Saturday, October 31, 2015

Trip to Europe, September 2015, Berlin


Starting with the iconic S-Bahn:

And the iconic Ampelmann:

Traffic lights for pedestrians from other countries:

Old East Berlin streetscape. The trees make this street look nice compared to Vienna:

Communist East Berlin architecture with the TV tower on Alexanderplatz in the background:

Berlin's most famous landmark, the Brandenburger gate:

Not far from it, is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe:
The white building in the background is the American embassy.

Three girls and a boy sculpture by Wilfried Fitzenreiter:

Trip to Europe, September 2015, Polin Museum

The Museum of the History of Polish Jews - POLIN - in Warsaw, entrance:

POLIN tells history of Poland from Jewish perspective since before Poland was a country. This history is long and complex. I've spent about 4 hours in this museum, and I felt like I only touched on some subjects. I am not going to give you a complete picture in this blog, rather some interesting or new to me, bits of information, which may encourage you to study the subject in more depth. 

Jewish and Muslim merchants have been travelling the low lands of today's Poland to buy slaves for Muslims until at least XII century. The male slaves were castrated before being put to work. The English word 'slave' originates from the name of people living in central Europe around 1000 years ago: Slavs. The word 'slav' originates from 'slovo' - 'word'. 

"Jews call the land of Slavs 'Kanaan', because inhabitants of these lands sell their sons and daughters." Beniamin from Gudela, Book of Travels, XII century.
Jews settled in Poland on invitation from the rulers. They were minting coins and collecting taxes for the kings.

Sometimes the rulers had more intimate relations with Jewish women:

Jews were courted to settle in Poland, because they were critical to the development of trade and finance. This reminds me of how countries now try to attract foreign capital to invest in special economic zones by letting them not pay taxes for a number of years.

Jews were given privileges, but from early on they also suffered from accusations of ritual murder, starting fires, and sacrilege. 

A side note: it seams that already in XII century, 'German' was synonymous with 'order':
The German law is also known as Magdeburg law.
In the east Jews were often employed by the nobility as managers of their properties.

Any country that lets many people suffer, while some profit from their suffering, is bound for trouble in the future.

And in the east of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth the trouble came in the form of murder of those seen as oppressors.

With time, the number of Jews in Poland grew, to the point were many cities were predominantly Jewish, and of course not all Jews were rich. After the first partition of Poland in 1772, for example, Prussia expelled at least 40 thousand poor Jews - 'Betteljuden' - most of whom re-settled in what remained of the Commonwealth.

The industrial revolution created some very rich Jewish industrialists, and many poor Jewish workers. The workers revolted in 1905:

The life for Jews in reborn Poland, did not start well. During the war with Soviet Russia, Jews were sometimes accused of collaboration with communists and killed

The museum also documents the chilling progression of laws in Warsaw under German occupation:
  • October 1939: ban on Jews entering shops, cafes, and restaurants; Jews ordered to bow to Germans on the street;
  • Mid October 1939: freezing of bank accounts for Jews; ban on holding more than 2000zł in cash;
  • 18 October 1939: Jews prohibited from trading furs and textiles;
  • 26 October 1939: ban on ritual slaughter;
  • 30 October 1939: resettlement of Poles and Jews from areas incorporated into Germany to General Government;
  • 15 November 1939: temporary closure of Polish and Jewish elementary and high schools under the pretext of typhus;
  • November 1939: Jewish companies under forced administration;
  • December 1939: ban on returning to Jews items from pawn shops; 
  • 1 December 1939: blue star of David on white background must be worn on right arm by all Jews over 12 years old; all Jewish shops and enterprises must be marked; introduction of trams reserved only for Germans;
  • 7 December 1939: Polish schools (not universities) open with reduced curriculum; Jewish schools stay closed;
  • 12 December 1939: mandatory work for Jews 14-60 years old; for Poles 18-60 years old;
  • 15 December 1939: food rationing - Poles and Jews get the same rations initially;
  • 31 December 1939: end of pension payments, health services to Jews;
  • January 1940: closing of synagogues; ban on group prayers in private homes; separation of Polish and Jewish social services institutions;
  • 1 January 1940: Jews cannot move (change where they reside);
  • 8 February 1940: Jews forbidden to travel by train;
  • February - May 1940: food rations for Jews lowered;
  • March 1940: ban on employing Jews in restaurants, cabarets, etc.
  • April-June 1940: building of a wall around an 'area susceptible to disease';
  • 19 April 1940: curfew: 10pm for Poles, 9pm for Jews;
  • May-July 1940: food rations for Jews lowered again; coupons accepted only in Jewish shops;
  • Mid 1940: taking over Jewish apartments; closing of Jewish libraries and book shops; ban on Jewish pharmacies, dentistry offices, medical laboratories, treating on non-Jewish patients by Jewish doctors; Jewish lawyers forbidden to practice law; 
  • July 1940: ban on most political, social, and non-profit organisations; ban on borrowing books to Jews;
  • 18 July 1940: Jews banned from entering public parks, using benches, walking certain streets;
  • 7 August 1940: forced relocation of Jews in Warsaw starts: first from German district, then Polish, newcomers must settle in Jewish district;
  • September 1940: Jews only tram;
  • 7-9 September 1940: bread rationing restricted to 1500 grams per week for Poles, and 750 grams for Jews;
  • 6 October 1940: curfew changes: for Poles from 11pm to 4am, for Jews from 9pm to 5 am;
  • 12 October 1940: mail censorship; mail from ghetto can be sent only to countries not at war with Germany;
  • November 1940: Judenrat tasked with removal of Jewish patients from municipal hospitals and care centres;
  • 16 November 1940: closing of the ghetto in Warsaw; 138 thousand Polish Jews and 113 thousand non-Jewish Poles were relocated to create it; in 1941 450 thousand people lived in this 307 hectare (a little over 3 square km) district; 

Jewish police guarding the ghetto gate.

After the war, most surviving polish Jews left communist Poland. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Trip to Europe, September 2015, Warsaw


Poland is trying to catch up with the U.S. in wild capitalism and consumerism. It seems you can buy anything at any time of the day or night. There are advertisements everywhere. It's not pretty. The picture below shows a long wall of bottled water in an Auchan hipermarket. It's a long wall. Hundreds of types of still and carbonated water: lightly carbonated, medium, high; more minerals, fewer minerals; spring, well, deep oligocene well. How can you buy anything here? :-)

The Railway Museum in Warsaw is in dire need of cash to help them restore and maintain some exhibits. Without that, parts of the museum look like a graveyard for old engines and carriages.

Many engines look ok, but they still could use some loving care. It does not help that they are outside, exposed to the elements. Also, the descriptions, for example for this lovely Oka1 from 1931 are only in Polish.

This is a rotary/wedge snowplow made by ZNTK Stargard in 1986. This the rotary end:

And this is the wedge end:

Street art in Warsaw, Wola district.

Not in Warsaw, but taken at the A2 motorway rest stop, when driving to Warsaw -  giant wind turbine parts:

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Trip to Europe, September 2015, Gdańsk


The main train station.
This monument to children from kindertransports is in front of the main train station. 

"Dedicated to the Jewish Children of kindertransports from the Free City of Gdańsk 1939 who were rescued from German Nazi persecution by leaving for Britain without their parents so their lives could be saved"

In Gdańsk I visited the European Solidarity Museum. It is a short walk from the main train station, and on the way you can see a few artefacts of the communist era.
An armoured transporter of communist militia.

Fragments of the Lenin Shipyard wall which Lech Wałęsa climbed over in 1980 to lead a worker's strike,
and the Berlin Wall which fell in 1989. 

The monument to the shipyard workers killed by communists in December 1970.

You who hurt a simple man, Laughing at injustice done to him, DO NOT BE SAFE, the poet remembers, You can kill him, A new one will be born, Written down will be the deeds and conversations. Cz. Miłosz

The second panel of the original 21 demands of the workers.
Number 14 is still waiting to be implemented: lower the retirement age for men to 55 years and for women to 50 years.

General Jaruzelski proclaims the martial law - 13th December 1981.

Militia truck.
Poland under martial law.
Orange Alternative in action: "C'mon mate! Time to go home"
At the top: "Down with the mandatory teaching of Russian"

"No one should be subject to torture" - still current isn't it?

The meaning of solidarity by John Paul II:
"To look into eyes of another man, and to see in them hope and fears of a brother or a sister"

Trip to Europe, September 2015, Biskupin, Gdynia

About 2700 years ago there was an Iron Age village in Biskupin. Now there is an open air archeological museum and a fair once a year. During the fair, you can take a boat ride, watch mock-up sword fights, watch folk dances, shoot an arrow from a bow, see how food, rope, pottery was made, and more.

Did I mention that I like trains? This is the Pendolino ED250, which can travel up to 250 km/h. It only travels up to 200 km/h in Poland currently, pending track upgrades.

This Pendolino took me from Warsaw to Tri-City: Gdynia, Sopot, Gdańsk.

The restaurant carriage in ED250.

Two ED250 in Gdynia.

And one more in Gdańsk.

Street art in Gdynia.

In Gdynia I visited the Emigration Museum located in a former passenger terminal for ocean going ships. The museum is full of fascinating stories. You can learn about the extreme poverty in Polish Galicia in the 19th century which was driving people to go to America, and about the poverty and lack of freedom in communist Poland in the 20th century, which was driving people to escape to the West.

A bit of Polish history - elected kings? sounds like Star Wars doesn't it?

The poor of Galicia were emigrating en masse in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Emigration of Polish Jews.

A meat shop in 1980s with hardly any meat.

Increasing numbers of illegal emigrants.

Everybody tried to get out, even air force pilots.
This is a picture of Zygmunt Gościniak who successfully escaped in 1956 to Bornholm with his MIG-15 bis.

Next, Gdańsk...