Thursday, July 15, 2010
July 15- day
It is hard to keep track of the days. I think today is Thursday. We began the day with a beautiful breakfast. There was almost too much to chose from! Cheeses, pancakes, sausage, beautiful fruit and berries, an assortment of breads along with Yougurts, cereals and fresh roasted coffee: served in a press.
After breakfast our busy day began. We visited the site of the Warsaw ghetto. It was built to contain all the Jews in Warsaw in the beginning and then little by little more and more Jews were confined there until they were deported to death camps. The ghetto was built by the Jews with their own money. On top of the wall, which was 10 feet high was either barbed wire or broken glass. The Ghetto was never referred to as the Warsaw Ghetto but rather the “Jewish living Quarters” The ghetto was 2 ½ square miles with 360,000 human beings initially crowded into the area. Soon more people were contained there from Western Poland, at its height over 470,000 Jews wee in the ghetto. Jews had no means to make money since all their shops were closed and their bank accounts confiscated. Resistance came in the form of spirituality and keeping their customs alive. The Jews held meetings, concerts, made theater productions all within the confines of the walls. The Nazis allows each person to have 180 calories per day. Certainly not enough to sustain life.
To further humiliate the Jews, the Nazis used the Jewish calendar to initiate actions. Jewish holidays were used to announce deportations. 300,000 people were deported on the holiday of Tisha B’Av.
On Jan 18,1943 the first armed resistance of Jews took place in the Warsaw ghetto.
We visited the only remaining section of the wall which exists next to apartment buildings. It is not a place that is crowded with tourists- which I actually appreciated more, as I placed my hand on the wall and just thought about the bravery of these people who were actually just young adults. The oldest of the resistance fighters was 23 yrs old. There was on May 18, a collective suicide as the Nazi’s closed on the the remaining fighters.
The Nazi’s never would actually say the word murder or killing, but rather used positive words like “ Evacuation” which usually refers to being saved. Or referring to a mass murder as a “Harvest Festival.”
On our way to the Jewish Cemetery I asked our guide, Waclaw, ( who is not Jewish) why he became so involved in guiding people though the events of the Holocaust. He told us that he had filled in for a fellow guide, for a group of Jewish tourists and he said “I had an open heart and an open mind and was treated the same way.” He also told us a story of his grandmother and his grandfather who both acted kindly and generously with Jews during the Holocaust.
The Jewish Cemetery was a very emotional experience. The Nazi’s did not destroy the cemetery because they were too busy . They did use some of the head stones for paving roads, but had too much murdering to do. The stones that remained are silent and lonely. There are very few stones on the grave stones because there are no relatives to visit these sites- no one isleft, so it is now up to those who visit to place a stone on these head stones.
Prior to the war this place was a prestigious place to be buried so many prominent Jews who made many contributions to society are buried there.
Vladka Mead has a memorial head stone in memory of her parents. We stopped there and one of our parti lot of quite reflective time in this place.
We visited the Nosyk Synagogue, the cipants said a mournful Kaddish-the prayer for the dead.
We spent time at the only synagogue in Warsaw to be still standing after the war, primarily because it was turned into a stable for the German horses. Our leader, Elaine Culbertson, explained the synagogue and the significance of the services. They have renovated the building and it is quite beautiful.
We then went to see the Memorial to Resistance Fighters which is next to a construction sight of a museum for Jewish History that is being built, we continued on foot to Mila 18 the headquarters of the resistance- a bunker that was used by the fighters. Their remains are there marked by a memorial rock with names etched on the stone. On foot again, we went to the Umchlag Platz the remains of the place where the Jews were brought to the place of deportation . There is little left to mark the place, but nonetheless one can feel the souls all around as common first names are listed to remind us of so many.. so many. Our last stop was the Jewish Historical Institute where we saw an emotional film on the ghetto- one that we all admit we have never seen, Very graphic and hard to absorb. It ended with a mother telling her story about the death of her child and saying “ No one will call me mummy anymore.”
The day concluded with some free time to explore the city and unwind from such an emotionally charged day. We attended a lovely piano concert of Chopin music which really helped to relax us and hear the music,