As promised last week, DR. Jeff Jones, our accompanying expert on next year’s trip—and UNCG’s Associate Professor of History—offers his compelling response to ‘Why Poland?’
Poland is in the heart of Europe and has been at the center of much of the continent’s history for centuries. Medieval Poland adopted Catholicism and became part of a powerful Federation that along with Lithuania ruled a vast region from the Baltic to the Black Seas, vying with Muscovite Russia and Sweden for power and influence in the area. In the early modern period Poland found itself caught between the emerging powers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prussia, and especially the Russian Empire; partitioned between them, Poland ceased to exist as an independent entity near the end of the 18th century. A key battleground of the Napoleonic era of the early 19th century, Poland has thrice served as an avenue for invasion by European powers into Russia: by Napoleon in 1812; Kaiser Wilhelm II’s German Empire in World War I; and, of course, Adolph Hitler’s Nazi German forces in World War II. Poland reemerged as an independent state after WWI, only to be once again wiped away during WWII by Nazi Germany and the USSR. In that conflict Poland, home to Europe’s largest Jewish population, was ground zero for the horrors of the Holocaust as the site of Auschwitz and several other death camps. Occupied by Soviet Russia as a communist state and “buffer zone” during the Cold War years, Poland with the rise of the labor union “Solidarity” in the early 1980s was in the forefront of the East European satellite states fighting for their own independent course. Now a member of the European Union, Poland has continued to face economic and political challenges since the collapse of communism three decades ago. As a result of the country’s difficult and challenging path through time the Polish landscape is dotted with rich layers of history from medieval castles to spectacular Catholic cathedrals to Nazi death camps and Soviet prisons—Poland speaks to is visitors through a thousand years of history. JWJ
…and because history is not a static thing you may also be interested in an interview done just last week with prominent modern historian Anne Applebaum (click here). NPR’s Fresh Air host Terry Gross and Applebaum discusses contemporary Polish politics.
Want to know more? Click here to review our trip itinerary.