When you stand at the edge of the water and look into the horizon across the blue expanse of the Baltic Sea it is hard to believe that this is where it all began. When the first shot was fired, I am not sure if anyone had the slightest notion of the impact it would have all around the world. The upheaval of the second world war has been felt by one and all, directly or indirectly.
After the first world war, the predominantly German ‘Free City of Danzig’ was under the care of the League of Nations with Poland responsible for certain aspects such as railway, communication, land defence and was allowed access to the sea port. Poland used Westerplatte as a Military Transit Depot. With anti-semitism on the rise, to safe-guard its interests in the area, Poland increased its military presence on Westerplatte with additional fortifications in the form of guardhouses and shelters. This angered the Germans (who thought that the fortifications were much larger than they actually were) and Hitler chose to use the ship SMS Schleswig-Holstein which was on a ‘goodwill mission’ at the port of Danzig to fire on the Polish military installations in Westerplatte.
Initially it appeared that the Poles were winning, but over a week of bombardment the small army unit was forced to surrender to the Germans.
More skirmishes in the area and with the Soviet Union attacking Poland the entire event snowballed into what we know today as the second world war.
Despite being battered by war, today the wooded and green Westerplatte is stoically calm and looks peaceful. There are 30 spots to visit in this open exhibition – barracks, guardhouses, a permanent outdoor exhibition that explains the geography and history of Westerplatte, a memorial and a cemetery for the fallen soldiers are among the important things to see.
Westerplatte is a peninsula that juts into the Baltic Sea in Gdansk, Poland.
You can get to Westerplatte by cab or the water tram F5 or bus route numbers 106, 138 or 606 outside the Main train station. Do check the water tram and bus schedules prior to the trip as the frequency of the boat or bus are not that great. I waited at Targ Rybny to board the water tram, but the boat was already full (Targ Rybny is the third stop) and I decided to take a bus instead.
Deboard at the last but one bus stop at Westerplatte as this would be a good logical way to get around the place. There is a big board that displays the map of the area but no map pamphlets to help you navigate around.
I would urge everyone who visits Poland to make a trip to Westerplatte, Gdansk and Auschwitz & Birkenau. Sometimes we need to see the horrors of war to appreciate peace.
More stories from Poland here.