river vistula

The End of Poland (no sound)

October 1939, Soviet and German troops meet at the center of Poland after its defeat, as part of the agreements of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, in which it was stated that the soviets would occupy Eastern Poland, while the Germans kept the west, the Vistula river becoming the new border between the two nations.

The flyers the germans are handing over read: “The German Army salutes the Red Army of workers and farmers, which has always held in the highest respect.” 

El Final de Polonia (sin audio)

Octubre de 1939, tropas Soviéticas y Alemanas se encuentran en el centro de Polonia luego de su derrota, como parte de los acuerdos del Pacto Ribbentrop-Mólotov, donde se estableció que los Soviéticos ocuparían Polonia oriental, mientras que los alemanes se quedarían con occidente, el río Vistula convirtiéndose en la nueva frontera entre ambas naciones.  

Los panfletos que los Alemanes reparten dicen: “El Ejercito Alemán saluda al Ejercito Rojo de trabajadores y granjeros, el cual siempre ha tenido en el mayor de los respetos”.

Der letzte Wehrmachtsbericht (The last Armed Forces Report)

During the Second World War the German high command, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), instituted a daily mass-media report of the status of the German armed forces. The commentary was mostly aimed at the civilian population on the German home-front, being written by a professional army officer in layman’s terms so that the former could easily understand the reports.

All broadcasts had to go through the Reich Ministry of Propaganda however, ensuring that they would become a key component for control of information the war effort. The first broadcast was September 1st, 1939, giving coverage of the Invasion of Poland, the start of the Second World War.

The Wehrmachtsbericht continued on throughout the war into Operation Barbarossa, the reports of which helped craft the image of the Wehrmacht’s continual success deep into Russian territory. Even after the Red Armies Yelnya Offensive, which was the first reverse for the Wehrmacht on the Eastern front, the Wehrmachtsbericht was keen to word the setbacks in a positive manner portraying them as “front corrections” or “planned withdrawals” while pushing the narrative of massive enemy causalities.

This trend of continuing to avoid publishing bad news on the air continued even after the Red Army offensive Operation Uranus, which encircled 300,000 Axis soldiers. The report mentioned a Red Army attack in the east, but didn’t address the extent of the disaster.

Post Battle of Stalingrad the communiqués were more factual and steady, with Joseph Goebbels issuing specific instructions to use “cautious optimism” as to not set expectations too high at the home-front. Even as the apparent victories were getting closer to Germany itself, the Wehrmachtsberichts maintained giving a positive light to the situation.  

The final Wehrmachtsbericht aired on May 19th, 1945. Here is the English translation:

“The High Command of the Wehrmacht announces: 8 p.m. and 3 minutes. Reichssender Flensburg and connected stations. We bring today the last Werhrmachtsreport of this war.

In East Prussia yesterday German divisions were still defending the mouth of the River Vistula and the western sector of the Frische Nehrung. The 7th Division in particular distinguished itself. General der Panzertruppe, was awarded the Diamonds to the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross in recognition of the exemplary behavior of his soldiers.

Forming an advance bulwark, Generaloberst Hilpert’s armies in Courland covered themselves with untarnished honor throughout the months of bitter fighting against vastly superior Soviet infantry and tank forces. They rejected a premature surrender. Aircraft first transported wounded and then children were evacuated to the west. Commanders and officers remained with their men. At midnight all movement and fighting ceased on the German side in accordance with the conditions laid down. The defenders of Breslau, having resisted the attacks of the Soviets for two months, bowed to the enemy superiority.

On the southeastern and eastern Fronts, from Bruenn to the Elbe near Dresden, the orders to cease fighting were obeyed. A Czech uprising covering the whole of Bohemia and Moravia may affect the implementing of the capitulation in that area. To date no reports have been received by OKW from the Löhr, Rendulic or Schörner Army Groups.

The garrisons of the Atlantic fortresses, our troops in northern Norway and the occupation forces in the Aegean islands, through their obedience and discipline have demonstrated German military honor.

From midnight the guns have been silent on all Fronts. The Grand Admiral has ordered the armed forces to cease a struggle which was hopeless.

The honorable struggle which has lasted almost six years is, therefore, at an end. It has brought us not only great victories but also heavy defeats. The German armed forces have been overcome, finally, by superior force. The German soldier, loyal to the oath he had sworn, has achieved imperishable things in this struggle for his people.

To the end the homeland supported him with all its strength, despite its own suffering. History will one day judge objectively this unique effort of the front and of the homeland. The achievements and sacrifices of German soldiers at sea, on the land and in the air cannot be denied by our opponents.

Every soldier can, therefore, lay down his weapon with pride and in this, the bitterest hour of our history, begin to work bravely and honorably for our people.

In this bitter hour the armed forces remember those comrades who fell facing the enemy. Those dead compel us to work loyally, obediently and with discipline on behalf of our fatherland which is bleeding from innumerable wounds.

We brought the words of the last Wehrmacht report of this war. It follows a radio silence of 3 minutes.“


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Greek Sarmatian Gold, Glass and Garnet Necklace, 1st Century BC/AD

This type of necklace was manufactured by the Sarmatians in the time of their greatest expansion, when they inhabited the area from Vistula River to the mouth of the Danube and eastward to the Volga, bordering the shores of the Black and Caspian Seas as well as the Caucasus to the south. The style of necklace was copied from the late Greek Hellenistic jewellery, especially from the colonies in the so-called Pontic region. A necklace with a nearly identical pendant (photo) was found in the Olbia treasure, dated to 2nd century BC, which suggests that this particular necklace was manufactured in this city or surrounding area. Olbia’s importance and influence declined in the Roman expansion period, and by the 1st century AD, the former important centre of Greek culture became a minor provincial town, ruled by Sarmatian kings.

LEGENDS FROM POLAND #1: THE LEGEND OF THE WARSAW MERMAID

Once upon a time there was a sea mermaid who got lost and swam up the Wisła [Vistula] River. After a long journey she decided to take a rest on the riverbank and it happened to be the area where the modern-day Warsaw is located. She looked around, fell in love with the harmonious surroundings and decided to stay.

Local fishermen started noticing that something unusual was disturbing the river’s calm waters and releasing fish from their nests. Not deliberating much, they decided to catch the damage-doer.

To their surprise, they saw an unusual woman whose legs were covered in scales, looking just like a fish tail, captured in the trap they prepared. She asked them to release her, and the mermaid’s melodious voice made them fell in love with her. They apologized and let her swim freely. From that day on they were often gathering on the riverbank after a hard day of work, listening together to the mermaid’s soothing songs.

One day a rich travelling merchant found out about the mysterious creature and sneaked to the riverside in the evening. After listening to the mermaid, his greedy heart and soul desired to own her. Merchant’s mercenaries put up a trap and captured the mermaid, then locked her in a nearby hut and were waiting for the further orders.

The mermaid started crying and her cry was like the saddest song of the nature. People’s hearts were bleeding with sadness. A brave fisherman’s son couldn’t stand the torment brought upon the mermaid and gathered the locals. Together they defeated the guards and set the mermaid free.

“I will never forget your deed” said the mermaid. “I can’t be coming to sing for you any longer, but whenever your people would meet overwhelming troubles, I will be ready with my shield and sword to protect you, just like you protected my freedom”.

LEGENDS FROM POLAND #4: THE LEGEND OF THE WAWEL DRAGON

In a cave at the bottom of Wawel Hill there once lived a terrible fire-belching dragon. This dragon roamed around the countryside and did whatever he wanted to do. He ate sheep and cattle and scared the farmers so much that they didn’t let their animals graze in the field near the Vistula River. Many brave knights had tried to kill the monster, but before they could get close enough to him, he blew fire on them and they were burned to death.The king wanted this dragon destroyed. He invited knights and noblemen to come and slay the dragon, promising that whichever one killed the dragon could marry his beautiful daughter and become king when he died. Many tried to slay the dragon sothat they could marry the princess, but the dragon killed them. The people became even more frightened; they were afraid to leave their homes and the country became poorer. One day, a young, handsome but poor shoemaker’s apprentice named Krak asked the king if he could try to slay the dragon. The king said he could try, but noted that he had no armor, no horse and no sword.The apprentice had only his shoemaker tools and a plan. He didn’t need armor, ahorse, or a sword. Krak bought a dead sheep from the butcher and some sulphur (a powder that isused in making matches) from a miner. Then he cut the sheep open with his sharpshoemaker’s knife, stuffed it with the powdered sulphur and then sewed the sheep up with the shoemaker’s thread. He put the sheep by the dragon’s cave and waited behind a rock for the dragon to come out. After a while, the greedy dragon came out from his cave. He saw the dead animal and greedily ate it. The sulphur caught fire, like a match, and the dragon felt his stomach burning. He ran to the river to quench the fire in his stomach, but drank so much water that he filled up like a balloon. He kneeled down and was very sick. Krak came out from behind the rock, and began to throw stones at the dragon. The monster tried to blow fire at him but because of all the water he drank, all that came out from his mouth was steam. The dragon kept trying to breathe fire, but because he was so swollen, he exploded and died. At last the people were free of him. Krak and the princess married. After her father, the King, died, Krak became King, as promised. He built a castle on top of Wawel Hill and for hundreds of years it was where the Kings of Poland lived. Around the hill, the people built a city which they named Krakow, after their new king.

flickr

Tyniec, Poland (by Carolina)

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The Soviet D-Day — Operation Bagration,

Everyone remembers June 6th, 1944 when Allied forces crossed the English Channel and invaded France, an event forever known as D-Day.  Yet while D-Day is known by many in the West, like most other Soviet operations during the war the Soviet equivalent called “Operation Bagration” is little known and recognized.  Operation Bagration was the Soviets grand offensive to destroy the Wehrmacht and bring the Third Reich too its knees, but it was much more than that.  If D-Day could be likened to a stiff right hook that dazed the German military, Operation Bagration was more like being struck in the face with a 50 lb sledgehammer, then further pummeled while on the ground, the gruesomely  dispatched with an “American History X” style curbstomp. 

Operation Bagaration was meant to roughly coincide with D-Day in western Europe, but due to the logistics of organizing such a massive offensive, it was delayed until June 22nd.  Named after a Russian general during the Napoleonic Wars, it was a truly massive offensive.  Spread out among three major fronts were 2.5 million Soviet troops, as well was as roughly 2,700 tanks, 5,300 aircraft, and 25,000 artillery pieces.  After suffering terrible losses a Stalingrad and Kursk, the Germans could only muster a comparatively weak force of 800,000 men (half of which were non-combat or support personnel), as well as 800 tanks, 500 assault guns, 1,000 - 1,300 aircraft, and 10,000 artillery.

The main goal of the operation was to capture Minsk, the capital of Belorussia, and thus the onus of the offensive was against German Army Group Center, which was the largest an most important part of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front.  The offensive began on the early morning of June 23rd with a massive artillery bombardment lasting 2 hours.  According to surviving German soldiers, it was the largest and most terrifying barrage of the entire war.  The Soviets used a tactic called a creeping barrage, in which artillery fire would fire upon a target, the progressively creep backward to catch exposed troops that retreated to the rear.  After the barrage the Red Army attacked, using a tactic called “Deep Battle” where forces would exploit various weaknesses in the enemy line, eventually penetrating it, encircling enemy forces, and then driving deep into enemy territory.

The height of Operation Bagration occurred in early July when the Soviets crushed Army Group Center and took Minsk.  In a situation reminiscent of Stalingrad, 100,000 German troops of the 4th Army were surrounded in Minsk.  Unable to break out, they were utterly obliteration, with 40,000 being killed and the rest being captured.  While Minsk was the main goal of the offensive, Bagration continued well into July and August.  By the time the operation was declared over in late August, Soviet troops had driven halfway through Poland, halting at the Vistula River, practically within shouting distance of Warsaw.  On other front, Soviet forces had driven into the Batlics, lifting the Siege of Leningrad and threatening to cut off hundreds of thousands of German troops in Kaliningrad (which did eventually happen).  In the south, Soviet forces were invading the Balkans and preparing to storm Romania, the primary source of oil.

The worst blow to Germany was not in terms of territory or resources, but men. Around 300,000 - 350,000 German soldiers were killed or missing.  Another 150,000 - 200,000 were captured and taken prisoner, 50,000 of which would be forced to march through Moscow (pictured above).  Army Group Center was thoroughly gutted, and would only be able to present a shadow of itself for the rest of the war.  The loss of so many men devastated the Wehrmacht which was unable to replace their losses.  This was further exacerbated by terrible defeats in France at the hands of the Americans and Commonwealth forces.  From thence on the German Army would suffer severe manpower shortages, often replacing their ranks with barely trained soldiers who were either too young or too old for military service.  The Battle of Bulge was the Wehrmacht’s last hurrah, shortly afterward the German military would crumble into dust.

The Soviets too suffered heavy losses, around 180,000 killed or missing and 500,000 wounded.  However, Operation Bagration was a stunning success, which irreparably shattered the back of the Third Reich.

Kraków, Poland

The Vistula River snakes across the snow-covered southern city. The part of the river pictured flows from west to east as it winds northwards and empties into the Baltic Sea (not visible). Kraków sits in a valley at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains and has a number of important nature reserves of great ecological value. Just north of the river, centre-left of the image, is the medieval Old Town or historic central district. The area is home to Europe’s largest market square, along with numerous historic houses, palaces and churches. Listed as a Unesco world heritage site since 1978, the Old Town was the centre of Poland’s political life until King Sigismund III Vasa moved his court to Warsaw in the late 1500s. (via Guardian)