World War 2 memorials in Warsaw Poland

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I’ve been having a hard time corralling my thoughts about all the World War 2 memorials in Warsaw Poland from our family trip last summer, but it’s time to share.

world war II memorials warsaw poland

Honestly, a huge part of my desire to visit Warsaw while Viktor’s parents were still alive was so my children would learn about their heritage straight from Babcia and Dziadek {grandma and grandpa} in their home country.  The things Viktor’s family has experienced over the last several generations are almost unfathomable, and I needed my children to see it with their own eyes so they would appreciate what kind of life they live due to the sacrifices of their ancestors.

World War II memorials warsaw

We walked everywhere in Warsaw, and every time we left the apartment we came across a memorial like this one.  A plaque in the middle of the sidewalk briefly detailing the approximate number of people murdered by German soldiers in that spot in one day during World War 2.  The first time we saw one of these memorials my sweet Precocious almost threw up.  She’s old enough to understand exactly what it all means and that it happened to so many of her daddy’s family and friends.  At each plaque she would listen quietly while Viktor translated and then keep walking until the memorial was out of sight.

It was so much for her to process.

Charming had so many questions, so. many. questions.  I could see his little 6-year-old head spinning trying to add it all up.  The only time he sees soldiers is at a 4th of July parade or a daddy in uniform picking his kid up from school.  War isn’t really in his consciousness and everything we saw in Europe blew his mind.  He tried to make sense of it by asking question after question after question, then repeating our answers over and over again, as if by repetition he could make sense of the Holocaust.

world war 2 warsaw ghetto

In addition to all the memorials in Warsaw, there are strips of cement about a foot wide in the middle of sidewalks all over the city; remnants of the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto.  In the sidewalk next to the cemetery, next to the market, right outside the apartment, downtown in old Warsaw.

world war 2 memorials

We bought our daily groceries from a market that’s been there since well before World War 2 and is somehow, miraculously, still standing.  On our last day in Warsaw my husband took me around to the side of the market to show me the foundation of the building.  The walls were riddled with bullets.  Next to the holes, on the front corner of the market, sits another plaque representing the citizens who died in that spot.

The numbers were well into the double digits.

world war II memorials in warsaw

Viktor and I spent a quiet rainy afternoon walking around a park that was originally the estate of the Saxon Palace.  The tiny remainder of the palace now houses the tomb of the unknown soldier, always guarded by armed Polish soldiers.

World War II memorial

We took the children to the Warsaw Rising Museum where we felt a little of what it was like on the streets of Warsaw during the war.  The entire building thrummed with the sound of a heartbeat, periodically interrupted with the sound of gunfire and shouting.  Behind glass in exhibits embedded in the ‘wall’ of the Warsaw Ghetto sat personal mementos.  Ration cards and scraps of clothing sat next to messages scrawled on scraps of paper, couriered underground between citizens trying to find family members and ways to escape.  The exhibits were so accurate and beautifully constructed we were left heartbroken with understanding.

world war II memorial statues

The last, and most powerful memorial for me was found in Prague, Czech Republic.  Off the side of a hilly path on our way to Prague Castle were cement steps on which stood copper statues of a man in various states of becoming invisible.  I stood in front of the memorial looking straight up the middle, watching as he disappeared.  The plaque read:

The memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all victims.  Not only those who were jailed or executed but also those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism.’

The other day I asked Precocious if she understood why as parents we feel it so important to teach her and her brother about the painful history of the  family who came before them.  About the family Viktor never knew and her grandparents who literally sacrificed everything coming to America.  She didn’t miss a beat before she said,

So we remember.  We need to remember so it never happens again.”

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Allison

Well, hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. We do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, crazy home remodel projects, and cool (yes, cool) DIY crafts you'll totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!

13 Comments

  1. Amy :

    Wow. My paternal grandparents are from Poland (Solinski and Brodowski) and I’ve always wanted to take my children to learn more about our history. This really touched my heart and I think I felt some of what you must have experienced. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Candice :

    Thank you for sharing this. My mom’s family is Ukrainian, so a lot of the history is similar (and I grew up calling my grandparents Baba and Dziadek, so it’s amazing to see you write it).

  3. Kami :

    What a powerful this to see. She’s right and so very smart. What a trip that they will remember their whole lives.

  4. Danusha Goska :

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  5. Krystyna Mew :

    A very moving article. Thank you.

  6. suzieqw :

    This was so moving. I only hope I can take my children there one day.

  7. Kerry :

    Wow- what a great post. It can be overwhelming at times but over the years while living in the EU, has given me a different (non-American) perspective of WWI and II. The stories from my inlaws about the occupation make my jaw drop, the small memorials in the most random of places- so many with numbers of people killed ‘in this spot’ and manner in which they died, etc. One street over from us is a house in which the family hid Jews for the duration, a few years ago we came across a photo of our street lined with German tanks and soldiers. Amazing. I have visited the Anne Frank huis several times and have the same emotional reaction without fail. Berlin, Prague…incredible and overwhelming. What a gift for your children your trip was!

  8. Whatever DeeDee Wants :

    It is so important for us to remember, just like your daughter said ” so it never happens again”. My mom started teaching me about WWII when I was young. I remember going to a concentration camp in Germany, it is a powerful memory that I will never forget.

    Have you read the book In My Hands? It’s a true story of a young girl from Poland who helped smuggle and rescue many people out of work camps.

  9. Erin O. :

    I’m teary. Sweet Precocious.

  10. the emily :

    Humbling. What a beautiful post.

    I went to France last year and the day we spent at Omaha and Utah Beaches in Normany were like that. When our tour guide mentioned that all of the crosses faced west, toward home, which our men would never see again, I broke down. Thinking of how scary it must have been to storm those beaches, and what it meant to the people of France for them to do it, it’s overwhelming. God bless the men and women who lived and died during World War II.

  11. LauraD :

    As we say in Hebrew “Zahor”. Thanks for sharing this story and for teaching your children about history, compassion and empathy

  12. Jen M :

    You have a brilliant daughter. This is one reason I want to travel more–so my children can understand how good they have it. Now I just need to convince my husband.