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The "Battle for Breslau"

There's a kind of macabre competition among cities in Poland as to which one suffered the most during World War II and the epic battles between the Russians and Germans fought largely on Polish soil. Certainly Warsaw -- which was 85% destroyed in the war -- could win the prize, and Gdansk was flattened, too, but Wrocaw, or more precisely "Breslau," could also make a strong case. In 1944, as the war was turning decisively against the Germans, Adolf Hitler declared Breslau to be a fortress city and ordered that it be defended at all costs. By February 1945, the advancing Red Army had reached the city's outskirts and began an assault that was to last nearly 3 months, until the end of the war in May. The Germans had leveled much of the center of the city to build an airstrip to fly in supplies, but Ukrainian and Russian units surrounding the city successively knocked down the buildings, street by street, through a mix of artillery and mortars, and simply setting whole blocks on fire. The Nazis capitulated on May 6, just a day before Germany's total surrender. Casualty figures vary, but some German sources say more than 150,000 civilians died in the fighting. In the aftermath of the war, the surviving Germans were expelled to the German heartland, leaving just 3,000 Germans from a prewar population of around 700,000. The city was eventually repopulated by Poles brought in from the east, from territories ceded to the Soviet Union after the war, including from the former Polish (now Ukrainian) city of Lwów. Don't be surprised by the many restaurants around town offering "Ukrainian" cooking and specialties from eastern Poland -- it's the real deal. The postwar population resettlement created an irony that persists to this day: Poland's westernmost metropolis is still in many ways its most "eastern" city.

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