Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Katarzyna Kraszewska sat ramrod straight in front of the black lacquered Steinway & Sons grand piano. She contemplated the keyboard for a moment before striking the first commanding chord of a piece written by Frédéric Chopin. For the next hour I was mesmerized, fascinated that so much of the music was familiar to me, despite not being a particular fan of classical music.

Audience awaits a Chopin concert at the Stare Galeria in Warsaw's Old Town

Audience awaits a Chopin concert at the Stare Galeria in Warsaw’s Old Town

The ubiquitous performances of Chopin in Warsaw are no coincidence. The famous composer was born 29 miles outside the Polish capital in 1810. Six months later, the family moved into the right wing of the Saski Palace in Warsaw proper. Chopin began studying the piano at the age of six and was giving concerts by the time he turned eight. During his short life he produced a body of work, mostly for the solo piano, that is still hailed as pure genius. He was the Michael Jackson of the 19th century, superstar in every imaginable way, and Warsaw rightly claims him as a native son.
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Main Square in the Warsaw Old Town, which was totally recreated after World War Two

Click on title to view photo in large format. Warsaw Old Town Market Place is the main square in the historic center of the Polish capital. In retribution for the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, the square was blown up by the Nazi’s during World War Two. After the war, the square was rebuilt, using photos and old plans for authenticity. Residents sifted though the rubble for decorative items and Read More

Historic Castle Square in Warsaw, Poland

Click on title to view photo in large format. Historic Castle Square in Warsaw, Poland is the entrance to the city’s Old Town (Stare Miasto). Between 85% and 90% of the city of Warsaw was destroyed during World War Two following the failed Warsaw Uprising, which infuriated Hitler. The castle at right and Sigismind’s Column at left were victims of the destruction. Both were rebuilt between 1971 and 1984, incorporating the Read More

During World War Two, the mass murder of millions of Jews, gypsies, Poles, homosexuals, mentally disabled, physically handicapped, and communists was the result of simple, vile ideas that were espoused by one hate-filled man. Hitler did not grow up hating Jews. As a young man he was a German Nationalist, however at that time he did not equate extreme nationalism with antisemitism. It was only after World War One that his anti-Jewish and anti-other sentiments began to emerge. 

The words "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Makes You Free) span the entrance to Auschwitz Concentration Camp

The words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free) span the entrance to Auschwitz Concentration Camp

In the second chapter of his book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler wrote:

“Today it is difficult, if not impossible, for me to say when the word ‘Jew ‘ first gave me ground for special thoughts. At home I do not remember having heard the word during my father’s lifetime. I believe that the old gentleman would have regarded any special emphasis on this term as cultural backwardness. In the course of his life he had arrived at more or less cosmopolitan views which, despite his pronounced national sentiments, not only remained intact, but also affected me to some extent…

…Not until my fourteenth or fifteenth year did I begin to come across the word ‘Jew,’ with any frequency, partly in connection with political discussions. This filled me with a mild distaste, and I could not rid myself of an unpleasant feeling that always came over me whenever religious quarrels occurred in my presence.

At that time I did not think anything else of the question.

There were few Jews in Linz. In the course of the centuries their outward appearance had become Europeanized and had taken on a human look; in fact, I even took them for Germans. The absurdity of this idea did not dawn on me because I saw no distinguishing feature but the strange religion. The fact that they had, as I believed, been persecuted on this account sometimes almost turned my distaste at unfavorable remarks about them into horror.

Thus far I did not so much as suspect the existence of an organized opposition to the Jews.

Then I came to Vienna.”

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Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, Poland, with Wawel Castle at right

Click on title to view the photo in large format. There’s a good reason that locals call the church atop Wawel Hill simply Wawel Cathedral. It’s complete name is the Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus, a considerable mouthful for casual conversation. However, the shortened name in no way diminishes its magnificence. It’s Gothic base is topped by three towers: the gold-domed Sigismund’s Tower, the Clock Tower, and the Silver Bell Tower. Since the 14th century, Wawel Cathedral has been the main burial site for Polish monarchs. The tombs of King Sigismund II Augustus, his wife, and children are housed in Sigismund’s Tower. Read More

Saint Mary's Basilica and Main Square in Krakow, Poland

Click on the title to view photo in large format. The Main Square in Krakow, Poland, is one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe. Three large buildings dominate its central open space: St. Mary’s Basilica, with its soaring Gothic towers (shown in the photo); the historic Cloth Hall; and the Town Hall Tower. The entire square is surrounded by historic townhouses. During the spring, summer, and fall, the Main Square hosts all manner of festivals and performances. But nighttime Read More