15 July 2022

Today was our last official day of program and it was certainly bittersweet. It seems as though we only met each other in NY and we were in Kraków yesterday and now it is our last 36 hours in Oświęcim before we go our separate ways. I will stay in Kraków one more night and then take a bus to Berlin. I am very excited for this part of my trip as much as I will miss Poland. I will actually see one of my good friends from HAJRTP in Berlin before I head up to Fürstenberg on Tuesday. 

We drove about an hour south to the lovely mountain town of Brenna today and had a walk around the river and a stop at one of Poland’s national obsessions? food groups?—ice cream.  I had a currant and muesli one and it was pretty good although I would have loved more currants. We then went to the nearby town of Górki Wielkie where the author and co-founder of Żegota, Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, lived. She is a complex figure who wrote children’s stories before the war and also for various Catholic and patriotic organizations but was also antisemitic and believed Jews were the “political, ideological, and economic” enemies of Poland but that in the light of what was happening with the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto in summer 1942, that Poland and Polish Catholics should be doing all they could to save pople within their country if they were to be a moral and ethical people (Protest was published in August 1942). 

We were there to have a fun activity as a group after the last three weeks where we were studying intense material and standing in the sites of destruction as well as seeing myriad ways in which Jews are reclaiming a presence in Poland—there are many Jews who not only stayed after the war but who also returned later. Although there is still a far greater absence that speaks of what was lost, it was important for all of us to see the wonderful work being done by the Jewish communities in small towns and in the larger cities.

Our activity today involved visiting a small historic farm where we learned how to grind wheat and made sourdough crackers (although we also saw bread being made and baked it was not going to be ready for us to try as it needed four hours to cool so it would keep for a few days).  We enjoyed our homemade and handmade crackers with honey made on the farm and a traditional spread made of lard and about eighteen herbs and spices from the area. It was wonderfully flavored. My mother use to talk about spreading lard on their bread when they came home from school before going out to do their chores, so this bread with lard was not such a strange thing for me to experience. I am going to have to do some experimenting when I get home to try to recreate that flavor, but perhaps it was only a thing to be experienced here. 

Once we returned to Oświęcim, we had a short break before going back to Café Bergson for our final reflection and a special dinner. It was insightful to hear what everyone’s top experiences were and what they would be bringing back to their studies when they returned home and to their programs.  Even though I still believe that meeting Monika Goldwasser on our first full day in Kraków two weeks ago was the most impactful experience for me, I did not want to talk about it again here, so I mentioned the trips to Treblinka and to Płaszów, as well as the trip to the Jewish cemetery in Pszczyna where the caretaker, the seventh generation of his family to live there, Sławek Pastuszka, showed us around and gave us an amazing history of the cemetery and his family. He was so passionate and knowledgeable; we were all just completely in awe of him and his work. He has been restoring the grounds for about seventeen years or so (and is young himself), has written books about the cemetery and about symbols on Jewish tombstones, as well as researching and preparing his PhD dissertation. He would be a valued member of any faculty that would be lucky to have him.  The time with him was a highlight for most of us, as evidenced by our reflection tonight.

Tomorrow is a free day to explore and then it is time to end this leg of the journey. 

Stay safe, be well, and find something in your life you can be passionate about. As Sławek told us, if you have that, you can accomplish anything. 

Advertisement

12 July 2022

It was too much to process yesterday with our four hour, intensive-study tour of the former German Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz I, the first camp that was created out of Polish Army barracks and expanded a bit into the concentration camp that many associate with the Holocaust–the one with the Arbeit Macht Frei over the main gate. The lie that “work would make one free” is just one of the many slogans coopted by the Nazi regime to provide a false sense of hope and also to remind those entering just who was in charge.

We had an excellent guide in their Press and PR Officer, Paweł Sawicki, and were able to see so many more things than I was able to experience four years ago. It is also funny how your mind remembers experiences in a certain way, and if you are lucky enough to revisit those same places, things are not what you thought they were. Perhaps it was the fact that Auschwitz I is not back to receiving the numbers of visitors they had before the pandemic (which I was totally okay with on a personal level) or it is just one of those examples how tricky memory and the mind can be. It is a good lesson to remember when dealing with this complicated history–there is historical truth and the truth of memory and these things often need to be reinforced by research and comparable accounts.

Today we spent another four hours touring Auschwitz II, Birkenau, otherwise known as the “death camp,” which is different from Auschwitz I and Auschwitz III–Monowitz/Buna. Birkenau has some structures that remain, but what is most impressive (if that is the word to use) is the sheer size of it. We walked around the perimeters today and again, due to our guide and the length/scope of our tour, we were in places I had not been in six years ago with HAJRTP. We went into the first of the wooden barracks preserved on the right side of the camp after walking from the alten Judenrampe a short distance from the main entrance which was in use through early spring 1944. After that, the rail line was extended right into the center of the camp, but before the gas chambers and crematoria so as not to unduly excite those being forced off the train cars.

We then walked through the newer parts of the camp where the wooden barracks are no longer in place and walked through the rows of shells and chimneys to one of the former Sonderkommanado barracks on our way to the first of several dumping places for ashes. I left a stone at the one HAJRTP visited six years ago, and instead of lighting a candle for my former student’s family members who were killed here and for the families of the survivors I’ve met, including Rose Dajch and Betty Knoop, I left a remembrance stone on the English language marker and said my prayers for their repose.

We then walked to the ruins of the gas chamber burned in the Sonderkommando revolt and saw some of the places where the clandestine photos were taken–somewhere outside of where the Roma and Sinti were executed. There is a field and another set of markers for the ashes dumped and bodies burned in this area.

We were able to enter one of the few structures left intact at/after the liberation of the former camp, the “New Sauna” or “Central Sauna” building, near the Kanada II area where prisoners belongings were sorted, cleaned, and sent to Germany. The “Sauna” was used for cleaning/delousing prisoners who were able to work as well as the possessions of those who were selected immediately for the gas. This exhibit was opened in 2001, but we did not see it when I was here last. The photographs are really important because they were collected from two suitcases that were not destroyed after the war and they reflect the people who were killed as they were in their full lives both before the war and before arriving to Birkenau. There was a fascinating research project, developed with the USHMM, where several families were identified and displayed on the back of the main panels with all of the related photographs and histories of those in the pictures. It was very powerful and sobering at the same time.

Each night of our trip, with a few exception, we have met to reflect and “debrief” although I am not a fan of that terminology. The last two nights’ reflection/discussion sessions have been two hours each for we have had so much to think about and share with each other. Part of my role as an teacher though, and through my roles as a teacher coordinator and department chair, has been to observe how people are reacting to what is being said, and to encourage or to check in with people who may not have had an opportunity to speak, or who have felt like they weren’t able to for myriad reasons. Especially after the past few days, I have worried about those who have been a little quieter in our reflections, even though they have assured me they are okay, I worry. Not only have I been here before, but I have almost thirty years on most of the other participants and my maternal/teacher instincts kick in, probably where they are not wanted, but that is who and how I am. All told, these reflection sessions are really insightful and I think that all of us bring such strengths to this experience. I know that I am excited to see what these younger scholars will be bringing to this important work in the decades to come.

Stay safe, be well, drink water, fight racism, and be gentle with others and yourselves…

10 July 2022

We left Warsaw this morning to head to Oświęcim. It is important for me to continue to distinguish between the town of Oświęcim and the former German Nazi Concentration and Death Camp system that developed outside of the town once the Second World War started. This town has a rich history going back centuries as an important trading route since before the 12 C. Debórah Dwork’s and Robert Jan van Pelt’s Auschwitz: 1240 to the Present is a really fascinating look at the history of the town and then the development of the area once the Nazis decided to try to make it part of their Generalplan Ost. I am going to have to reread it once I return home, that is, if I brought it home from school.

Our first stop though was at Poland’s third largest city, Łodź, a former industrial center with a lot of mills for fabric, among other manufacturers. It is southwest of Warsaw by 120 km, and dates from the 14th century. Jewish presence in Łodź is almost as long as its history (as in many places in Poland). During the Second World War, Łodź, called Litzmannstadt by the Nazis, was home to the second-largest ghetto in occupied Europe, and the last one to be liquidated in August 1944. My students read Ruth Minsky Sender’s The Cage, which is set partially in Łodź and the Ghetto, but my friend and colleague’s mother, Rose, was also from Łodź, and the Ghetto was the last place where her family was intact (her brother Shlomo was in Russia before the Ghetto was established). Rose was one of the 5% of Ghetto inhabitants to survive the war. At the Radegast Station memorial today, I read her mother’s words from Martin Gilbert’s The Boys, where she remembers her father reading Sholem Aleichem “because everyone around us was crying.” Her parents last words to her and her sisters was that they “will meet in heaven soon.” It was very powerful to think of her parents, Gedalya and Nacha, her sisters Estera and Zisl, and Rose, the only one of the family I was blessed to meet, and to say a prayer for them all in the city they loved which was stolen from them. May all their memories be a blessing as knowing their daughter, granddaughter, and niece is to me.

Stay safe, be well, kiss your loved ones, and read a good story to make someone’s day, in memory of Gedalya…

9 July 2022

One of the differences with this trip is that we are able to have days off from our schedule because this is a three-week program. Of all the many things I appreciated about my HAJRTP experiences, the few moments I was able to process what I had seen on my own while not “acting like a tourist” in a big group were memorable. This trip, even without the big group, allows for more introspection. I suppose that on a program such as this, where we are literally walking in the sites of destruction, and seeing, reading, and hearing the words of those whose lives and families were forever altered, we need to process what we’ve been through together and alone.

As an introvert who works 186 days a year in front of a captive audience several times a day, in a building of a thousand or so souls, alone time is necessary by the weekends. Luckily my family is forgiving and understanding of these needs. It is sometimes harder to navigate time alone when you are in a group, even of like-minded scholars, for you don’t really have that time (roommates, schedules, traveling, sites of memory and life…). Today was our second of three ‘open’ days and I took full advantage with a walk to the Fabryka Norblina where I had dinner the other night. It is a really interesting space and if you get yourself to Warsaw’s Wola District, you should check it out. Some zlotys were spent in my wandering.

My next stop was Zachęta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki, the Museum of Modern Art/Warsaw for an exhibition on survival architecture called “Hideouts.” The artist, Natalia Romik, created mirror casts of nine hideouts used by Jews during the Holocaust. I am so glad that I visited as one of the nine places featured was from Clara Kramer’s hiding place below the Beck’s home that she described in Clara’s War, one of the books my students choose from during our Holocaust Literature unit each spring. Here are some of the pictures I took with my phone during the exhibit. The camera shots will have to wait until I get home.

Clara Kramer’s hiding place
The casting itself
Description of the process
Artifacts and scans of the process with a map of the bunker

I finished my exploring with a picnic in the park nearby the museum and then took the very efficient Polish public transport with an electric bus back *most* of the way that I had walked this am. It remained a beautiful day, and although there were storm clouds in parts of the city, I did not have any rain on my journey back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we are off to Oświęcim with a few stops along the way to see some cities I have not been to previously, including Łodź, which is not only the city in Ruth Minsky Sender’s The Cage, another of the books in our Lit unit, but the former home town of the mother of my friend and mentor on this journey, and a former colleague at my school (she’s happily retired now and I am still in denial about that). Her mother was also forcibly moved to the Łodź Ghetto. I will have more to say about this in my next post.

Stay safe, be well, drink water, take a walk in the overcast sunshine, and fight racism by understanding that there are NOT two sides to every story like slavery, the Holocaust, 9/11, and many other topics…

8 July 2022

One thing that I left out of yesterday’s post was our trip to the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery. This visit was a little shorter than the last one (maybe) but several things have happened since I was there in 2016. The most important of these was that the mass graves roped off with caution tape were now contained within permanent memorials which were almost ready for official unveiling, so our excellent guide and caretaker of the cemetery informed us. There were a lot of other changes as well, most notably at the sites of the Children’s Memorial and the memorial to Janusz Korczak, the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit, a Polish Jewish educator and pedagogue, as well as a children’s book author and the the head of an orphanage in Warsaw at 92 Krochmalna, which was moved to Śliska 9 in the Ghetto. On August 5 or 6, 1942 (the date is unknown), when the 192 orphans were rounded up to the Umschlagplatz (deportation point to the death camps), he and his close associate, Stefania Wilczyńska, accompanied them to the waiting trains and all were murdered in Treblinka. The area around the Korczak memorial is being carefully excavated, under Rabbinical supervision, to uncover the former cemetery’s burial preparation chambers, as seen below:

Korczak memorial with archeological excavations taking place 7.7.22

The other picture I took at the cemetery was of the memorial marker laid by Vladka and Ben Meed in 1999 to remember their families murdered in Treblinka. Vladka last saw her mother, brother, and sister at the Umschlagplatz in Warsaw and she was one of the people who helped to fund the memorial that exists there now. Vladka and Ben were also the founders of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, the sponsors of the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers Program trip that brought me to Poland (and Germany) six years ago and started me on this journey to be a better Holocaust educator, including getting a second Masters Degree and now a PhD in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. I had to stop to say a prayer for them at their marker and thank them for their generosity and trust in teachers to carry their story and the stories of the murdered forward to new generations in the hope that the world can one day be a better place.

Six years ago, visiting Treblinka, one of the Operation Reinhard camps set up expressly to murder Jews, along with Sobibor and Bełźec, was the plan for our last full day before getting ready to return home. Today was a day of contrasts to that first visit. Then, the sky was clear blue and hot–like what we had in Kraków last week. Today, it was cool and overcast, with the rains holding off until we were leaving the site of destruction. There were twenty people on the HAJRTP trip six years ago, and two leaders, and our Polish guide, as well as others visiting the site. Today, it was our group of nine walking, and two other groups of two and three people, respectfully. Since my first visit, an app with audioguide in three languages has been released and we listened along as it brought us through the site with history and testimony. It was surreal and haunting to hear beautiful birdsong while listening to the hateful ways that people have been to each other when hatred and prejudice are left to influence people unchecked.

For me, the most emotional parts were walking up the Himmelstraße (road to heaven) that led to the gas chambers, beyond to the pits on which bodies were burned and their ashes scattered to fertilize the grounds and to hide the traces, and the stone with Janusz Korczak’s name. This marker is significant because the field of stones marking the main areas of the camp only have some of the names of towns, cities, and villages of those murdered there. There are not any names of individuals, save for Korczak. It is fitting.

Janusz Korczak’s marker stone at Treblinka 8.7.22

Stay safe, be well, drink water, wear sunscreen, and fight racism. The world needs you.

7 July 2022

Yesterday was a long day spent getting to Warsaw and then touring the Old City, reconstructed after the Second World War since 90% of Warsaw was destroyed in the last months of 1944 after the Warsaw Uprising began in August–this was not the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that started on 19 April 1943, when most of the Ghetto was destroyed in the fighting and the burning of the Ghetto, ordered by the Nazis after they stopped the uprising almost a month later on 16 May. The Old City is beautiful, filled with now 70-year old buildings decorated in pale colors and cobblestone streets with cafés and shops. I did not visit it when I was here six years ago and so I was all the more appreciative of it now–and plan to return for a little stroll on Saturday.

We also had a wonderful lunch at the JCC of Warsaw and met a fabulous woman from the community who spoke about the work they are doing, including helping refugees from Putin’s aggression and connecting Jews with their community in Warsaw and beyond, reminding us that Jewish life in Poland spans 1000 years and is still present.

We spent today touring Jewish Warsaw, including some places not always noted with markers and some that I had not seen on my last trip. We did visit Ulica Próżna (Vain Street), the only former Ghetto street with four surviving tenement buildings, some with renovations into office spaces but others remaining as apartments.

We also visited the remaining section of the Warsaw Ghetto wall. When I was in Warsaw six years ago, we saw the other side of the wall, and the section that was cast for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for their exhibition. Today that side is no longer accessible as the homeowners in the courtyard were “tired” of groups trooping in all hours/days, which is understandable, but still… I remember Waclaw Wojciechowski telling us how one apartment used to leave pictures of Pope John Paul II facing out to be provocative. Through an arrangement with the mayor of that section of the city, access is granted through the side we saw today.

Our final visit of the day was to the POLIN Museum. When we went by this am with Dr. Haska, there was a movie being filmed in front of the museum. This afternoon we were treated to a talk with Joanna Fikus, Head of Exhibitions at POLIN. It was really fascinating to hear how they developed the Museum’s philosophy and how the exhibition was curated and what the Museum is doing with their gallery and temporary exhibit spaces. We then had a tour with Dagmara who was amazing–this was a much richer experience than listening to the recorded tour (which is quite good, by the way). She was able to answer our questions in each of the galleries and really put a context onto what we were seeing. The Museum is a must-see if you are in Warsaw as your understanding of the thousand years of Jewish history in Poland should not begin and end in the Holocaust period.

Finally, one of the Fellows and I had dinner at one of the restaurants in Fabryka Norblina, a revamped former factory space and a short walk from our hotel. We ate at Blue Cactus and yes, Mexican food in Warsaw is amazing.

5 July 2022

Weather in Poland seems to be of the English variety. If you don’t like it , wait a bit and it will change. Yesterday it was almost 90 again and today it was 70 and pouring for a good chunk of the day. These things seem trivial when we are on a trip such as ours so our group made the best of our excursions and despite the rains had a really impactful day.

We started at the site of the former Nazi forced labor–> concentration camp Płaszów, which those of you who may have seen Schindler’s List would recognize. Kraków and Kazimierz were used by Spielberg in shooting the film and our tour of Kazimierz the other day with Dr. Edyta Gawron of the Dept. of Jewish Studies at Jagiellonian University was fascinating. She spoke to us a lot about the presence of Jewish absence as seen below in the traces of a mezuza in the doorway of a residence.

Kazimierz, Kraków, Poland 3 July 2022

At the former Płaszów camp grounds today, the theme was still apparent, especially considering the former camp has only one structure left standing, known as the Grey House, something that originally belonged to the Jewish community when the site was a residence and administrative offices for the Jewish cemetery nearby. The Nazis of course used this place for SS officer housing and prison/punishment cells that were in the basement. It underwent a few different purposes in the post-war period, but now is the property of the Jewish community again and it will be incorporated into the plans for a museum on the site in the next few years. You can see the Grey House behind this arial photograph of the site.

We met with Kamil Karski, who is the head archeologist on the site, and he spent the next two hours with us discussing the different locations and explaining the markers placed around the site. It is completely open and has a strange park-like feel with birds and other wildlife, several trails, both paved and not, and apple trees and other varieties of fruit and non-fruit bearing trees. It was surreal.

There is a larger memorial, erected in 1964, which is typically Soviet in style, with the title of “Monument to the Victims of Fascism.” You can read more about this memorial and the controversies about representation here.

We spent the evening with a Ukrainian activist who is working with refugees in Kraków and throughout Poland. She was really amazing to learn from and I will post more about her work another time. I want to share a really moving and memorable experience we had with a child survivor of the Holocaust, Monika Goldwasser. She was not yet a year old when her parents, fearing the worst about the plans the German Nazis had for the Jews of Poland, gave their child away so that she might have a chance to live. Ms. Goldwasser was 22 when she finally had the suspicions she’d been harboring for a few years confirmed by her dying, non-Jewish, Polish mother. She told us of her story, which is too complex to share here so I encourage you if you’re interested, to check the link I shared above or this one.

What really struck me about her story, among many things, was that she found out her parents were not who she believed them to be when she was 22. As an adoptee myself, one who has always known I was adopted and that my sister was also adopted, this was intriguing to me. Majeck, one of our group leaders from the AJCF, translated my question to Ms. Goldwasser. I wanted to know how she felt about finding out that she wasn’t who she thought she was at 22. I said that I was adopted, too, at the age of six months but that I can’t remember ever not knowing. She had also told the group that she “had a very good life” and I, too, had a good life with my adoptive family. She spoke in Polish for a long time and when Majeck translated she was looking right at me and I held her eyes for so long. I felt such a strong connection to her and thanked her for sharing her story. She had also said that when she received a copy of her birth certificate with her birth parents names on it from the Polish government, she cried. What I didn’t share because of the time and place, was that when I received the copy of my original birth certificate this March from the NYC Department of Health and seeing my birth mother’s name (not birth father) on it for the first time, I too cried.

At the end of her talk and after all our questions were answered, we thanked her and she and Majcek left the stage, she came right to me and embraced me, held my face, and kissed me on both cheeks. I was so touched. It was a very emotional moment for me and all I could say to her was thank you. Karolina, our other AJCF group leader/mom, took this picture of us and I will treasure it and Monika’s story forever. I don’t think you can see my tears, but they were there.

Monika Goldwasser and me, 5 July 2022, the Galicia Museum, Kraków.

We have an early start to Warsaw tomorrow, so I’ll end here. What a day.

Stay safe, be well, drink water, and fight racism. And tell the people you love that you love them…

Nacjonalizm Prowadzi Ludobójstwa, 4 July 2022

And Today we spent time outside of Kraków on our first “study trip” to several places out in southeastern Poland. We started in a town called Bobowa, part of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship in Gorlice County, Southern Poland. The city dates back to the mid-1300s and today’s population is just over 3,000. In the early 1700s, Jews came to Bobowa to “increase the economy of the town,” establishing a synagogue-which we visited under restoration–a yeshiva, which became an important Hasidic center under the Bobov dynasty. Their headquarters are now in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

One of our next stops was the town of Tarnów, also dating from about the mid-1300s and left still mainly intact despite being on the front in WWI and being occupied by the Nazis in September 1939. Before the 2nd World War, 1/2 the occupants of Tarnów were Jewish, about 25,000. Now, of the 100,000 or so people who live there, there are no Jews.

When the German Nazis arrived they burned most of the nine synagogues and blew up the “old synagogue” when the fire did not destroy it. Interestingly, the Bimah, or platform where the torah is read, was not fully destroyed and the Nazis left it. It is still visible today and undergoing preservation and some restoration. Most of the Jewish people were deported starting in 1942 with 13,500 sent to their deaths at Bełźec. A further 3000 were tortured and murdered in the market square (so many that it took three days for the blood to wash away) while another 6000 were shot in the forest near Zbylitowska Góra. Any remaining Jews were forced into the Tarnów Ghetto and were subjected to repeated deportations as well as deteriorating living conditions. The last remaining Jews were sent to Auschwitz or Płaszów in September 1943. On a positive note, Tarnów was also the site of Jewish resistance, started by young Zionists from the Hashomer Hatzair movement.

Tarnów Square 4 July 2022
Mass grave of 800 orphaned children and others (one of seven mass graves found so far) at Zbylitowska Góra, 4 July 2022

Although it is July 4th in the US, with freedoms being restricted to those who are part of the “in group” (and you can determine for yourselves what that might entail), this message on our way out of the Jewish quarter seemed appropriate:

“Nationalism leads to genocide” 4 July 2022

Stay safe and be well, drink water, and fight racism…

2 July 2022

So leaving on Wednesday turned into a bit of a drama helped along by the nightmare that was, is, and always shall be, Heathrow Airport. Getting to Heathrow was not a problem. Our flight left reasonably on time but Heathrow is having a crisis right now and wait times and travel is basically crap and getting worse. We missed our connecting flight since ours arrived late to the terminal and we had to go from Terminal 5 to 3. By the time we got there (40 minutes until our flight) they would not let us proceed with security as we’d never make the gate. We had to go back to British Airways customer service to get us on a new flight to Kraków. 1.5 hours later, a poor series of stressed BA employees trying multiple phones at one time, we were sent 14 miles to London City airport to take a KLM flight to Amsterdam and then another to Kraków that would get us in at 11:15 pm (12 hours after we were due to arrive).

If you’ve ever been to London, you might know that taking transport 14 miles does not take 14 minutes nor 28, nor 42 or even 56. 2 hours later via cab–hailed for us at Heathrow with promises to reimburse us–we arrived at London City in plenty of time to settle in, have a meal, go through security and get on our flights. Unfortunately, a late arrival in Amsterdam, also dealing with its own headaches, meant we had to sprint from Terminal D to B and to the last gate of 36 (they start at 0, of course) to make our plane. Thankfully though the plane was delayed by 15 minutes and we arrived, sweaty and exhausted, to some wonderfully sweet stewardesses who empathized with us and treated us kindly. We arrived in Kraków and were met by Maciek and a Mercedes sprinter bus who got us to the hotel so we could collapse.

Kraków is normally not as hot as NY in the summer but there was a heat wave to end June and start July. It was 98 yesterday and in a hotel without air conditioning (very typical for Europe–it is a nice hotel) it was not the best sleeping weather but they did find us some fans for last night which made a big difference, that and the 70 degrees it was today.

We did have an excellent dinner last night and the hotel’s breakfasts are amazing. Today was a “free day” so we went to see the Pomorska Street Museum, which is in the building taken over by the Gestapo and used as a prison and headquarters during the occupation. The current exhibit is called “People of Kraków in Times of Terror: 1939-1945-1956” and, although small, was pretty powerful. We were also able to see the former detention cells which had names and messages carved into the walls.

Image taken by EWP at the Pomorska Museum detention block, 2.7.22

We then walked for a bit around the main square and had a late lunch and did some shopping. We also took pictures of doors, because, look!

And now, after talking to 1/3 of my family, I am off to bed as tomorrow will be a long day.

Stay safe and be well…

AJCF at MJH, day two…

I’ll start today from where we ended up, the testimony of Marizka Shelley, one of the Museum’s regular speakers. In fact, I’ve heard her speak before, when the MJH introduced their newly revamped curriculum. She spoke about her father then and today was more about her sister and her mother.  Her mother was an incredible woman, telling an SS officer to take her and her children back to Budapest because, as blonds, “How could we be Jewish?” and of course he did not argue this because they didn’t “look” it.  Ms. Shelley ended her talk the way that many survivors have, and all the ones I’ve been privileged to meet, telling us she was “So glad to talk to us. I’m making you my witnesses.”

The first part of the day was spent with the collections and curatorial department of the MJH, who support the Museum’s mission with their acquisitions and the thoughtful way each exhibit is presented.  They keep their focus from 1900-1950 but will make exceptions for educational materials that would coordinate with and clarify exhibitions. They, too, keep the focus on individual and family stories to help their visitors make sense of the senselessness of it all.  Their collection at this point is over 40, 000 items. Families are notified when their donations are being used, whether it was an object, a film or audio clip, or a picture. 

Our lecture today was about Polish history in the post-war period, impacted by the Soviet influence under Stalin, then what is referred to as “the thaw” after Stalin’s death in 1953, the incidents of 1968 (an interesting year in the US and Germany as well) and then the end of the Cold War period in the late 80s. It was fascinating.  We then heard from the Executive Director of Jewish Gen, located in the MJH about their work to digitize Yizkor books and connect people all over the world with their Jewish roots. If you are at all interested in history and genealogy, it would be something to check out. 

Now I’m sitting at Clinton Hall in the Financial District having a late-night snack and dessert with my Emma (and giving them the last round of clothes I’ve purged from my suitcases in the past seven days). It is nice to be with them and talk about their life for a change, although it will be a short visit as I need to get winding down for tomorrow’s long day of lectures and then our flights out to London and Krakow. 

Stay safe and be well…