secret laboratory…but there is no sufficient evidence for any one in particular. What is known, is that the workers were treated just as inhumanely as elsewhere in the Nazi regime. One bowl of soup a day, barely 200 calories, and long working days. If they were lucky, they would survive a few weeks. Many would die. Only a few would survive until the end of the war when the Red Army would free them. At this time, so malnourished that the Russians told them not to eat too much at once, but of course given food and not having eaten in weeks, people ate as much as they could – unfortunately their bodies couldn’t take it and 50 were recorded to have died from “overeating” after liberation.
This learning experience was contrasted with the happy environment of a wedding the following day. A joyous celebration of the union of two Jewish people. Finally, we wandered back to the car via the picturesque main square. A sunny day with lots of tourists, families and children having ice-cream and sweets. Inevitably however, we were reminded of the history just before we reached the car, there was a memorial plaque for the Jews killed in the ghetto of Wrocław during World War II.
The history is incredibly important and necessary to remember, but current life in Poland is as modern as anywhere else in Europe. The Jewish community is unbreakable and we will continue to enjoy such pleasures as weddings. A big Mazaltov to Katka and Sławek!