Poland: Hope and remembrance

It’s hard not to think about the past when you’re in Poland. The horrific things that happened during World War II, the toll it took on the world—and what a contrast there is with the present, even when you feel like you’re still in the old world. During the war, Warsaw was decimated by bombs—but the entire city was reconstructed exactly as it was, painstakingly rebuilt according to the original urban plan. To walk there, it still feels like you’re in old Poland … only now, the people have hope.

Poland lost a hero very recently, and so did Alan and I. Kazimierz Smolen, one of Grand Circle Foundation’s Honorary Directors, passed away in January. In order to ensure people never forgot the lessons of the past, he actually went back to Auschwitz after being tortured there for nearly five years, and founded the State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau. While working, he watched himself growing old where so many died so young. It was an amazing thing to do.

Another of our Honorary Directors, Lech Walesa, went from electrician to activist—and eventually, to president—when he stepped up to lead the revolution that was brewing at the Gdansk Shipyards in 1980. “They needed a leader,” he said simply. “I was at the right place, at the right time.” What an extraordinary story of hope.

To be in Poland now, I think it’s all about hope—hope, and not forgetting.

Do you have a destination that’s especially poignant to you? I’d love to hear about it—so please email me, or share your thoughts in the comments. I always look forward to your stories, wherever you've been in the world.