Friday, July 16, 2010
I'm writing to you from a hotel room in Lublin, Poland. Lublin, (pronounced LUBE + Lynn) is a very nice, quaint city. It is considerably different from Warsaw because Lublin has been able to retain a lot of its history, i.e. many of the original buildings still stand today because Lublin wasn't affected as much by World War II compared to what Warsaw experienced. One of our guides, Elaine made the comment this evening that "everything is upside down in Poland." This isn't a criticism on Poland or the Polish people. To put this comment into perspective, there were more Jews in Poland before World War II than any other European country. Plus, Poland is located next to Germany in proximity. Many of the Nazi atrocities took place throughout Poland. To give you an idea about how these atrocities affected Lublin, before World War II Lublin had a Jewish population of 38,000 people. Today there are 26 Jewish people living in Lublin.
We stopped at a shetl in Kazimierz Dolny, a small village that is now a haven for artists. This was a thriving shetl of more than 1 out of 3 people being Jewish. Today there are none. We vistited another Jewish cemetery where the memorial is made up of pieces of headstones that had been used by the Nazi's to pave roads. It is a quiet place on the side of the road. Elaine, one of our leaders of the group, was stopped by a man who was from Canada. He asked her to help him say "Kaddish" because he had been too difficult for him to do so emotionally. She told us this story and said how he thanked her profusely for helping him; yet she said he had helped her. She warned us that her grandparents there, her mother is a survivor.
In this shtetl, many homes are original, thus had been the homes of the Jewish population. These people were rounded up by Battalion 101 taken to the forests that we are seeing through the bus window- and murdered. This town is now a weekend retreat for many- not unlike New Hope,or Sadona, yet few know that a mere 60 years ago this was a bustling thriving place for Jews to live.
The book ORDINARY MEN by Christopher Browning chronicles Police Battalion 101, a group of German policemen responsible for murdering 48,000 Jews and transporting an additional 75,000 Jews to various concentration camps. We followed their initial path on our bus from Warsaw, ultimately ending in Lublin tonight. Police Battalion's first mass murder(s) took place in Jozefow. When we drove by Jozefow this morning I immediately went back to the book. I don't want to say that we are reliving history. That doesn't quite describe this trip. Instead, visiting the places that we've read about in books and discussed in classes has helped to enhance our lessons and credibility when we present this material to our students. It's one thing to read about this and talk about the places and people we encountered in the book. It's another matter to visit the places and provide a first hand account as to what we visited.
We also saw a Yeshiva, which was completed in 1930 and used by hundreds of young Jewish boys to study Torah. Such a place would not have been built unless the people felt there was a future. This, we know was not the case. The Synagogue was spared because the Nazi's used the building as a military hospital. There are plans to reopen the building as a hotel in the near future.
Tomorrow we go deeper into the history as we visit Majdanek concentration camp and drive to Zamosc.
On a lighter note.... I shared delicious perogies in a little cafe with several friends. They were freshly made and just wonderful!
After arriving in Lublin this afternoon we did a walking City tour for a few hours through the old section of Lublin. It was a great and fresh experience to walk throughout Lublin for the first time and see so many beautiful buildings. The tour was somewhat emotional because we visited a building that used to house a Jewish orphanage. Every child who belonged to this orphanage was murdered by the Nazis. I've noticed with myself and other members of this group that we're especially affected by anything that had to do with the children.
The Chopin recital last night was a wonderful experience last evening in Warsaw.I thought about my mom in California and how much she would have loved listening to her favorite composer in a a concert hall, such as this.
We're at the halfway mark of this trip. It's been a once in a life time experience. I expect that the most difficult days are yet to come as we tour more and more of Poland. Regardless, I'm very thankful to be a part of this trip and to experience it with this group of outstanding people.
After dinner we had our first debriefing session as those who wished to express any of their feelings, thoughts, comments did. We have really become very close in 10 short days.
I added a photo of balcony's. They are original and were places where children played, mothers talked to each other etc. You may recognize it as a scene from "Schindler's List." Similar to the film this is a place where the contents of the Jewish families possessions were thrown over these balcony's by SS and Nazi soldiers when they came to 'empty' the ghetto