Shopping, a boat ride on the Vistula, and Zakopane

Yesterday we went shopping. Period.

Last night was the opening of the Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow. We bought tickets in advance for a concert with an Israeli group on a boat on the Vistula. Our cousins didn’t have tickets so they were destined to ride in a 12 passenger dinghy next to the larger boat to “overhear” the concert. Superior human beings that we are, we gave up our tickets on the larger boat and joined them on the the little ship that could. All was well except the little boat was beerless causing a small but mighty mutiny among the passengers. Luckily, the captain, who only knew Italian, signaled someone in an emergency boat to come up alongside to deliver beer and cokes. Mutiny squashed.

The concert was enjoyed by one and all except me of course. I complained loudly and obnoxiously about the 1950’s retro Italian music – Volare, etc., but to no avail. The larger boat sailed on, was never torpedoed as I fantasied, and has been entered into my kitsch memory bank forever.

Today, we toured Zakopane a mountain resort town right on the Slovakia border. The only reason we went was because Ruth’s Mom talked about how beautiful it was. Well, it wasn’t. A classic example of how we despoil nature. An absolutely beautiful setting overrun by tourists, us included, and nothing much to redeem itself except a few tawdry museums. It must have been quite beautiful in the 1930’s. We can only imagine. The finicula ride was fun though.

Tonight we just missed getting into a big deal cantor’s concert (saved ourselves a bunch of money) but found a group from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin to sit and talk to in the courtyard next to synagogue housing the concert. We heard snippets through the open window then went off to have a meal in a former mikveh, now a quite beautiful “Jewish” restaurant serving everything from kishka to stuffed goose neck to cholent. A klezmer band kept us and a group of beautifully coiffed and dressed Germans entertained.

We said goodbye to the Ellis’ today. We will miss them. Fun traveling companions.

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A Piece of Wire

We walked along the wall surrounding the Hasaq labor camp where Ruth’s mother was enslaved during the war. The formerly electrified wire was still there, and now we have a length of it. Now what do we do with it? Will it be a Perci project? A back scratcher? The start of a new wire service? Will we form it into a peace symbol? A Jewish Star? Maybe we’ll just frame it. Its fate is to be determined. Closure perhaps on a gruesome chapter of family history.

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Auschwitz, Birkenau and Czestochowa

Not much can be said about the experience of visiting the concentration and death camps of Auschwitz/Birkenau. It is way too overwhelming to express in a blog. We did it and now I have a new perspective on the enormity of evil. Somehow we managed to relax afterward with a good meal and some nice Brazilian jazz. I dreamt of the gas chambers all night. What horror.

We rose early to go to Czestochowa with Karolina, our guide from the previous day. We pretty much saw everything on our list – the Jewish cemetery (in complete shambles), where we said Kaddish, the city archives where we photographed the birth certificate and marriage license of Ruth’s great grandfather, Symcha Schacher, and Hasaq, the ruins of the labor camp where Sally, Mania and Dadek were enslaved during the war. We were met by Krysztof and Witold Straus, father and son, who we had met on the Facebook page of the World Association of Czestochowa Jews. They took us and our tour guide around to as many places as time would allow including Sally’s former apartment, the courtyard where she and her siblings hid, the large and small ghettos, the Umschlagplatz (place where the Jews were gathered for transport to the death camps), It was so meaningful to meet K and W, both non-Jews, but dedicated to preserving the memory of Jews in their city. What wonderful gentlemen! We were apologetic for being late to meet them and they apologized for us having to see what their countrymen had done to our people. Just like meeting the Gloeckners in Cologne, meeting the Straus’ added so much to our experience.

Tomorrow we have a free day, the Jewish Cultural Festival is opening, and we have shopping to do. For once that feels good.

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Krakow

Arrived in Krakow today after an uneventful train ride from Warsaw. Immediately fell in love with the city. Hotel is beautiful and we walked and walked around the market square. Had an not so excellent meal and then stumbled into a chocolate bar (founded in 1851) and drank ourselves silly on hot chocolate concoctions. We are all in an excellent mood again. Made reservations for a restaurant/jazz club for tomorrow night after we get back from Auschwitz.

Tomorrow Auschwitz and then Czestochowa, two heavy days in a row. But then we have a lot of free time at the Jewish Cultural Festival and are really looking forward to that. We will say goodbye to the Ellis’ on Sunday – wonderful traveling companions.

Much more after the next couple of days.

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Last day in Warsaw

Stood in a long line at the train station to get information about how to get a refund for one extra ticket from Warsaw to Krakow. After a 20 minute wait was sent to another line where I waited another 20 minutes to be told to do it online. Ah such a pleasant way to spend a morning in Warsaw. Felt like stories of old Communist times.

Had breakfast with Edyta Wroblewska, a Polish film maker who gave us her new film – not on a Jewish topic but will be fun to watch anyway. She was in Mpls a few years ago at the MplsJFF where we got to know one another. She will be a good source of info on Polish cinema.

This afternoon went to Old Town, a reconstructed and quite beautiful neighborhood in Warsaw. Sat outside for dinner and for the first time in Poland failed to be attacked by giant mosquitoes. Really felt like home until tonight. Food has been great. Medifast will be so glad to see me again!

Off to Krakow tomorrow by train. Kinda glad to get out of Warsaw. Not our favorite city. The Intercontinental was nice though – felt ultra-pampered. Could easily get used to the 5 star treatment.

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Treblinka

Even after being at the site it is impossible to imagine the killing of 800,000 Jews in just one year at Treblinka. The site is magnificent, if I can use that word, the only impressive memorial we have seen in Poland. We found the memorial stone for victims from Czestochowa and said Kaddish for Ruth’s family members. Waclaw Wojciechowski, our tour guide was charming, knowledgeable, and as professional as they come. We had a powerful experience and truly felt we honored family members.

Tonight we had a memorable meal in a restaurant specializing in the cuisine of Lvov, formerly in Poland and now Ukrainian. The restaurant our cousin Alon suggested has closed but we found the owner’s new restaurant.

Left our camera in the hotel on the way to the restaurant but someone picked it up and it was waiting for us at the hotel when we returned from dinner. Then, of course, we had the opposite experience – getting cheated by a young cabbie, who more than doubled the cost of the run to the restaurant. Good and bad to be experienced everywhere.

Tomorrow is a free day. We are meeting with Edyta Wroblewska, a young Polish film maker who is Gil Mann’s cousin’s wife. We showed one of her films at the MplsJFF a few years back.

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Today We’re in Warsaw

Packing, unpacking and packing again, all to be in fine places of our choice ……..everything wonderful, hard, easy and nerve-wracking makes me think of this other time in these places. We’ll be processing this trip for a long time.

Waclaw, our guide, has taken his job seriously of keeping Jewish culture and our history alive in this place. We saw the new Jewish Museum today and it is beautifully built. We saw memorial plaques and sculptures to remember the Warsaw Ghetto. We saw the boundaries of the ghetto and the “Bridge of Sorrow” We saw the beautiful Nozyk Synagogue. We heard the story of the systematic stripping away of the belonging and citizenship of the Jewish people in Warsaw on dates and in ways that were meticulously carried out throughout Poland’s villages, towns and cities in the same way and almost on the same dates.

Tomorrow we go to Treblinka where we’re certain Abraham Green, Savta’s father, was killed when all the men with work permits were called to the streets, ostensibly to go to work. To the right and to the left, to be worked or to be murdered. Daniel Green went to work and was reunited with his sisters. We’ll say Kaddish.

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