Trails of Hope: Exhibition highlights Poland’s WWII ‘Odyssey of Freedom’
Opening in Israel this evening, an exhibition organized by the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), is set to celebrate the Anders’ Army and its numerous Jewish volunteers.
Titled ‘Trails of Hope. The Odyssey of Freedom’, this evening’s premier will be attended by Karol Nawrocki, the President of the IPN, and Herzl Makov, the Director of the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre.
Staged in Jerusalem, the bi-lingual exhibition – which will be presented in English and Hebrew languages – coincides with the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Polish II Corps under General Władysław Anders in the Holy Land, and the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the state of Israel.
As part of a wider international project designed to honour those that followed Anders, the initiative was initially undertaken to mark the beginning of the operation that saw thousands of Polish soldiers and civilians evacuated from the USSR under the general’s leadership.
Originally, the unit was formed in 1941 and was created after Poland and the Soviet Union resumed diplomatic relations. Those that joined had, hitherto, been largely held in Soviet captivity.
Beginning their epic migration in 1942, the group – which numbered several thousand Jews who were both soldiers and civilians – first made their way to Iran. It was not until the following year that they reached the British Mandate of Palestine where they used the chance to recover from their hardships whilst preparing for upcoming struggle.
In these unlikely circumstances, intellectual and artistic life flourished with both Polish cultural centres and schools established. It was also in the British Mandate of Palestine that the Polish II Corps were officially formed – later, they would see action on the Italian peninsula, most famously raising the Polish flag over Monte Cassino.
However, around 3,000 Jewish soldiers serving in Anders’ Army decided to stay in Palestine and fight to create the State of Israel. Among these was Menachem Begin, a law graduate from the University of Warsaw.
Previously arrested by the NKVD, Begin had served hard time in the Soviet Gulag system before being released to join the Anders Army due to his Polish citizenship. His traumatic ordeal was later immortalised in his memoir White Nights.
Like many Jews, on arrival to Palestine he faced a stark choice: to combat Fascism in Europe, or to remain in the Middle East to fight for an Israeli state.
Choosing the latter, he rose rapidly up the ranks and later embarked on a distinguished political career that would culminate in his 1977 landslide election victory. In all, he would serve as Prime Minister for six-years before ill health forced his resignation.
None of this, however, would have been possible were it not for the formation and subsequent migration of the Anders Army, and it is their struggle and fortunes that the exhibition commemorates.
Named Trails of Hope in recognition of the journey undertaken by both soldiers and citizens alike, it follows these individuals who were “guided by the idea of liberating Poland and the world enslaved by the Third Reich, Soviet Union, and their allies.”
Spotlighting Polish heroics in the Battle of Britain, Tobruk, Narvik and Monte Casino as well as others, the project – which will run until 2025 – will cover over 50 countries with many exhibitions tailored in their relevance to the host country.
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