Poland at War
Invasion, Resistance and the Holocaust
- Visit historic Gdańsk, where World War Two began
- Enter the haunting site of the Treblinka death camp and feel the weight of its dark history
- Spend time in Oskar Schindler’s former factory in Kraków
If any country experienced the Second World War to its full murderous extent, it was Poland. Fought over and occupied by the totalitarian regimes of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, its people endured the most brutal war possible, registering the highest per capita death toll of any combatant nation. It would be in occupied Poland that Nazi Germany would launch its systematic extermination of Europe’s Jews, carried out at extermination camps, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and Majdanek. Poland became the unwilling stage for the Nazis’ “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. Alongside the wholesale murder of Europe’s Jews, the Germans also carried out the diabolical persecution of Poland gentile population, thereby spawning the Polish “Home Army” one of the war’s most effective resistance organisations. The Home Army’s Warsaw Rising against the Germans, in 1944, lasted for two months before the insurgents were defeated and much of the capital was razed. We follow the story of this brave attempt to derail one of the most devastating occupations in history. This tour is a cross-country journey that begins with the war’s opening shots at Gdańsk’s Westerplatte, visits the nation’s capital, Warsaw, and culminates at its cultural heart, Kraków. It provides a much-needed overview of a complex, searing, and murderous period.
We arrive in the beautiful, historic city of Gdańsk. And after checking in to our comfortable hotel, we enjoy introductory drinks and a fascinating lecture on Poland’s wartime story, familiarising ourselves with many of the themes that we will encounter on the tour. Guest have a little free time to stroll through the city’s beautiful Old Town, including its impressive Gothic cathedral.
Our first full day of the tour has arrived. We begin this morning with a visit to the Westerplatte, the fortified peninsula in the Bay of Gdańsk, where the first shots of World War Two in Europe were fired. We follow that with a visit the to city’s excellent World War Two museum before repairing for lunch by the waterside. In the afternoon, we will have a short walk through the Old Town before departing for Kętrzyn.
Today we visit one of the war’s most infamous sites: The “Wolf’s Lair” just outside Kętrzyn (the former East Prussian Rastenburg) is the former headquarters of Adolf Hitler, from where he directed the war against the Soviet Union. This purpose-built complex, deep in the forest, was also the scene of the famous assassination attempt, on 20 July 1944, when Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg planted a bomb in Hitler’s conference room. After lunch, we drive on to the notorious site of the Treblinka death camp, north-east of Warsaw, where hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered, giving the camp a death toll second only to that of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Today we examine Poland’s wartime military story, and one of its deepest scars. In the morning, we visit the National Military Museum for a tour of the many exhibits relating to Poland’s wartime military exploits; including the defensive war in 1939, the story of those Poles who fought in exile in the RAF and British Army, and the fascinating story of the Polish Underground. After lunch, we then travel to the remarkable Katyń Museum, where we learn of Poland’s suffering at Soviet hands, focusing particularly on the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers in the spring of 1940.
When the Warsaw Rising broke in August 1944, Hitler gave orders that the city should be razed to the ground, and by war’s end some 90% of it had been destroyed by bombing and urban warfare. An estimated 200,000 of the city’s population died. On this day we will examine the Warsaw Rising in more detail, visiting the Rising Museum, as well as the Rising Memorial and the statue of the Little Insurgent. After lunch, we depart for Kraków.
After a leisurely breakfast, we explore the ancient heart of Poland’s second city, Kraków. Though it largely escaped the destruction visited upon Warsaw during the war, Kraków was nonetheless witness to many significant events; not least being the capital of the Nazis’ brutal occupation regime, the so-called “General Government”. We visit the seat of that occupation; the Wawel Castle, as well as the iconic Cloth Hall and the stunning St Mary’s cathedral.
Today is a truly challenging day, as it is devoted to the world’s most notorious historic site; the concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Here, over a million Jews from all over Europe were exterminated in the gas chambers, worked to death, or driven to succumb to disease and starvation. We will tour the site with our expert guide.
Our final morning focuses on one of the more uplifting stories from Poland’s war: that of Oskar Schindler and his rescue of over a thousand Jews. We visit his former factory in Kraków, now an excellent museum. After lunch in the Old Town, we transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.
- Tour Manager & Guide Lecturer
- Meals - Most meals included
- Transport - Return flights (UK only) & all local travel
- Hand-picked hotels throughout the tour
Revolution in the air, war afoot…
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