river vistula

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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.

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.“


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 First Great Disastrous Invasion of Russia

Throughout history there are three great invasions of Russia which have ultimately led to the collapse of great empires and a changing course in history.  The last two are pretty well known.  In 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte and his Grande Armee invaded Russia, only to succumb to winter weather and scorched earth tactics.  The failed invasion annihilated Napoleon’s army and set in motion the event which would lead to the collapse of the French Empire.  Then in 1941 German forces under Adolf Hitler drove deep into Russia with the goal of capturing Moscow.  Roughly four years later Russian hordes stormed the streets of Berlin while Hitler gloomily eyed his pistol and cyanide capsule.  While these two invasions of Russia are well known, the first is almost forgotten.  However, it was an important invasion, one that would define Russian strategy in future invasions.

In the early 18th century, Sweden had developed into a very powerful empire which dominated Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.  Under the rule of Charles XII, the Swedish Empire comprised of Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Livonia, and parts of Northern Germany.  In addition, Charles XII had installed puppet rulers on the thrones of Denmark and Poland.  In 1707, continuing conflicts with Russia led Charles XII to organize a grand invasion with the goal of capturing Moscow itself.  Amassing an army of 40,000 he crossed the Vistula River on the 1st of January, 1708.  Later he was joined by another 20,000 allied Cossacks. 

By the Spring of 1708 the Swedish Army had its first clashes with the Russians, all of which were resounding victories.  Again and again Charles XII dealt blow after blow, causing often horrific casualties among the Russian Army.  To Charles XII frustration, the Russians withstood punch after punch, devastating blow after devastating blow.  However with each battle the Russians stood back up, brushed themselves off, and demanded more. It seemed that no matter how badly the Russians were defeated, they would never surrender. The Swedish advance was being slowed by engagements with the Russians, but worse yet it was part of Czar Peter the Great’s grand strategy to draw the Swedes into Russia.  Peter the Great is credited as being the man who modernized Russia in the 18th century.  However at the time there was still much work to be done in modernizing the military.  He knew that his troops were nowhere near the caliber of professional Swedish soldiers, so he developed a strategy of drawing the Swedes deep within Russia while slowly weakening them, the cut off their reinforcements, and finish them off.  The Russians burned, hid, or transported away anything of value to the Swedes, especially food, clothing, and shelter.  When the winter of 1808/1809 hit, the Swedish Army was forced to halt after a weather event occured called the Great Frost of 1709, where temperatures dropped up to 15 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit). For the average Swedish soldier, there was nothing to do but starve and shiver. During the winter, 12,000 of his men froze to death.  Others died of disease, malnutrition, and exhaustion.  In addition, Peter the Great led a surprise attack against a force 12,000 Swedish reinforcements escorting a convoy of 4,500 supply wagons.  Despite suffering heavy casualties the Russian annihilated the Swedish force at Lesnaya, and Charles XII was left without much needed supplies and reinforcements.

In the summer of 1709 Charles XII decided to invade Ukraine instead of Moscow, in hopes of rebuilding his army and continuing the march into Russia later.  By them his army had been reduced to 16,000 men.  Worse yet, his Cossack allies switched sides and abandoned him.  At Poltava, Ukraine, the Swedes and the Russians met for a final show down.  There, the Russian had built a series of trenches, ramparts, and forts manned by over 50,000 men.  Despite being outnumbered, Charles order a full assault.  At first the Swedes were successful, capturing the first two lines of defenses, but then the Russians counterattacked, driving panic among the Swedish Army and forcing them off the battlefield.  A mere month later, the Russians surrounded and captured the Swedish Army at Perevolochna, forcing them to surrender.  Charles XII managed to escape to the Ottoman Empire.  Of his 40,000 man grand army, only 543 remained.  

Charles XII remained in Turkey for a few years, convincing the Turks to make war on Russia.  The war was short lived before a peace treaty was signed, and he was forced to return home empty handed.  When he arrived back in Sweden, he found that the major powers of Europe had gathered together to pick the carcass of what was his grand empire.  His old enemies, such as Russia and Denmark had declared war and invaded, but so had also new enemies such as Prussia and Great Britain.  Charles XII fought off as many enemies as he could, but was also force to make several concessions.  Charles XII was killed in battle in 1718, and would be the last absolute ruler of Sweden, as the country changed governments to a constitutional monarchy.  The Swedish Empire never recovered from the defeat dealt by the Russians, and over the coming decades was forced to give up much of its territories, such as Finland, to Russia.

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”.