September 1st, 2008. The weather is beautiful here in Warsaw, probably the best we've seen in the 9 days since we arrived. It's the 69th anniversary of the German attack on Poland that began World War 2, or at least the European part of it. No sign of this on the streets of Warsaw, so far as I could see. Apparently Polish high-schoolers go to their first day of the new school year dressed in finery, or so it seemed on the tram and the main thoroughfares. I did briefly note a black-and-white film on Polish TV earlier, with a plane dropping bombs, so some people have noticed the date even if by now you have to be elderly in order to remember the original event itself.
In previous posts I've mentioned the Stalinist monstrosity that stands at the very center of Warsaw, straddling the line of the Warsaw ghetto at its south-eastern corner. Here's a picture of it, followed by some ruminations.
First, when it was built it wasn't intended to have all those glass-and-steel capitalist skyscrapers behind it. Nor was it supposed to have that red-and-white roofed structure in front of it, that contains a supermarket and dozens of small stalls that sell perfume, sports shoes and fired chicken. The parking lot in front of the supermarket also wasn't envisaged by the architect. Come to think of it, the advertisement placards hanging on the facade were not foreseen, either.
The Nazis who invaded 69 years ago today also foresaw none of this, although they were the ones who razed all the previous structures and created the large empty expanse Stalin then used. To their real credit, the Poles are busy overcoming their nightmares and are getting on with life.
If you focus on the street to the south of the monstrosity, there's also an interesting story. It's called Jerozolimskie Avenue, and you can't get any more central in Warsaw than that. But back in the 18th century it was a few miles to the south of the city. Jews had been banned from the city for about 250 years, but in the mid-1770s, just as the English colonists in Massachusetts were throwing teabags into the port of Boston, someone allowed Jews to settle in the fields to the south of town. A few years later he changed his mind and threw them out, but in the meantime their nickname for the road leading east from their settlement had stuck, and remains to this day Jerusalem Avenue.
You cannot tell the story of Poland without telling about its Jews. You can't even go to the central train station.
A few minutes walk to the north, not more than one block away from the Stalinist billboard for beer, the ghosts still reside.
On the left, a bland residential building. In the top right hand corner, a new high rise going up, with a crane above it. And wedged between them is a ghost from the past.
Two buildings that somehow were still standing after the ghetto was destroyed, and are standing still, to this very day. Too fragile for anyone to live in, of course, so the windows are blocked. The ghosts, however, are still there, and haunt us from the dead windows and the bare brick walls.