We’re off to Rediscover Poland (again)!

Greetings from Poland! The Polish Mission team is beside itself as we embark on our third educational tour of Poland! As usual, here our readers can be with us through the words of the travelers themselves. This time, Polish Language Coordinator Marzanna Owinski and Curator JJ Przewozniak are leading the tour of OLSM students, alumni and friends through the beloved homeland of St. John Paul II, and our founder, Fr. Józef Dąbrowski. Check back frequently for (somewhat) daily posts from our excellent group, who gathered from Michigan, Chicago, and even Florida! Corresponding photos will be uploaded to our photos page, which you can see by clicking or tapping the photos tab above, or simply, here. We’ll be in Poland through June 13th visiting some of the best places in Poland from Kraków to Gdańsk.

To see the adventures from our last trip to Poland with International Academy, click or tap here!

As of this writing, everyone in the group is settling in at Hotel Atrium right outside Kraków’s Stare Miasto, and we’re excited to start our adventures bright and early tomorrow with a tour of Wawel Castle, a private tour of Krakow’s Main Square (Rynek Główny), and a scrumptious dinner at Restaurant Szalone Widelce Feel free to ignore any typos, 😉 and don’t hesitate to leave a comment or a bunch!

Entry I — May 31, 2018

Dzień Dobry z Krakowa!  We arrived in Kraków after a 9 hour flight from Chicago to Warsaw on a “fajna” Boeing 787 Dreamliner on LOT Polish Airlines.  The stewardess uniforms were real cute, blue with a red pleat in the back of the skirt.

After landing in Warsaw, we had a layover for a couple of hours before our flight to Kraków.  It was a nice short flight over the country side and you could see all the farm land between Warsaw and Kraków.  Some misplaced luggage for some of our travelers but hopefully it will show up soon!  After a long day of travel, we ate a nice dinner as a group and are looking forward to the sightseeing tomorrow.

As a side note, we did take an interesting tour through the rainy Chicago suburbs on our bus ride from St. Mary’s to Chicago O’Hare.  So much for the reliable GPS navigation system. As JJ mentioned friends and family are on this trip.  I haven’t seen a neighborhood friend for 40 years.  We lived three houses apart when we were growing up in our “Leave it to Beaver neighborhood” where we played outside until the street lights came on!  I get on the bus and hear my name being called and low and behold, there is Nancy Michalowicz, a super sweet and kind person!  Happy to spend our vacation with a childhood friend and her husband, Chris.


Entry II — June 1, 2018

Today we had a big Breakfast. Also we went to Wawel. Wawel is a very big castle with weapons and armor. I went to the Polish dragon’s cave. There was a statue of the dragon at the exit. We also took a tour of the town square. Advice for 10 year olds is to never drink espresso. I also went to a basilica where St. John Paul the Great served as a cardinal. If you are young you can get a cap gun from the restaurant we went to today.


Entry III — June 2, 2018

We started off the morning with a quick breakfast at the hotel, and immediately after hopped on the bus for the short ride to the Salt Mine. I expected to be in the middle of nowhere, but was surprised to see that it was still in the middle of a populated area. From the outside you could never tell that below the ground we were walking over was a vast expanse of tunnels and caverns going on for kilometers. The most amazing part in my opinion was how the miners were able to carve out these huge rooms with only primitive tools. It definitely exceeded my expectations of the salt mine.


Entry IV — June 3, 2018

Our day in Wadowice started off with mass. Even though it was spoken in Polish, it was a great experience and was quite exquisite. The mass was followed by a short break where we ate the local Polish cake called kremowka and drank strong coffee, which was delicious. We then toured the John Paul II family home which was an educational and interesting tour. At the museum, I learned not only about John Paul II but also a lot about the history of the Catholic Church. One thing that stuck out to me at the museum was the exhibit of Mehmet Agca, which included the actual gun he used in his attempt to assignation Pope John Paul II’s life.  Seeing the gun was impactful, especially given that our school, St. Mary’s has a piece of Pope John Paul II’s bloody clothing from the same incident. Hearing that Pope John Paul II actually met with and blessed the man who tried to take his life shows that he practices what he preaches in the most literal sense.


Entry V — June 3, 2018

The second part of our day took a sharp turn and highlighted the opposite end of the spectrum of humanity when we visited the Auschwicz-Birkenau concentration camp. At Auschwitz we walked the halls of several buildings, seeing the shocking conditions in which the prisoners lived. Upon seeing the black & white photos of prisoners highlighting the dates of entry into the camp and dates of extermination, I was overwhelmed with emotion when comprehending that most only survived a few months and some only a few days.

We walked  through an actual gas chamber, passing through the room where prisoners were cruelly forced to undress, then crammed into a large cement chamber standing directly under the holes where the poisonous gas was dropped, and finally into the crematorium, where the guards couldn’t keep up with the amount of bodies which needed to be burned.  We also stood at the wall of death where thousands of prisoners were executed; and we saw the gallows where prisoners were publicly hung for infractions as small as having a crew mate who attempted to escape the camp.

No amount of knowledge prepared me for seeing the room of human hair and personal suitcases of prisoners, seeing the photos of mass execution taken guards or standing on the sorting platform where the fate of hundreds of thousands of people were decided upon in a matter of seconds; or seeing the crass & organized manner in which people and objects were both sorted with blatant indifference and objectivity.  (People were either political prisoners, socialists, criminals, intellectuals, twins, Jews, etc. and objects were sorted into suitcases, shoes, brushes, dishes, hair, etc.).

I thought I was prepared for the visit, however I was overwhelmed with emotion upon seeing the enormity of intentional cruelty which was inflicted upon prisoners, the extent of the attempt to standardize human elimination and the overall grand scale of evil behavior which existed under the world’s nose.

The transfer back to the hotel was somber, but we ended the night with an awesome dinner at a highland restaurant where we were entertained by a Polish band, singers and dancers and we ate duck, potato pancakes, perogi, pig knuckle, deer and boar loin, all of which was worth the 2.5 hour wait.


Entry VI — June 4, 2018

Zakopane seemed to have a abundance of multiple animal products such as different types of skin and food.  Our time there consisted of mostly shopping  for these items and free time.  The food was different than any thing I had tried in the past days and any thing I have tried before.  It consisted mostly of mutton and other sheep products which were all great from what I tried. All of the shops and all the food was affordable and great quality.  The shops mostly seemed to have sheep skin slippers and even whole pelts.  When we reached the top of the mountain there was a variety of things to do like eat, shop , and even a small amount of rides.  When we were on top of the mountain some of us went on a toboggan ride. On the ride you went through a series of turns and at one point I fell off of the ride and had to quickly get back on however it just made it more fun for me.  At one point we ended up getting lost and passing the path to get to the bottom.  After we were done shopping and walking around we went went to dinner as a group.  The food was great and the service was too.  After all this when it was finally time to go back after a long day the whole group was very tiered and most all of us went to sleep after getting on the bus.


Entry VII — June 5, 2018

Today we traveled to Czestochowa, Poland, to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa at Jasna Gora monastery.  We had a guided tour of the shrine and viewed the beautiful artworks which told the history of this sacred place.  The group celebrated Holy Mass in the Rosary Chapel and was inspired by the beautiful reflection Fr. Stan presented on the Wedding Feast at Cana. We did a little shopping, had lunch and continued on the bus to Warsaw.

-Fr. Jim

Entry VIII — June 6, 2018

Staying at Ibis hotel in Warsaw. Across  the street, at night time, is a eerie looking monument dedicated to the massacre of Poles at Kaytn Russia.  A guided tour of Old Town Warsaw where we saw the rebuilt and rebuilding of parts of Warsaw, Madam Curie’s birth place and other monuments. We saw posters in a public area thanking Americans for our support of and help in rebuilding Poland. Some rebuilding  was done with Internal funding headed by the Russians with Russian slants but the work was done by the Polish people. It is D-Day we witnessed the changing of the guard near and at the tomb of the Unknown Solider. Guided tour of some parks and gardens notably The last King of Poland’s arboretum and Chopin’s monument. Went shopping with Henry at Zlote Tasasy the Warsaw (Mall of America like?) shopping  mall. Enjoyed meeting and getting to know a lot of great fellow traveling friends. A man is blessed if he can eat real kielbasa every morning for breakfast.


Entry IX — June 7, 2018

The Warsaw Uprising Museum was very interesting as it helped us reflect on what the Polish people went through during and after WWII.  There were many exhibits detailing Poland’s battle for independence in 1944 in Warsaw.  The B-24 Liberator bombers demonstrated the Western Allies’ attempts to supply the Uprising by air and enhanced my sense of the reality of the war. There were many photos, artifacts, videos, weapons, uniforms and equipment used in the Uprising. 

A movie showing the destruction of Warsaw deeply effected me emotionally.  The fact that there were 1,300,000 people in a city before the war and afterwards only 1,000 people shows the total amount of destruction of Warsaw. The music in the film was very haunting and the city looked ghostly!  I’m amazed to see how beautiful and modern the buildings are and how vibrant the city is today!


Entry X — June 7, 2018

Wilanow was the King’s summer palace located at one end of the Royal Way.  Unfortunately we only had a short time to visit the gardens, but what beautiful gardens they were!  Reminiscent of Versailles, the gardens were very formal and manicured with stone paths, fountains, and a pond.  After our visit and some free time, we gathered at Wino (Vino) & Friends for dinner.  Our host welcomed us to a U-shaped table where we shared stories and pictures of our afternoon.  (Some in our group went to the Copernicus Science Center, some went shopping, some went to the Zoo; our group walked to the Vistula River).   The restaurant offered some interesting dishes including Beef Tartar, Duck prepared sous vide, and Seafood pasta with squid ink.  As usual, everything tasted so good.  The food was served by two very beautiful, young waitresses just in case no one noticed!!


Entry XI — June 8, 2018

What an honor to visit the Printing and Literature Museum.   Founder and owner, Dariusz Subocz was a terrific host. 

It was extra special given the muzeum has partnered with The Polish Mission to restore important Polish documents and it was obvious the mutual respect between all the colleagues. Dariusz’s team did a great job explaining the historic printing equipment and teaching use how to make paper from clothing fibers. 

Then we were off to the city of Torun…a charming town along the Vistula River. Founded by an order of the Teutonic Knights. Untouched by WWII with the exception two buildings that were destroyed from the war. A sharp contrast to Warsaw. The walking tour was very enjoyable…especially the church.  It was a pleasure to share the moment with Deanna as we felt the presence of The Holy Spirit. Very touching.


Entry XII — June 9, 2018

Every year in Polish class Mrs. Owinski brings us ginger bread and this trip we finally got the opportunity to see where the famous gingerbread in toruń was made. After this we went to Malbork castle. It is said to be the largest brick castle in the world but actually experiencing it first hand really put it into perspective. The size was not the only breathtaking part about the castle, the history the place holds is also truly amazing. We were standing on the same grounds that the Teutonic order from the 13th century settled, and chose to build this massive fortress. It was really interesting to see how these warrior priests lived hundreds of years ago from the private bed chamber of the grand master, to the toilet tower. 

-Allen & Austin

Entry XIII — June 10, 2018

Westerplatte: “Poland’s Pearl Harbor”

Approaching 0400 hours on the morning of 1 September 1939 the SMS Schleswig-Holstein, with her 14,218 tons of German naval muscle slipped the moorings where she had lain during a “ceremonial visit” to Danzig and proceeded under ahead slow to a point just 7,000 yards from the Polish redoubt  at Westerplatte.  The Commander of the Polish garrison Major Henryk Sucharski eyed the Nazi battleship nervously, no binoculars necessary since she was so close. What were those bastards up to now? Ceremonial visit? In a pig’s eye! Although the SH was no longer a front line naval vessel having been launched in 1905 and largely demilitarized she still packed 4 lethal 12 inch naval rifles that would render absolute havoc at short range. And what of the ship’s compliment? Who knows how many German marines were hidden below deck?  How were Sucharski’s tiny detachment of 188 to resist with mostly small arms and a few anti-tank guns. No matter, we wear the Bialy Orzel and this ground we will defend.

Sucharski was promised relief within 24 hours and by then surely the French and English would honor their treaty commitments to Poland should the Germans attack.

At 0448 the German ship opened fire at point blank range without warning and WWII began. The gallant Poles fought off assault after assault from 4800 hundred troops, naval gunfire, artillery, and Stuka dive bombers. After 7 days, out of food and ammunition, with no hope of relief, the garrison surrendered and was paraded with full military honors before the victorious Nazis. Sucharski was allowed to keep his sword. The English and French meanwhile sat on their hands and watched Poland Bleed.  A week after the surrender with the rest of the Polish Army desperately holding on against the Germans, the Soviets launched an attack against the eastern half of Poland.

Today, fewer and fewer Americans remember the United States own entrance into WWII at Pearl Harbor, much less Poland’s baptism of fire at Westerplatte. After all, who is Dorris Miller, what was the USS Oklahoma, what of Lt Welch? Ironically the ship that carried us to Westerplatte was named “Black Pearl”. A people who forgets their past is bound to repeat it.


Entry XIV — June 11, 2018

The European Solidarity Center was great. It gives you a great understanding of communist Poland and how WWII wasn’t the only 1900s problem here. During Communism, there were lots of strikes and anti – Communism. I learned that Lech Wałęsa was a leader in the solidarity movement. The solidarity movement was in all the strikes and anti- communism movements in communist Poland. The Solidarity Center explains that Poland was the first country to become a free country…  and that someone signed the “freedom” paper with a huge JP2 pen…and that the first strikes began in Gdańsk. As you can see, communist Poland was very bed in a lot of ways and it was interesting to see it at the Solidarity Center


Entry XV — June 12, 2018

Entry XVI — June 13, 2018