Poland in World War II

Warsaw Uprising Museum

The Warsaw Uprising Museum is dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The institution of the Museum was established in 1983, but no construction work took place for many years, and the museum finally opened on July 31, 2004, marking the 60th anniversary of the Uprising. The Museum sponsors research into the history of the Uprising, and the history and possessions of the Polish Underground State. It collects and maintai ...
Founded: 1983 | Location: Warsaw, Poland

Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Auschwitz concentration camp was a network of German Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp to staff an IG Farben factory), and 45 satellite camps. Ausch ...
Founded: 1940 | Location: Oświęcim, Poland

ORP Blyskawica

ORP Błyskawica is a Grom-class destroyer which served in the Polish Navy during World War II and is the only ship of the Polish Navy awarded the Virtuti Militari medal. It is preserved as a museum ship in Gdynia, the oldest preserved destroyer in the world. It was the second of two Grom-class destroyers, built for the Polish Navy by J. Samuel White, Cowes in 1935–37. The name means Lightning. The two Groms were ...
Founded: 1935-1937 | Location: Gdynia, Poland

Naval Museum

The Naval Museum of Gdynia is focused on the history of the Polish navy history. The museum contains a huge collection (20.000 pieces) of weapons used by the Polish navy. Show-piece is currently the ORP Blyskawica, a Polish destroyer used in the Second World War.
Founded: | Location: Gdynia, Poland

Wolf's Lair

Wolf"s Lair (Wolfsschanze) was Adolf Hitler"s first Eastern Front military headquarters in World War II. The complex, which would become one of several Führer Headquarters located in various parts of occupied Europe, was built for the start of Operation Barbarossa - the invasion of the Soviet Union - in 1941. It was constructed by Organisation Todt. The top secret, high security site was in the Masurian wo ...
Founded: 1941 | Location: Kętrzyn, Poland

Gestapo Headquarters

During the World War II Gestapo Headquarters in Gdánsk was located to this building. It’s currently occupied by the Internal Security Services, but above the main entrance it’s still possible to make out lettering feebly disguised with paint: ‘Polizei Prasidium’.
Founded: 1939 | Location: Gdańsk, Poland

Westerplatte

Westerplatte is a long peninsula at the entrance to the harbour. When Gdańsk became a free city after WWI, Poland was permitted to maintain a post at this location, at the tip of the port zone. It served both trading and military purposes and had a garrison to protect it. WWII broke out here at dawn on 1 September 1939, when the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein began shelling the Polish guard post. The garrison, whic ...
Founded: 1966 | Location: Gdańsk, Poland

Stutthof Concentration Camp

Stutthof was a German Nazi concentration camp completed on September 2 1939 in a secluded, wet, and wooded area west of the small town of Sztutowo located in the former territory of the Free City of Danzig. It was the first camp built outside of 1937 German borders and the last camp liberated by the Allies, on May 9, 1945. More than 85,000 victims died in the camp out of as many as 110,000 people deported there. Soviet fo ...
Founded: 1939 | Location: Sztutowo, Poland

Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp

Gross-Rosen concentration camp was a German network of Nazi concentration camps built and operated during World War II. The main camp was located in the village of Gross-Rosen not far from the border with occupied Poland, in the modern-day Rogoźnica, Poland. At its peak activity in 1944, the Gross-Rosen complex had up to 100 subcamps located in eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, and on the territory of occupied Pola ...
Founded: 1940 | Location: Rogoźnica, Poland

Belzec Extermination Camp

Bełżec was a Nazi German extermination camp built by the SS for the purpose of implementing the secretive Operation Reinhard, the plan to eradicate Polish Jewry, a key part of the 'Final Solution' which entailed the murder of some 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. The camp operated from 17 March 1942 to the end of December 1942. The burning of exhumed corpses on five open-air grids and bone crush ...
Founded: 1942 | Location: Bełżec, Poland

Guardhouse No 1

WWII broke out here at dawn on 1 September 1939, when the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein began shelling the Polish guard post. The garrison, which numbered just 182 men, held out for seven days before surrendering. The site is now a memorial, with some of the ruins left as they were after the bombardment. The surviving Guardhouse No 1 houses a small exhibition related to the event, including a model of the battle la ...
Founded: | Location: Gdańsk, Poland

Majdanek Concentration Camp

Majdanek, or KL Lublin, was a German concentration and extermination camp on the outskirts of the city of Lublin during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. Although initially purposed for forced labor rather than extermination, the camp was used to kill people on an industrial scale during Operation Reinhard, the German plan to murder all Jews within their own General Government territory of P ...
Founded: 1941 | Location: Lublin, Poland

Plaszów Concentration Camp

The Płaszów was a Nazi German labour and concentration camp built by the SS soon after the German invasion of Poland and the subsequent creation of the semi-colonial district of General Government across occupied south-central Poland. Originally intended as a forced labour camp, the Płaszów concentration camp, was erected on the grounds of two former Jewish cemeteries (including the New Jewish Cemetery) and populated ...
Founded: 1943 | Location: Kraków, Poland

Chelmno Concentration Camp

Chelmno was the first Nazi camp where gassing was used to murder Jews on a large scale. It was located 47 kilometres to the west of the Lodz ghetto where many of the victims came from. A total of 320,000 people were murdered at Chelmno. These included Jews from the Lodz ghetto and throughout the area, in addition to 5,000 Roma who had been previously sent to the ghetto. Chelmno consisted of two sites, just two and a hal ...
Founded: 1941 | Location: Chełmno, Poland

Potulice Concentration Camp

The Potulice concentration camp was established by Nazi Germany during World War II. It is estimated that a total of 25,000 prisoners went through the camp during its operation before the end of 1944. It became notable also as a detention centre for Polish children that underwent the Nazi experiment in forced Germanisation. Initially the Potulice camp was one of numerous transit points for Poles expelled by the German au ...
Founded: 1941 | Location: Potulice, Poland

Katyn Massacre Site

The Katyn massacre was a series of mass executions of Polish nationals carried out by the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940. Originally the term 'Katyn massacre', also known as the Katyn Forest massacre, referred to the massacre at Katyn Forest, which was discovered first and was the largest execution of this type. The massacre was prompted by NKVD chief La ...
Founded: 1940 | Location: Smolensk, Russia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.