Warsaw is the largest city in Poland with almost two million residents, and the country’s second historic capital after Krakow. Warsaw was once the venue of the elections of the Polish kings and of the sessions of the Polish parliament. But the city’s many centuries of history are overshadowed by its experiences during World War II. In Warsaw the Nazis established the biggest ghetto in Europe, inhabited by some 450,000 Jews. With the Jewish uprising in the ghetto in 1943 and the Polish Warsaw Rising a year later, the city became a symbol of heroic resistance to the Nazi terror and genocide. The effect of the insurrections was the deliberate, planned, and almost complete destruction of the city by the German occupying forces. Around half of its population lost their lives (700,000 of its prewar population of 1,400,000), and the rest were expelled. In January 1945 there were just 1,000 (one thousand!) people left living in the ruins of Warsaw.
After the war the city was rebuilt, and the reconstructed part of historic Warsaw was inscribed on the UNESCO List as an outstanding example of a faithful reconstruction of a whole historic district. Since the beginning of the 1990s, Warsaw has been experiencing a construction boom and modern skyscrapers are giving the Polish capital a cosmopolitan feel. But the symbol of the city nevertheless remains the Socialist Realist “wedding cake” Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science that dominates its skyline. Built in the 1950s, it is a constant reminder of Poland’s almost half-century of dependence on Communist Russia.