Krakow is one of my favorite cities. The vibrant center of the old Polish town is a huge square with every building sporting a different color and unique style. Sellers hawk handmade artistic creations while strains of Chopin music and church bells ringing out from countless cathedrals can be heard. Horse-drawn carriages clomp up to the castle on the hill and over to the Jewish ghetto. The city claims native sons Copernicus, Oskar Shindler, and Pope John Paul II. It is also home to many more unknown heroes, people who have persevered and survived.
Poles are amazingly resilient people. Somehow this indomitable nation has managed to retain its individuality while being geographically squeezed between two aggressors – Germany and Russia. World War II began on September 1, 1939 with Hitler’s invasion of Warsaw. A mere 17 days later, Poland was attacked from the other side, by the Soviet army. By the end of the war, one fifth of the total population of Poland (and 90% of the Jewish population) had perished.
The country was in ruins. Yet as soon as the war ended, the Soviets took over Poland and made it into a satellite nation for the next 45 years. In 1981, martial law was imposed as a reaction to the Polish Solidarity movement. Yet the Polish spirit was never defeated. Poles led the way for the other Eastern European satellite nations on the path towards democracy in 1989. The last Soviet tank didn’t roll out of Poland until 1993 – a mere 18 years ago.
Yet what I see today is pride and passion. And life.