The Journey (Part Two)

The Journey (Part Two)

One would think that planning for a foreign trip would be easy.

One would be wrong!

Especially, if the trip is to Poland. So many questions and yet so few answers.

Many have asked:

“Why on earth would you want to go there?”

“Did you lose family in the camps?”

I’d considered making such a trip years ago, but as indicated previously neither of the women I’ve lived with expressed any desire to undertake such a trip. Even when our Rabbi told us to think of it as a pilgrimage, Wifey stated categorically that seeing one camp – Dachau – was more then enough for her.

So when my son proposed the trip, I really didn’t think twice and agreed to go almost immediately. They question was one of timing. Since I am retired, I am readily available.

In reality, my son’s schedule dictated the time available for our trip. As a Federal Prosecutor he must juggle his caseload and clear time. He’s done that and we are off soon.

Lately, I’ve done more than my share of Holocaust reading having finished “Sarah’s Key” and “Carry Me Across The Water” this past week. I’ve been reading about the history of Poland, the impact of the Jewish civilization on the country and what its loss has meant to it. I read Erik Larson’s superb “In The Garden Of The Beasts” about pre-war Berlin from the perspective of the American Ambassador to Germany. I’ve read many of the works of Alan Furst which cover the period just before the war in a number of European countries.

In the past, I’ve read just about everything by Elie Wiesel in an unsuccessful attempt to understand the psyche of both the victims and of their oppressors. I’ve read I.B. Singer’s work to try to better understand the shtetl and even some Shalom Aleichem.

My brother in law in London recently sent me “On The Eve”, the story of Jewish life in Europe before the Second World War. His parents spoke often about their life in Germany before they had the good sense to see what was coming and leave. For my in-laws the time was 1934 when they moved to Florence, Italy. Keeping an eye on the evolving situation, they departed for the United States in 1938. They and their families were the lucky ones. Only great-grandmother refused to leave and was a victim. An uncle by marriage also survived. In his situation it was the camps. It wasn’t until late in his life when he began to discuss what life under the Nazis had been like. Fortunately, he made a Shoah tape for Steven Spielberg’s on-going remembrance project.

How can one understand how my fellow religionists were simultaneously feared and despised as an alien presence in countries where it was the practice to keep them separated? Yet, by the 1920s Jewish life was thriving throughout Europe. They were citizens in the countries where they lived. Considered the best-educated ethnic group in Europe, it looked like that for the first time in history, Jews could be considered part of the essential life of their country of residence.

Yet, in just a few short years, the Nazis managed to once again make the Jew, the “other”, the Christ-killer, the alien.

And the population of most of Europe, looked the other way to what was happening. Dachau is just a short bus ride away from Munich, a city of culture and refinement. Krakow was the cultural center of Polish thought and music. The major extermination camps are so close to the city that it’s impossible to believe the population didn’t know what was going on. Trains full of people continuously moved in, no one came out.

So many questions.

And perhaps so few answers.

I don’t know what I’ll find there, how I deal emotionally with what we do learn, and how it may change either of us.

Please stay tuned!

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