We are tired. It is hot and humid. Rain is threatening. After a morning session visiting synagogues and prayer houses in Kazamierz (the old Jewish quarter of Krakow), we think of going back to the apartment to rest. First, we sit in a restaurant, the Ariel, and have a piece of cake reminiscent of our mother’s – Ruth has Skarlotka, an apple cake and I have a hazelnut torte. The accompanying ice coffee feels good.
Before heading home we decide to go to the JCC (Yes Krakow has a JCC) to reserve tickets for an upcoming Shabbat dinner but we turn the wrong way. Ruth approaches a young Polish couple for directions. Men never ask for directions. It’s true.
“We are going to Plaszow – the tour bus is waiting,” reply Tomasz and Anya, a young non-Jewish Polish couple spending their Sunday at the Jewish Culture Festival. Never ones to turn down a tour to a concentration camp (this tour not even listed in our guide) we hop on board.
I’m not sure when I realized that this was not just an ordinary tour. Someone was carrying the poles for a chuppa. Everyone seemed to know one another. And people were carrying bouquets, not stones to place on grave sites. There was lots of laughter.
It is becoming obvious that we have stumbled on a family event. But what is it? A wedding on the site of a concentration camp??? A photographer is filming every move of one particular couple.
We trek through the ruins of the camp – through brush, up hills – a bearded man in a suit holds up maps of the site and points out where barracks once were.
We are wearing sandals, perfect for city walking but not for what we are doing. I realize that I am not tired any more. Something amazing is happening. We keep trekking and start asking our fellow trekkers for some kind of explanation.
“Seventy years ago Josef Bau was a slave laborer in this camp” someone says. He secretly married his wife there – had he been discovered by the Nazis he would have been shot. The wedding ring was a melted down spoon we are told. Ok, fine.
We at last arrive at a hillside spot where the foundation stones of a barracks are visible. The chuppa goes up. The “wedding party” includes Josef Bau’s grandson, Boaz, here from Israel, his bride, Or, and his mother and aunt, a polish film director and his SO.
A Polish film director? Yes he directed the wonderful Irena Sendler documentary. Turns out he read a newspaper story about the Baums, travelled to Israel to meet the family (and perhaps to get material for an upcoming film) and here he and his SO are under the chuppa too. The story gets laboriously told, in Hebrew, Polish and English. Songs are sung, some peculiar version of “Don’t worry be happy, have lots of sex and relax.” This is not a somber occasion. Life is being celebrated And it’s really not a formal wedding. The bride and groom were married one month ago. This is a symbolic reenactment of Boaz’s parents wedding 70 years earlier on the exact spot where it occurred.
The Bau’s survived Plaszow, Auchwitz, stayed in Krakow for 5 years and then immigrated to Israel. Josef became a famous animator.
We purchase a book about the Bau story (our 4th book of the day). NOTE: We need to stop doing this. Down the hill we go, into the bus and back to Krakow. Oh by the way, the Polish director and his SO get married too in the same ceremony. He gives me his card – a new film is in the works. Can this day get any crazier or profound? It does, but that’s for another blog/