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Sobering sights in Poland

By tboullemier, Jul 18 2017 09:28PM

OUR big battlefield tour this year was Poland, which turned up a whole lot of surprises.

With Robin Goodfellow, Rod Kennedy and Chalky White, who did all the organising, I spent three days in Warsaw and three in Krakow.

We did of course visit Auschwitz and having read a reasonable amount about it, I knew roughly what to expect. But not the sheer size of it.

To actually stand in places where 1.1 million mainly Jewish people were murdered, was distressing.

If you’ve been there, you will know what I mean.

In the former army barracks at Auschwitz, an ammunition bunker was converted into an experimental gas chamber where the first victims took up to two hours to die.

At Birkenau are the remains of the purpose-built prison huts, stretching as far as the eye can see in either direction. Plus the ruins of purpose-built gas chambers which defied German attempts to blow it up as the Russians advanced on the camp.

This was also a feature of ‘The Wolf’s Lair’, Hitler’s wartime HQ in East Prussia.

It’s four hours' drive north of Warsaw and 80 miles from the Russian border where Hitler and his gang were protected inside 34 bunkers and about a zillion tons of reinforced concrete. They too ran out of explosives trying to destroy it as they retreated.

Hitler spent more than 800 days there, hidden under camouflage nets in the heart of the forest and divorced from the growing misery in Berlin and any opinions other than those of his toadies.

We stood where the Stauffenberg bomb failed to kill Hitler. If only the bold Von Stauffenberg had had the same mindset as the ISIS suicide bombers and stayed by his briefcase bomb instead of leaving it to be moved, the war would have ended a year earlier.

By complete contrast, only two weeks earlier I had visited Churchill's War Rooms off Horseguards Parade in London. They are just one floor down and although the ceiling was strengthened, I was told a direct hit by a big bomb would have wiped out the whole Cabinet.

But altogether we found Poland a great trip. Warm and friendly people; great hotels (and very cheap); really good food and interesting weather to say the least.

The best non-war bit was visiting Krakow salt mines which they've been digging since 1250 and only stopped working in 1996. There are 200 miles of tunnels and a stunning underground cathedral among other unique sights.

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