This fully guided and immersive tour will explore the people and places of eastern Europe, from the September 1939 German invasion of Poland, through the two uprisings of Warsaw (the Ghetto in 1943, and entire city in 1944); through the battle of Berlin in April-May 1945 that completed Europe’s liberation from Nazi rule; and then on through the decades-long Cold War in the capitals of three nations caught between the Great Powers.
While Americans, naturally, focus on the “western” campaigns of North Africa, Italy and, especially, northwest Europe from D-Day through the Battle of the Bulge and on into western Germany – scholars know that the main theater of the war was the Eastern front. The Soviets and Nazi Germany engaged in a titanic land struggle that dwarfed the western invasions. This expedition will examine several key elements of that Ost (“east”) front – including its first campaign in Poland and its last battle for Berlin, as well as aspects of the war such as Final Solution death and concentration camps, and the Resistance of Poles and others. Finally, in each of the major locations, we will examine what came next – the Cold War struggle for over 40 years that engaged the efforts of the USA and the USSR and their allies. We will examine the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift, 1961 and 1989 Berlin Wall episodes, the 1968 Prague Spring and the 1980s Solidarity Movement in Poland, among others.
Beginning in Warsaw, we will examine gallant Poland’s fight against overwhelming odds in September 1939, as well as its abortive uprisings in 1943 and 1944 (the first, the famed Ghetto Rising). No one fought as valiantly as the Poles in this war – from these risings to the tens of thousands fighting with the Western Allies in Italy and France-Germany. Lech Walesa’s Solidarity Movement rounds out our Cold War theme. In earlier history, King Sigismund moved the Polish capital here from Krakow and his statue graces the beautiful Old Town.
Moving southwest into the Carpathian foothills, we reach Krakow, the Nazi military’s most significant garrison, where we will explore the chilling Nazi death camp apparatus at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Krakow is the historic heart of Poland and remains one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. It was long part of the Habsburg Empire and is Western-facing and lively, while Warsaw is a more conservative eastern-facing city. While it has long been a very Catholic city, King Casimir had welcomed Jews in the 14th century and by 1939 the city was 25% Jewish in 1939. Poland also had the most Jews of any country in Europe. The art, architecture and natural setting, along with the history, combine for a memorable visit.
Heading west, we will reach the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague. It was Hitler’s annexation of Czech Sudetenland that led to the infamous 1938 Munich agreement. In Prague we will examine the Habsburg city’s history along with its 1945 liberation and, most important, its abortive Cold War thawing in the 1968 Prague Spring and then the successful 1989 Velvet Revolution led by Vaclav Havel.
Returning north, we will stop in Dresden, the classical city destroyed in one of the worst fire-bombing air raids of WWII, immortalized in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. We will also discuss the titanic 1813 Napoleonic battle here that resulted in the naming of the first true Allied Supreme Commander (forerunning Foch in 1918, and Eisenhower in 1944-45). Here is also where Colonel Vladimir Putin spent his days at the end of the Cold War, right up to the collapse of Berlin’s Wall. Just before entering Berlin, we will stop in the suburb of Potsdam to discuss the final allied conference of the war as well as visit the tomb of Frederick the Great.
Arriving in our final stop – Berlin – we will spend several days in examining the climactic battle of the European war as well as decades of Cold war spy-vs-spy craft. Berlin was not only the Nazi capital and headquarters, but it also includes nearby sites associated with the war – from the Final Solution at the Wansee Conference to the world-renowned Holocaust Memorial. The battle for Berlin in the spring of 1945 was on a scale of vicious fighting and retribution and destruction that can scarcely be imagined. Moving on to the Cold War, we will examine the critical Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, as well as the building and subsequent destruction of the Wall in 1961 and 1989. Checkpoint Charlie, Tempelhof Airport, spies, and much more await.
The Reunification of Germany in 1990 has created an economic and diplomatic powerhouse in the center of Europe. For centuries this nation has occupied a critical space on the Continent and on the world stage. At no time was this more true than in the years of World War Two and the subsequent Cold War. This expedition will take us to new regions and provide expansive opportunities to discover how our new world came to be.