25 December 2010

Warsaw ghosts

Walking in Warsaw is a strange exercise. I can only imagine to be walking over rubble, recalling the destruction wrought by the German army in 1944 after choking the Warsaw Uprising. At the behest of Hitler, the ruthless Verbrennungs-und Vernichtungskommando reduced almost the whole city to ruins.

Today, the picturesque old town of Warsaw is a formidable reconstruction made by the Polish Communist government in the 50s of the last century, mainly based on paintings by the Venetian Bernardo Bellotto, Polish court painter since 1764, who drew it rather for the sake of aesthetics than urban fidelity.

  Even if I wanted to dodge the ghosts of the city, they challenge me at every corner with a monument or a plaque, which leads the visitor to the recent and cruel past of World War II: the German invasion, the 1940 boundaries of the ghetto, the Ghetto Uprising in 1943, the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, the subsequent destruction brought by the Nazi and the Soviet invasion.

The city, however, floats at the lush sound of Chopin, the bicentenary of whose birth is celebrated this year as if nothing of that had happened. The silent granite and bronze monuments record the torturing memory of the past. The whole city, with all its circulating life, is a compelling symbol of the will of the Polish people. But walking through its streets and bypassing long lines to buy ice cream, I alternate between praising such a pride and collapsing in tears, because I know that I move in the space of a former slaughterhouse.

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