As we travel Europe, I am continuously reminded that there is a big difference between what you really “need” to survive and the privileges that you become accustomed to having. We have always had our freedom. We have always had more than we need. We have never been deprived of basic necessities. We have never had to witness a war destroy our hometown.
I can remember seeing the fall of the Berlin Wall and the re-uniting of East & West Germany. I can remember the USSR and the Cold War. I can even remember how different the map of Europe looked in the early nineties when I helped with my brother’s Geography homework. However, I do not think that I had a true understanding of the history that preceded these events. Nor did I truly understand the impact it had for so many people. I never pictured what life would have been like not to have freedom; not to have basic necessities (like food and toilet paper); to rely on rations that weren’t guaranteed; and to live in a war zone.
Gdansk: the Beginning and the End
I did not realize the amount of history that exists in the little city of Gdansk, Poland. World War II started there. The city was quickly captured and occupied by the Germans. It was leveled during the war and handed over to the Soviets after the war which put it in the shadow of Communism for more than four decades.
The fall of Communism in Poland and across eastern Europe began with a shipyard strike in Gdansk in 1980. The strike gave rise to the first non-communism trade union called Solidarity. This was the first catalyst in the fall of Communism. As a result, Poland had its first partially-free election in 1989 and the Solidarity leader was elected as president in 1990.
We visited the Three Crosses Memorial, erected in 1980 to memorialize the shipyard workers that lost their lives in a 1970 shipyard strike. Additionally, we visited the Solidarity Museum and gained a better understanding of what life might have been like under Communist rule and the rationing of food and basic necessities. It is something that I have never experienced and have a hard time imagining.
Within My Lifetime
I realized that within my lifetime, the people of Poland have been through a huge amount of change. The charming old city of Gdansk has been re-built since being destroyed in WWII. The country only re-gained its freedom less than 25 years ago. The history and some reminders still remain. Thankfully, this is something that most of us will never have to experience, but it is definitely history that should not be forgotten.
I am reminded of how lucky I am. I am thankful to those that have fought for my freedom. I am thankful for the opportunity to visit these sights and to gain a better appreciation of world history and what many people and their ancestors endured.