Friday, April 16, 2010
Day 11 - April 16, 2010 - Krakow
Today our guide, Eva, took us to see the historical sights of Krakow. Walking through the hallways of Jagellonian University, one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the world, we were told about the work of Copernicus and even saw his written work and instruments used to determine that the earth revolves around the sun. At eleven a.m., we watched from the central courtyard of the University as the astronomical clock played music and the wooden professors marched regally out and back into the doorways of this historical clock. At noon, we entered St. Mary's Cathedral, where the funeral of President Lech Kaczynski will be held on Sunday. Eerily, we viewed Kaczynski's photo at the altar of the church. A nun in full habit, a common sight here, ceremoniously pulled open the huge wooden, elaborately carved wooden doors of the altar, revealing many scenes in the life of the Virgin Mary.
After lunch, we went to the 20 foot memorial cross for the victims of Katyn. This massacre of Polish prisoners of war, who were captured by Russians, was commited in 1940 when the Nazi mobile killing squads were systematically killing Jews in these same regions. For 60 years the Polish people did not know for sure what happened to these soldiers because the Russians blamed the deaths on the Nazis, and the Nazis blamed the Russians. In fact, the Nazis used the evidence that they found of the Russian killings as anti-Russian propaganda during World War II. At the foot of the memorial cross lay thousands of flowers and candles for the victims of the Russian killings in 1940 and for the victims of the horrible deaths in the plane crash on the 70th anniversary of the deaths in Katyn. Only in the year 1990, the Russians finally admitted their guilt in these killings. However, there are still thousands of Polish deaths that remain a mystery. Their families still do not know what happened to them.
Being here at this momentous historical time for the country of Poland defies description. Here we are, studying the Holocaust, and now, at the end of our journey, we face this sorrow and the repercussions of World War II again. History is complicated, and this incident reverberates in our hearts. Many people suffered during World War II and families are still suffering today.