The Journey (Part 5)
There is nothing like starting your day with a palace. And in Warsaw there are lots of palaces. The Polish kings’ main palace is nearby in the Old Town area.
Kings lived like, well, kings. The Polish royalty was no different. They had opulence in an era when the common person didn't have enough to feed his family.
Yet, kings they were. And huge palaces were the homes of the day. What's fascinating about this palace is that it was totally destroyed by the Nazis. Yet, painstakingly it was rebuilt with many of the original pieces of art intact.
Lovely as it is, it's not Versailles. No grounds. No vegetation. Just large rooms too numerous to count, and no modern plumbing!
Taking the trams (Chicago could really use a system like Warsaw's), we ventured to the Warsaw Rising Museum. This museum covers both the Ghetto revolt in 1943 along with that of the Polish freedom fighters revolt in 1944. The Polish irregulars made life extra difficult for the Germans when they were fighting a dual front war. The museum was quite crowded today. Of particular interest was the large number of Israeli military who were guests of the Polish Army. Seeing Israeli military in Warsaw was somehow especially satisfying. It demonstrates the Nazi regime's ultimate failure in its war against the Jews.
For a moment I thought we were in Chicago. The temperature suddenly dropped by more than 20 degrees and a perfectly beautiful day turned into one that was rainy and cold.
Our next stop was to the Jewish Historical Institute. This small museum and art exhibition is not to be missed. We sat through a very moving and difficult movie about "life" in the Warsaw Ghetto. Movies of people dying and being left in the streets, carts picking them up and dumping them in mass graves brought home the idea that 100,000 perished in the Ghetto of starvation. Extremely disturbing.
Additionally, the Institute had an art exhibition of the history of Rabbis from biblical times to the Talmudic era and the development of Chasidism. Very educational and relevant. This museum is worth the trip should you find yourself in Warsaw.
This morning we wasted a great deal of time trying to arrange a rental car booked while still in the U.S. Thank G-d we took a GPS system since not only are the roads poorly marked, some are barely paved. Pot holes are not the exception, on many of the roads, they are the rule. Roads are two lanes only. Very narrow. Driving throughout the country is not fun.
Fun was how the Boy reacted to my surprise when the non-road (merely concrete slabs put together) seemed to end at the Vistula River. "Stop" I yelled. But there was no stopping as we went onto a barge that was attached to a cable system which actually pulled us across the river. Very different. And only 14 Zloty!
Eventually we made our way to a small town called Kazimierz Dolny. The entire area is dominated by the huge Parish Church. We entered and found a Mass in progress. Not knowing any better, I tried to take a photo of the goings on. Shouldn't have done so, especially as we later learned it was funeral Mass!!!
Oops! That was bad.
We exited quickly and explored the town including the synagogue museum. At one time, fully one-third of the town was Jewish. Now, they are all gone. Next we visited the memorial for what had once been the Jewish Cemetery. The Nazis used the headstones as pavement for a road. The Jewish community of Warsaw has collected many of the headstones and used them as a monument for the lost community. Today there are a few stones marking the graves of what has been a vital community.
Our trip continues in Lublin, the center of Jewish thought in Poland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Today, there is no Jewish community. They are all gone. Not just literally, but in actuality as well. The Lublin Ghetto is a parking lot and a grassy park. There are no signs of Jewish life, for there no longer are any Jews.
Lunch today was at an Israeli style eatery. The sun was shining. The day was lovely.
Then we went to Majdanek, the Polish state park actually inside the city of Lublin. As soon as we entered the area, the temperature dropped and the rains came. This was a pattern we continued to see when we went to camps and memorials.
We were not the only visitors today, as two groups of Modern Orthodox Heritage students from a New York day school also were there to learn. At the suggestion of one of the leaders, we were invited to join the students. Together we viewed the nearly intact former concentration and death camp. Majdanek housed many Poles and Russians in the worker areas. The Jews were more likely to be victims in the death camp areas. To see the thousands of shoes, the inhuman living conditions, and to learn what life in the camps was really like is sobering and dreadful. The rainy weather was fitting for a dreary afternoon.
Just plain depressing!
What keeps coming back to us, is the statement you either read or hear too often here: "This is where the Jews used to live." But today, there are no Jews and in many communities, the remnants of what was once there ceases to exist. Poland was the center of shtetl life. Now there are no shtetls. Now there is no Jewish life.
Filed under: Travel